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We sat down for a chat with the maker of a game that sparked media outrage.
A main character in a trench coat talks about a “genocide crusade” before opening fire on a suburban neighborhood. A police officer is repeatedly shanked, a man’s head explodes at the bad end of a shotgun, and a pistol is placed in a woman’s mouth as she screams helplessly. The trigger is pulled; blood showers the street below.
This is the gameplay shown for the game Hatred in a trailer released in October. It’s immediately obvious that it would be written about all over the world. It was sadistic and gory, and anything that makes people gasp and cover their eyes in horror is ripe for mass media coverage.
But what’s the endgame of this sort of attention? If it’s to turn people off of the game, the method isn’t working. Millions of people have now watched the trailer for a game, put together by a team of 10 obscure Polish developers that would have been lucky to garner views in the thousands—if it hadn’t been so deplorable. It’s an old tradition, at this point, for publications to bring controversial media to readers’ attention for the sole purpose of reassuring them that it’s unforgivable garbage, and it sends a pretty clear message to the people who want attention: If you want press for cheap, make unforgivable garbage.
I wanted to talk about this phenomenon, and how it’s affected Hatred, with Jarosław Zieliński, the CEO of Creative Destructions and the game’s animator. Why was Hatred getting so much coverage? Why was I seeing people who had laughed while killing a sex worker in Grand Theft Auto III stand in dismay at this twin-stick indie trailer from Poland?
Zieliński phoned me up on Skype on a recent day in a jovial mood, finishing up his first post-gym beer, to share what the controversy, and game itself, meant to him. Zieliński apologized for his English (“I’m not a native speaker,” he said) and then we got started.
It impressed me that this particular trailer was so publicized outside of the gaming world. People were really just piling on.
I’m pretty amazed that so many newspapers and media not related to games are interested in this case, because I didn’t expect it, really, and it’s fucking amazing for me.
So are you happy that it’s gotten all this outside attention?
Yes, of course! It’s brought a lot of fuss to us! I don’t… you know, all the press, well maybe not all, but most of the press is quite negative about our game and our trailer, but it gave a lot of people attention for our product, yes? So we have a big, fan database; I never expected it to be that big, and I never expected such big support from that, because we’re receiving a lot of emails, a lot of emails, that are saying stuff like “Don’t give up! Do it! Fuck all those Social… Social Justice Warriors,” and, uh, it’s really amazing. I didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect it would be so huge, all that stuff. I knew there would be some shitstorm around the web, but I didn’t expect to go that. We received interviews from England, Metronews from France, Germany. Whoa! I didn’t want to be famous. (laughs)
There’s always a built-in audience for something that’s taboo or controversial. So I don’t know what it’s hoping to accomplish when people release so much negative publicity, saying ‘We don’t like this game,’ it’s just getting the word out there.
All those people who are writing stuff like this just made us a great marketing campaign. It was very cheap. Actually, we didn’t pay for it. Anything. So, we have all the people that are supporting us, and they would never hear about this Hatred game if it wasn’t for all the negative press, and those people who hate us, and are threatening us, but they simply can’t do anything because we don’t break any laws. And… that’s all. So we are really grateful to all our haters, and all the negative press, because they’ve made a great coverage for us. Beyond our imagination, really.
What is the objective, the nuts-and-bolts of them game, level by level?
There are seven levels in this game, and all of them are open, so we can go anywhere we like. It’s not a linear structure. But there are goals to achieve, and there are some side objectives. There is a story, but you don’t have… it’s not saying why the main character is doing stuff like this. We didn’t want to make any background on this character, because it’s good to keep some mystery around him. Besides, we didn’t want to justify mass murdering, yes?
People are complaining that our game is so bad because they don’t see any… motive? They don’t see any reason why our main hero is doing this. But to me, it’s stupid, yes? Because why they would accept the way, I don’t know, we would write a story that he lost his family or something, and suddenly all his deeds will be justified? I don’t know. It’s not fair. Killing is always bad, yes? And no one who is doing stuff like this is supposed to be… redempted? People who are doing mass murders don’t deserve redemption, so I don’t know why people, just, would like any background on this character.
