Oh good, it’s this argument again. The OFLC has once again decided that Australian adult ears and eyes are far too sensitive for violence and have refused classification to Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number. It’s not exactly new ground we’re covering and I’ve even talked about it before on this very site, back in the day, when SR4 was refused classification. Far from alien drugs and pneumatic dildo-probes, however, which I still don’t see a problem with, Hotline Miami has been refused classification for something a little heavier. The following is an excerpt from the report released by the OFLC on their decision:
“In the sequence of gameplay footage titled Midnight Animal, the protagonist character bursts into what appears to be a movie set and explicitly kills 4 people, who collapse to the floor in a pool of copious blood, often accompanied by blood splatter. After stomping on the head of a fifth male character, he strikes a female character wearing red underwear. She is knocked to the floor and is viewed lying face down in a pool of copious blood. The male character is viewed with his pants halfway down, partially exposing his buttocks. He is viewed pinning the female down by the arms and lying on top of her thrusting, implicitly raping her (either rear entry or anally) while her legs are viewed kicking as she struggles beneath him. This visual depiction of implied sexual violence is emphasised by it being mid-screen, with a red backdrop pulsating and the remainder of the screen being surrounded by black.”
Okay, so there’s definitely some darker themes going on this time around for Hotline Miami, too much for the OFLC to stomach apparently. But do we really need to be sheltered from this? Well, no, we don’t, because what’s being described by the OFLC as happening in-game isn’t quite the way it actually happens. Developers at Dennaton games have retorted, saying that the game doesn’t actually depict a rape scene, but that the scene in question is part of a fictionalised, in-game movie being produced by the characters. The studio also had this to say: “We are concerned and disappointed that a board of professionals tasked with evaluating and judging games fairly and honestly would stretch the facts to such a degree.” Indeed. I’m obviously on the side of the devs here, but since the OFLC can’t see the art for the rape, I have to point out a few things. Starting with…
This might sound obvious, but fuck me rigid if it doesn’t need to be continually said, again and again. In an environment where even the slightest perceived slight can kick off a social media fiasco, it really does seem like everyone needs to be reminded that it’s okay to be offended. You can object to something, morally or otherwise, and still not partake in that activity and/or thing – that is totally an option and always has been. The consequences for being offended are effectively nil and any that might arise as a result are purely psychosomatic. As the great Steve Hughes once said, “Be offended! Nothing happens!” You’re free to acknowledge its existence and disapprove, and you’re free to ignore it. But don’t pretend that the former would actually have some personal impact on you, specifically, if the game were to be released.
Something, something, now I have leprosy. Thanks, Steve Hughes.
More to the point, it becomes a whole other issue when you use your offense as an excuse to stop other people from viewing something. It’s fine that you might be offended by the scene depicted in Hotline Miami 2, but I, however, am not. Being told that I’m not allowed to see something because it’s found to be morally objectionable by someone I don’t even know is beyond offensive – it’s outrageous. My rights and the rights of every other gamer who wants to play this game do not end where the hurt feelings of other people begin. This is a Flame Shield Activated article, however, and I can already hear the stampede of feminists to my mailbox to call me a misogynist wanker and rape apologist. Allow me, for a moment, to bear a part of myself which might give greater clarity to my position on the matter.
In 2006, I was falsely accused, and later acquitted, of rape – for those who would like to know more about this, there is plenty of information available out there on the net. The point is that I’ve been involved in the “nitty-gritty” of situations revolving around acts of sexual violence. It’s something I can’t condone being committed against another human being and the subject is something of a sensitive one for me. With all of this in mind, I still don’t find the scene to be objectionable. Seeing rape portrayed in a game, a film, literature, or some kind of medium in which there’s a requisite level of disconnect does not bother me. Sorry, I should say that it doesn’t bother me that it is present in the game at all. Does the subject bother me? Absolutely, and that’s okay because…
Did you think that this scene was being included to appease rape-fetishists and/or rapists? When dark themes such as rape, murder, and ultraviolence are used in media, it’s often done with the intention to make the viewer uncomfortable with what they’re seeing. We’re not supposed to be okay with what’s happening on screen, we aren’t meant to watch terrible things happen in front of us and say “meh.” These themes and depictions are designed to confront, to make us consider the events that have lead to this point and what their deeper meaning is. There is no achievement for “sexual violation,” we’re not “winning points by killing hookers”.
Just for executions and… “double exposures.” It’s not what it sounds like.
