Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
On Being Deliberately Offensive

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 23 Jun 2015 16:00
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Editor's Note: If you're not familiar with Hatred yet, go watch the Zero Punctuation on it for the lowdown.

Hatred is a game that is deliberately trying to be offensive. Forgive me if that's obvious to you, but it apparently slipped by some people, who never seemed to grow tired of pointing out that it was offensive, and therefore shouldn't be allowed. You know me, I'm a pretty liberally-minded guy, but I confess to having difficulty following the logic here. Something set out to be offensive and you were offended by it, therefore it shouldn't be allowed? Why do you want to punish success?
It reminds me of the response to that one recent episode of Game of Thrones in which one of the 'innocent' characters who had thus far gotten through most of five seasons without being successfully maimed, raped or murdered - which, in Game of Thrones, is up there with getting three winning scratch cards in a row - was forcibly married to one of the villainous characters and sexually brutalized As predictably as the tides, certain kinds of people immediately hit the social networks to demand that the show be taken off the air, or at least pledge to stop watching.

Again, I'm having trouble following the logical thread. Point 1: Here's a show that I like. Point 2: Here is a character that the writers have depicted with sufficient competence to allow me to empathize with them, to the point that I feel personally injured by their misfortunes. Then there's a gap, followed by Point 4: I now hate this show and want it to go away. Why? The very fact that your outrage exists indicates that the show is doing its job alright. Again, I apologize if this is obvious, but a story does not put the work into making you like and empathize with a character so that you can then watch them go through life never suffering hardships. That'd be like constructing a ladder that extends to ninety feet long and then only using it to get your coat down from a hook.

The cruelest irony of demanding that Hatred be banned is that Hatred is the kind of game that only exists because people will demand that it be banned, and as such creates a paradoxical feedback loop upon which it will inevitably gorge itself. It and other deliberately offensive games like Postal do not exist to enrich the world with their gameplay or story - at least, I bloody well hope not - but as a response to a callout culture increasingly willing to jump on the slightest offense.

Many will be quick to state that shouting and screaming, calls for bans and boycotts, and the harassment of individuals preemptively found guilty in the court of open speculation, is solely the territory of the extremist fringe of the group. This is true of EVERY group with an internet presence, on both sides of every political spectrum, and don't try to deny it. But while it is easy to claim that the screamers are the minority, they are still largely the only ones being heard, and having an effect. I know this to be true because Hatred exists. It exists solely to act as an extremist counterpoint to extremist cultural policing.

Violence and Censorship

"Counterpoint" may be giving it too much credit; it's not so much part of a debate as it is standing in the middle of the room, silently holding up two middle fingers, waiting for people to start throwing rotten fruit and vegetables so it can grab them out of the air and eat them. But perhaps it waits in vain; it hasn't escaped my attention that the popular discourse on Hatred seems to have abruptly ended with its release.

For you see, the shouty fringe harassment squad only go after soft targets. Their pattern is to go after people nominally on their own side who got too comfortable and made a tiny slip-up. The hope is that an apology and retraction can be extracted, at which point the harassment intensifies, because that's what happens when you show weakness to the pack. They swiftly get bored and move on when they realize they are having no effect. No effort against Hatred could be sustained because Hatred just waved its middle fingers and blew raspberries until its attackers used up all their energy. E3 came around so they all moved on, to compete in the now-annual Offended Olympics that goes hand-in-hand with the show, trying to concoct the best way to be offended about Doom being violent without seeming like a clueless bellend. Mostly unsuccessfully.

Meanwhile, Hatred positions itself as a symbol of defiance, and earns easy points among what I hesitate to call the 'traditionalist' side. Points that it took laughing all the way to the bank, because after that one hiccup where it was taken off Steam and then almost immediately put back on like the knickers of an indecisive virgin, Hatred was under no threat. It stood proud upon the battlements waiting for an onslaught that never came. But all its defenders bought it anyway, just so they could feel like they were getting one over an enemy that largely exists in their head.

'Cos that's what debate has been reduced to on the internet. With infinite choice at our fingertips, we don't have to expose ourselves for an instant to anything that challenges our views if we don't want to. So the walls of the echo chambers grow stronger and stronger, until we only hear from the echo chamber next door when the shouty extremists are shouting, and their absurd views only make us more convinced of our own righteousness. Inevitably the extremists and the moderates blur together and we preemptively dismiss as pointless any attempt at civil argument, even with those only slightly sympathetic to their views, until even neutral indifference is regarded with suspicion. We communicate solely in memes, condescending infographics and lengthy fact lists because we have so much contempt for the opposition that we refuse to converse, only dictate.

Hatred may be immune to slings and arrows from the opposition, but just as the offended brigade jumps all over its own side, so too will Hatred's chosen people turn on it the moment it ceases to sufficiently transgress boundaries. It's already clear that it's not even particularly offensive, considering that Jeffrey Cuddletrousers is never once relateable, and the game world very clearly treats his actions with extreme resistance and hostility. I'm afraid it won't be regaining any credibility until it can make the other side angry again. Might I suggest a gameplay mechanic in which you make shish kebabs out of aborted fetuses using your penis instead of a skewer?

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