So, you think where some games offer up reasoning and excuses, you actually think it’s-
You know, the usual example is [Grand Theft Auto], where you are killing a lot of people during the story, and people somehow justify all these murders, killing policemen and all this stuff. But let’s look at this as, main characters are killing because of their greed. To make money, or to become better gangsters. I don’t know how people can think it’s good justification for killing people. Suddenly, a game is created where my character is just doing the same stuff, but because he just fucking hates everyone. And I don’t see really a big deal of it. I think I prefer, a little, the honest ways of our character, who kills because of his emotions, not because of his greed or something.
It’s kind of presented as if the character is kind of mentally unstable, whereas other games say our character is ambitious. Like GTA, you’re killing for ambition.
Yes. But it’s wrong, yes?
I’ve seen people defend the Postal series while denouncing Hatred, saying Postal was satirical.
It’s simply not true. The first Postal wasn’t satirical. The only thing was, there were some one-liners said by the main character… but it wasn’t funny at all. Just the second part was funny as hell. But, personally, I didn’t like where the series went. Hatred was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It’s basically a better Postal, but we headed into another direction, into making something much more serious, much more dark. We just don’t want to put anything funny in this game. Postal wasn’t funny, it wasn’t satirical. The only funny thing was a riot by some angry people that were striking against violence in videogames. That was the only funny thing, and you had to kill them all.
I went back and watched a trailer for the Steam release of Postal II, and if you just watch the trailer for it… I don’t know how people can say we should be mad about Hatred and not about that, because the trailers are both just music playing over somebody killing people. I don’t know if you can judge from a trailer what a game’s art direction is, and what it’s going for, because trailers are short and they sell things quickly.
You know, the main reason for me putting in this trailer this scene where this guy talks, and he’s got his equipment and all this stuff, was because I wanted to show to people, with this trailer, that it’s not going to be funny at all. That it’s going to be some evil shit. I want this game to be like this. There’s nothing else out there, and no justification of this violence. I think people are mad primarily because of this.
What were the influences in art direction?
Because we don’t live in the United States, but we set our game out there, we had to use some photos from Google Street View (laughs) to do some stuff. Like pavement, how it looks out there, architecture of your houses and all of it. But, as you can see, everything is made in black and white, and we’re just making the effects with color, so it’s not a realistic design, but all the environments and characters are quite realistic. There’s nothing comic style… the little inspiration for us was Sin City, because there was everything black and white, and some things were colorful. I thought it would be nice, and it would fit in the atmosphere of our game that we want to deliver. Also the creepy music and all that stuff. I think the dark music, it sets it in a dark, ambient style, with some industrial influences. Along with the art direction we’ve chosen, it really creates the atmosphere of all this sick shit.
Did you know from the very beginning that you wanted to set it in the United States?
The fact is the United States, and New York state, is the most recognized place around the world, because of all the pop culture, movies, games… everyone knows how America looks, yes? And if you set your game, especially a game like this—which has to make an impression of something sick—as a place that you recognize, it makes more of a connection.
How did you guys react to people saying the game is racist?
We didn’t expect it, because we are making the most equal and most tolerant game ever. Everybody dies here. I think people are just searching for additional problems with our game, and trying to make us monsters or something, because they don’t like it. But they should just get over it. We’re gonna do this game, and it’s not racist, and we will do it, and we will finish it, and we will release it. And it doesn’t matter what idea someone will come up with, about us or the game… (laughs) Come on! Racist?! I just want to say that it’s fucking ridiculous, really.
Have people been bringing up Gamergate a lot when interviewing you?
Yeah, but the funny thing is that we have no idea about such things. I realized there is something like Gamer’s Gate, by doing interviews.
