One of the harder things about growing up is realizing how much terrible stuff out there you would have been into as a younger person.
It's a good reminder of how far you've come, but it can be cringe-worthy to look back at the things you took seriously. There's a certain self-absorption and self-destructive quality to a certain teenage personality type and I fell into the trap without thinking much about it. I listened to terrible industrial music. There may have been makeup involved.
It's through that lens I watched the Hatred trailer.
I had the same reaction as other people on staff, but it's also clear that this was the expected reaction. The marketing copy, the trailer ... everything about this was meant to make you feel shitty about the game and then talk about it. I'm playing into that trap right now by continuing to cover it, but I think there's an important aspect to this that's being lost in the ongoing discussion.
The 90s are over
The idea of shock culture doesn't really exist anymore. This trailer is pandering to a 90s-era sense of culture shock that is no longer effective. People may not like this trailer, but is anyone scared by it? The question of the mass murderer has been answered: We know much about them, they exist, and we need to help with mental health care and maybe make it a bit harder for a teenager to find a gun to use in a rampage.
This trailer is powerless; the questions it asks are now so banal. We know there's hatred out there, and we know that people use it as justification to do terrible things. The vision of a greasy-haired antisocial guy picking up a gun to destroy everything he sees before destroying himself has become a sad reminder that we're doing poorly at helping children at risk. It's as effective at its artistic goals as the scribblings on a trapper keeper.
There may be some aspects of this tone that are attractive to young people battling their own demons, but the reaction of most people won't be that they want to buy the game or experience the thrill of murdering innocent people, it's going to be a reminder that we're not doing enough to stop these tragedies before they happen. It's the fantasy of a child, and my first reaction is to want to help that child.
The trailer is a cartoon, and it's powerless. It's like watching an Alice Cooper video and trying to remember when it was considered scandalous.
If the game is meant on an attack on "politically correct" culture or whatever other machine the developer wants to rage against, fine. It's an interesting goal, and one that could be handled well in games, but they went about it using the visual language of a 10 year-old Slipknot video. It gives off the sense of a teenage alone in their room, blasting music so they get the attention of their parents. It's not scary, it's sullen and inward looking, and it needs a hug more than it needs anything else.
Keep in mind that in 2014 we had a style of cinema referred to as "torture porn" come and go. Making a dent with this sort of content is nearly impossible.
The ways in which we deal with violence, at least in the United States, need to change. How those changes need to take place is a much larger, more interesting conversation. Trying to make a point using limp, overdone imagery of this kind of violence isn't effective anymore, it evokes a boogeyman that left the closet a long time ago. It presents an child-like need to shock that's nearly comical.
So many mainstream games focus on killing and destruction that putting those actions in this context doesn't have the impact the developers are hoping for. Better games have already taken us closer to looking at violence as a means of expression, but no one involved with this trailer ever got the memo.
This sort of thing may have been interesting to me when I was 15, and this may grab the imagination of a few children and industry pundits hoping to make a point, but it's a depressing reminder of how little gaming has changed and how poorly it deals with most serious subjects. It's a rhetorical failure, long before the game is even released.