For those unaware, the impending release of Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number began with some controversy. Back in 2013, an early demo of Hotline Miami 2 saw players navigate a tutorial as the pig butcher, murdering many on their path to the final room. Upon entering the room, players are presented with a woman tied to a chair, and the game commands, “Finish Her.” The butcher walks up to her, drops his trousers, and a director from the side of the screen shouts, “Cut! Pig Man, well done, but don’t be afraid to be rougher. And you there, Blondie, you need to work on your femininity. Act more helpless and scared. You know, more girly.”
This scene of course raised some outrage in the gaming world. Fans of the series called it nothing more than a shock tactic, and a cheap thrill. In response to the controversial scene of sexual assault, Dennton Game’s Dennis Wedin stated in an interview with PC Gamer:
“We were really sad that some people were so affected by it, because maybe they had been through something like that of their own. Maybe they had a terrible experience of their own that was triggered by the game. That was not intentional at all. We didn’t add the scene just to be controversial. There is a meaning to these two characters. There’s a lot more to them than just this scene. We removed it from the demo. We’re going to work with it, see if we can fix it. You get a bigger picture when you play the whole game, which is lost in the demo of course.”
In the same interview with PC Gamer, Jonatan ‘Cactusquid’ Söderström, co-creator of the game was asked whether this controversy had any sort of impact on the game. He responds, “No. Not really.”
Wedin goes on to add, “At the start of the game, there’s an option to choose whether you want the game uncensored or not. It was stupid to have it in the demo, looking back. It doesn’t really work if you can’t continue playing and see how it works.”
Of course, taken out of context, anything could be offensive. But should these gray-areas and the hesitancy surrounding them shape the creative vision of a game? Dennaton Games proved themselves plenty capable of delivering a thought-provoking message with finesse and subtlety by delving into extreme subject matter, namely hyper-violence, in the original Hotline Miami. This next title is likely to prove no different, yet people were hesitant.
What if Hotline Miami 2 had given in to these worries? What if these criticisms shaped the final vision of the game, altering the artistic intent and creative freedom Dennaton Games sought to share?
There seems to be a demand among gamers and critics today that video games are capable of being so much more than entertainment. Games like Gone Home, The Walking Dead, and even Hotline Miami provoke catharsis from the audience or even enlightenment. Yet, while we encourage games to push limits, the industry is too often up in arms at the first sign of offense.
Art is offensive. Plain and simple. If you encounter a piece of art that offends you, ask yourself why it offends you. Does the offending work have something to say that you understand, but don’t feel comfortable consuming? That’s okay. There is a difference between this and mindless offense. Be mature enough to recognize the distinction, and know that sometimes the offending, artistic material isn’t for you.
The community shouldn’t demand the creator change their work simply because of public reaction. Keep in mind, shock value for the sake of shock value is wrong and cheap. It is easy to horrify someone with a rape scene or decapitation in any media, but using those moments to enlighten your audience is where an artist’s talent is tested. Strong medicine may be uncomfortable to take, but in the end one is better off.
Offensive art is not limited to video games. How would classic film or literature fare if creators succumbed to the censors and critics who felt outrage over the subject matter these works of art presented? How much different would films like Birth of a Nation be if they didn’t focus on the atrocious acts committed by the Ku Klux Klan? Do we pretend that racism in America never happened? No. The film serves as a staunch snapshot of American history.
How about the rape scene in A Clockwork Orange? If removed, the scene where Alex is tortured and conditioned to abhor violence loses all significance. The audience is supposed to have conflicting feelings about torturing a rapist. We’re uncomfortable because we’re witnessing the dehumanization of a human being who minutes before had raped and murdered an innocent woman.
In one more case, let us imagine Requiem for a Dream without its final act. We see the cost of living a life fueled by drugs, and it ain’t pretty. The final act is horrifying. We witness an amputation, imprisonment, and a woman turned prostitute. Thanks to the offensive content of the film, the anti-drug message of the film is read loud and clear. Sure, there is more to the film than that, but you get the gist of it.