A new quality of aggression.
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Avid computer gamers mustn’t be oversensitive. We’re used to a fair amount of violence in our favourite hobby. We’re well aware that “problem-solving” often involves a machine gun. Although we wouldn’t admit it in public, we’re proud to define progress by the number of limbs that can severed from a digital human body. With technology came realism, with realism came gore, you know it, what’s the big deal? Indeed, what’s so special about a game like Hitman? A game that isn’t exceptionally gory, in which not a single limb can be severed? It’s the single fact that Hitman declares cold-blooded, insidious murder an acceptable subject for home entertainment, with a realistic directness never known before. It’s the disturbing certainty that modern entertainment has breached the last boundaries, those of morality as well as simply those of taste. And it’s the alarming realisation that we don’t care.
We should care. Not because of a new-found conscience or a sudden prudery, but because the ever-increasing tide of violence threatens to wash away our common sense. The alarm bells are ringing: Hitman introduces a new quality of aggression.
What discriminates the game from the Counter-Strikes
and Soldier of Fortunes
of this world is the perfidy. The hitman does not react to hostility, he anticipates it. His victims are not his enemies. In any given 3D action game, your choice in a hostile world is to defend yourself or die. However poor this justification may be, it is still somewhat reasonable – call it self defence, call it second degree murder. In normal 3D action games, you react. In Hitman, you act.
The world of Hitman is peaceful. The one who starts the bloodshed is you. You have to take the initiative, attack without having been provoked, backstab unsuspecting humans. Cowardice is a virtue in Hitman, and so is unscrupulousness: you have to kill innocents – passers-by! – to prevent them from alarming the guards. What’s worse, and what discriminates Hitman from all those related movies from “Léon” to “Assassins” is that the game has no critical undertone whatsoever. In Hitman, killing is an end in itself, and a fun one at that. The perversity is the complete absence of alternatives – you have to KILL, there are really no other options, not even to knock someone out. This gives your actions a gruesome logic: the previous murder justifies the next one. Those are the lessons that Hitman teaches, and believe me, you’re going to learn them quickly.
But hey, it’s only digital! We’ve heard all that fuss about violence hundreds of times before, it’s only the scaremongering of the ignorant.
Yes, possibly. But it’s not that we gamers are blessed with immunity against ignorance, especially when our hobby is criticised. We know nothing about the influence of the media on personality, but that doesn’t prevent us from having a conviction: we are sure that computer games do not reinforce aggression in kids. After all, we’re the best examples for this thesis, aren’t we? Even if we suspect deep down that our confidence is one third optimism and two thirds indifference, we prefer to cry out: Heck, what’s wrong with wanting to have some fun? And we certainly insist on our right to decide for ourselves whether violence means fun for us or not. Entertainment is our ultimate justification.
So what’s the problem with Hitman? Is it about morality, that outdated value? No, it isn’t. It’s about responsibility. The responsibility of the developers for their target group, which simply cannot be denied. To propagate violence without a though about the consequences is blatantly ignorant. But there’s also the responsibility of us, the gamers, for our hobby. When the uninformed public, prodded by the yellow press, looks at computer games, they notice a Hitman. They notice the blood, the violence, the killing. You know all too well which judgements are formed on the basis of such impressions.
If we justify games like Hitman, we gather voluntarily in our niche as a blood-thirsty minority. We are doing ourselves no favour with that. The gaming scene is grown-up enough to accept its responsibility for itself. We should declare Hitman as what it is: the ill-considered perversion of a game.
The Bottom Line
Do we really need a murder simulation to have fun? I for one don’t.