Yes - that's right. Another day, and yet another gaming-related rape controversy. It's a word that we never thought we'd find cause to use on Digitiser 2000, but which is, depressingly, fast becoming an overused part of our vocabulary.
Look away now if you don't want to read the ABC's unpleasant description of the offending scene:
"In the sequence of game play 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."
The sequence earlier appeared in a demo, which had caused controversy at various media events last year. However, in the wake of some mild backlash, developer Dennaton Games announced it was considering removing the sequence. Evidently, they decided not to.
Now... we loved Hotline Miami. It was excessively violent and anti-social to be sure... but it never seemed to have anything like that in it. Of course, it's all in the telling and the context, but with that in mind... here's what the game's publisher Devolver had to say:
"First, to clear up any possible misconceptions, the opening cinematic that was first shown in June of 2013 has not changed in any way. We also want to make clear that players are given an choice at the start of the game as to whether they wish to avoid content that alludes to sexual violence. The sequence in question is presented below in context, both after choosing the uncut version of the game and after choosing to avoid content that alludes to sexual violence.
"Second, in response to the report itself, 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 and issue a report that describes specific thrusting actions that are not simply present in the sequence in question and incorrectly portrays what was presented to them for review."
So... the "thrusting" has apparently been exaggerated... But that doesn't detract from the fact that, seemingly, the firm's way of trying to avoid controversy over sexual violence is to include sexual violence in the game, but give players the choice of not having to watch it. Which, frankly, seems a bit bizarre to us.
And - if that is the case - no justification whatsoever.
Now... we haven't seen Hotline Miami 2, but we don't feel there's anything wrong per se - if it's handled correctly and sensitively - in depicting sexual violence in a creative endeavour.
There have been movies about it, books about it, stage plays about it. Heck, they've even had it in EastEnders and Downton Abbey. But often they're coming from a real place - written by someone with first-hand experience, as a way of processing or speaking out about the experience. Or, at the very least, they tend to get experts on board to ensure it's handled sensitively, in a way that isn't going to upset anyone unduly.
You know: such as someone who has been a victim of sexual violence, and knows first-hand exactly why it is a devastating and life-destroying event, that casts a shadow across a person's entire life.
Usually - when it's not just there for titilation or shock factor, or because it's just the sort of thing you're meant to have in rap lyrics - there's a point behind it.
We dunno. Maybe Hotline Miami 2 is different to its predecessor, but we suspect it'll be more of the same gratuitous, arcade-y, 8-bit violence. And rape - we honestly cannot believe we're having to type that word yet again in relation to a video game - feels like a bad fit for that series. Even if you can skip it. Where's the context? What's the message? What are they trying to say? It feels hollow, and cheap, and utterly, completely, needless.
While - again - holding up our hand and admitting we've not played the game, or seen the sequence in question, our worry is that it's just there because it's there. Because the developers deemed it would be a cool thing to have in their game. Because, troublingly, it sometimes feels like too many people who are drawn to video games - either as players, creators, or commentators - are obsessed with the idea of sexual violence.
Following the unveiling of the controversial demo last year, Dennaton's Dennis Wedin discussed the sequence with Rock, Paper, Shotgun. He said:
"Our reasoning was, it’s been a trend in horror movies to do a remake of an old movie or maybe a sequel to an old movie, and they tend to take the next step up. Like, the first movie was really violent and bloody, and that was controversial. The next tries to [be equally controversial] with a big next step.
"So almost doing that with the illusion of an assault but then having the game stop you, that’s us saying we’re not going to go the whole way [toward that exploitative next step]. That’s not Hotline Miami. Some might think that would be the way for us to do the sequel. Like, 'OK, they did the violence. Now do sexual assault to be controversial'. That’s not what we’re about. So instead, it just stops."
We don't really know what he's trying to say there to be honest. You're not really about rape, so you put it in your game anyway, but you don't go the whole way... because that's what you're not really about? Eh? What?
Devolver has announced it won't be challenging the ruling from the ABC. But last night, in an email allegedly sent to a fan from Dennaton's Jonatan Söderström, the designer wrote: "If it ends up not being released in Australia, just pirate it after release. No need to send us any money, just enjoy the game!"
Yes. Enjoy the game. Enjoy the game, everyone. And don't worry about the rape - you can just skip past that part by pressing X.
It's like holding a dinner party, and putting a half-dissected cat on the table, with a pair of rubber testicles in its mouth, then telling people they don't have to look at it if it offends them.