You know, we are from Poland, we don’t watch the news, what is happening in America, because we simply don’t give a fuck. Because we have a war outside our border, we have our own problems. For me, as I searched through the whole case of Gamer’s Gate, it’s really fucking ridiculous. I think people are making this thing to cover up something which is bigger. It’s a big thing for media to hang on, to not speak about more important things. Some people are making threats to some others? Come on. As far as I know nothing bad’s happened, so what’s there to talk about? It has something to do with Anita Sarkenstein [sic], yes?
That was something a lot of people talked about it when the trailer was released, because it was released in close proximity to death threats made against her.
To be honest, she’s kind of asking for that, because she’s doing a lot of stuff that people don’t like it. Come on, it’s normal that if you go to the public with some controversial stuff, just like us, there will be people that will try to harm you, or hurt you, and all this stuff. So, she asks for it, as we just did with our trailer. We knew that there would be a lot of controversy, we were ready for it, and we don’t give a shit.
Has anybody made any violent threats to you in their emails?
No, not really. Nothing worth mentioning. Because, let me think… ah, there was just some Polish guy who was calling us names, that we are dicks or something. But it’s funny for me. No, there weren’t any death threats, because I think those people that are making stuff like this are actually our fans, so, (laughs) I don’t really expect that kind of shit and stuff.
Do you think the game is more controversial in American media than it is in Polish media?
Yes, and the answer is pretty simple. It’s some kind of cultural difference. We don’t have any mass shootings in our country, and not in Europe at all, because we don’t have such easy access to weapons. So we don’t have any school shootings, and all that stuff. So, maybe we’re not as touchy about this subject as you people are. But, you know, Postal was made in America, so I think there are people that are thinking like us out there. Well, I know they are out there, because many of our fans are from America, so I see it like that. This is a cultural difference. It’s like, if someone would be making a game about Auswitzch. That would be very offensive for us, because of our history, and I don’t think it would be offensive for you guys. We’re from other side of the world, it’s a fact.
Controversial games seem to have a place, and they’re never going away. So what does it mean to be publishing games that push buttons and are controversial?
A lot of controversial games were very good games, technically. For me, Mortal Kombat was a masterpiece in fighting games, and GTA was something that was a master of its own kind. Blood was a great FPS game. It’s not that there is some kind of pushing the button… when you do a game like this, you’re first thinking about making a good game, a game which will be fun to play. And, of course, there are people who enjoy some kind of sick stuff, so, I don’t know how to say it in English. But it’s, uh, forbidden fruit for us. Something which gives you some sinful pleasure. People will reach for those games, because, I don’t know why, I don’t know the psychologics. But, as a developer, I can assure that the first thing is making a good game, and secondary is that there will be some kind of controversy, or it will be gory, or it will be cruel, and that’s all.
How does it feel as developers to kind of be carrying the torch for the most controversial game being talked about right now ? Does that put pressure on you?
It’s very motivating for us. As I said before, I didn’t expect so much interest, and suddenly I stopped worrying about sales. Because, you’re telling me that it’s the most controversial game right now, it’s flattering for me. We didn’t expect this. This is very good, but the only thing that is pissing me about all of this is that I have to make a lot of interviews instead of making a game. It’s hard to find time for all this.
I’ve seen a lot of people being critical that you’re being controversial just to be controversial, but you do deserve a lot of credit for getting your name out there, and your game out there.
Yes, that’s a fact. All in all, I think that if the stuff we’ve shown wasn’t good, in technical ways, nobody would care, because everyone would troll this game as a, you know, an underground, silly, stupid game made by sick people. I think what we’ve already shown, especially as that small of a team, was of enough quality for people to notice. So it’s kind of flattering.
Screengrab via PCGames/YouTube
Joey Keeton is an entertainment writer who reviewed streaming movies, comedies, and TV series for the Daily Dot. He's also written about podcasts, bizarre web culture, and politics.