Let’s use a controversial scene from an already released game as an example: GTAV’s torture scene. For those who haven’t played the game and weren’t watching the news when the controversy hit, this scene has you take the role of Trevor as he mercilessly tortures an implied innocent man. Your character uses a range of tools for the job, the animations which accompany it are disturbing, to say the least, and a G-Man stands nearby egging you on the whole time. I honestly did not think much of it until I actually played it and shortly after felt pretty disgusted; with the character, with the situation and even with myself a little. To turn someone off with excessive gore is easy. The mark of a great game, however, is that it can make me feel physically uncomfortable with what I’m participating in.
This is a step that games as a medium should be taking anyway, into the territory of more serious issues and how they’re portrayed. It doesn’t help, however, when the reason for the ban falls under this segment of the act:
“depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified.”
It’s just a little blood.
This comes back to the point of “What offends me doesn’t offend you,” and raises another question “What is generally accepted by ‘reasonable’ adults?” I would like to think that I am a reasonable adult, as is much of the gaming community these days, and I’m not offended by a single, brief, not-very-detailed rape scene. In comparison to the excessive amount of violence and murder in the game, I might even argue that it’s the lesser of two evils going on. This is both beside the point, however, because whether or not we can even begin to discuss if it’s offensive or not, we must first understand the context. In all reality, Hotline Miami is probably relatively “tame” compared to some other games out there, because as most gamers should know…
Polish developers, Destructive Creations launched Hatred last year on Steam Greenlight, to some well-deserved controversy, and even managed to be greenlit. The game casts you as a nameless villain who “hates humanity,” stepping from the introduction, into the front yard and straight into the gizzards of some innocent civilians. The developers have even said that it’s a deliberate style, adopted with the intent to offend. It has been on the receiving end of multiple complaints of racism and sexism. There are no ‘deeper themes’ at play in this game, it doesn’t try to explore the deranged mind of a mass murderer. It simply puts you into the role and expects you to perform, without stopping to ask why it’s even happening.
I wouldn’t let the team from id Software see that logo, either, guys.
In contrast, Hotline Miami does a much better job of putting the violence into context. The bulk of the gameplay is an ultraviolent dance, with 80’s beats pumping away and fueling the almost mechanical nature with which you dispatch your enemies. It’s the short reprieve that it ends with that gets to you, however, when the music cuts out and your character is left to silently wade through the carnage he has created. It’s an unusual moment of clarity that forces the player to reflect on their actions and whether this violence was justified or even necessary. These are not nice characters, we’re not supposed to sympathise or cheer them. We’re even encouraged to consider our own part in it all as we progress through the game and become “better” at killing people. We achieve ever increasing “high scores,” but with no straight answers about why it’s all happening. There is more going on in Hotline Miami than what appears on the surface.
More than that, the particular scene which has brought about the ban – as I understand – is not actually interactive. You do not control the character at all while the rape is happening, there isn’t a “press x to thrust” mechanic. It’s not the same as SR:IV’s dildo-probe, in that there is “sexual violence without context.” The context is that it’s happening during a movie shoot, which you’re immediately shown after, the interactivity just isn’t there. They can’t even claim that the sexual violence is being portrayed in poor taste or humor, such as with Stick of Truth. So with these two factors missing, what justification can there possibly be for banning the entire game for one brief, skippable scene?
That’s right – you don’t even have to watch it if you don’t want to. Unacceptable, amirite?
I’ve spent a lot of time talking about this “rape scene”, but maybe you should see it for yourself. It’s okay, I’ll wait – go have a watch. Are you okay, now? Do you need to have a sit down? It’s okay if the content is confronting, even in pixel art form and as brief as it is, it still is a depiction of rape. Ask yourself seriously, though, when given the option to skip this scene, which literally lasts less than five seconds, is this enough to outright ban a game? Before you answer that question, though, ask yourself this one: Would you ban the movie “I Spit On Your Grave” (2010), which entirely revolves around rape and revenge fantasies, and includes several intense, graphic rape scenes? Because the OFLC didn’t.
Make no mistake, either, that is precisely what they’re doing: “refusing classification” is still the same as “censorship.” This was an inevitability, however, when the OFLC made it clear that they weren’t going to move on their position of “no drugs or violent sex in games.” In the OFLC’s eyes, an R18+ rating was an unwanted and unfortunate introduction as it ruins their idea of video games being a “kids toy.” Yes, we are reasonable adults. Yes, we want to watch or play things which some might find “offensive.” No, it doesn’t make us terrible people. No, it does not make us “want to go out and emulate it” (I didn’t even feel the need to bring this argument up in this article.) No, you do not have the right to tell me what I do and don’t find morally offensive. OFLC, the Australian people are disappoint.