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Why Hotline Miami?
by Devin Wilson on 10/26/12 01:48:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutraís community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Quite simply: I’m baffled.

I haven’t played Hotline Miami. I’m not going to buy Hotline Miami. I’m not going to pirate the game, either. I have no interest in playing the game because I don’t see what there is about Hotline Miami that isn’t pure adolescent nonsense. Feel free to correct me on any details, but I’m not giving the developers of this game the time or money required to play it. I don’t feel bad about that. I have better things to do (including writing this).

I am quite literally embarrassed by the overwhelmingly positive response to this game. We keep talking about how video games are a young medium and how we’re eager for it to grow up. Then we see what is, as far as I can tell, a wholly immature work named Hotline Miami, and its ultraviolence and gore are greeted with the stereotypically uncritical responses of “Awesome!”. I’ve read two reviews of the game, watched one trailer, and watched the Giant Bomb Quick Look of it. From this information, all I can gather is that it’s an unstable game about killing people. Oh, and it has music that some people seem to like.

And it might be somewhat anti-feminist judging from this line of the Rock, Paper, Shotgun review: “There’s even a strange vein of sweetness, as a female presence introduced into the player’s apartment in an early mission sees it gradually evolve from dingy cesspit to clean, decorated home.”

Yes. How sweet. A female presence cleaning and decorating a home. This is exactly the kind of depiction of women that we want in games, right? No!

Are we ever going to get serious about representations of women? About making games that aren’t just blood-soaked murder simulators? Why is it okay that Hotline Miami's cover art has a scantily clad, unconscious woman who is ostensibly being rescued by the male protagonist? Why does Hotline Miami get a pass for being about nothing but killing other people, when everyone is reportedly sick of first-person shooters that do the same thing? It’s completely offensive to me, and I think we should all be ashamed of it.

Keep in mind that I am mostly criticizing the reaction to the game, which is why I’m so comfortable talking about it without having played it. When the Giant Bomb Quick Look ends with the sentiments “This game is awesome!” and “This game seems really great” based almost entirely on the game’s violence, this is exactly the problem with the discourse surrounding games. Why is killing a bunch of people great? We sound completely mad when we exclaim stuff like that!

I’m not even strictly opposed to killing or violence in games, mind you. I can appreciate it as a means to an end in a game. However, Hotline Miami is apparently nothing but a crass celebration of violence in itself, and I’m not into that at all. None of the coverage I’ve read has convinced me that it’s much more than that, and everyone seems to be transfixed by the amazing bloodstains you leave on the environment (even if blood can apparently spray through walls). I watched people play this game for more than 20 minutes, and I was still left with the impression that it’s simply about how great it is to kill people. But apparently it’s fun.

And if something’s fun, that means we don’t have to think about it. It means we shouldn’t criticize it beyond its ability to be fun or maybe “trippy” in its audio/visual components.

Knock it off, everybody. Stop making so many games that glorify violence and stop praising the developers who do it. And yes, if a game calls you a “winner” for being more violent than not, it’s glorifying violence. It’s not interesting anymore (if it ever was), and I swear it makes us look sociopathic (at best) for continuing to enjoy it. For example, in the Polygon review of the game, Chris Plante praises the game by saying, “Playing Hotline Miami made me feel like an empowered homicidal maniac.”

What a unique, positive feeling for an action game to evoke!

Honestly, take any well-regarded single-player computer game about killing (and there are plenty to choose from), insert its title into the previous quote, and I think you have a perfect encapsulation of the general state of game criticism. It’s terrible, and it’s completely discouraging for me, personally.

Update, October 28th: I've now played the game, and I'm just as confused as before. Perhaps more so.

Update 2, October 28th: I should clarify... I've played Part One of Hotline Miami since writing this blog. There's been a... spirited discussion over at Giant Bomb (where I also posted this blog), so that's where I've been making clarifications, defending myself, etc.

Update, October 29th: I've now been educated on the narrative arc of Hotline Miami. I stand by all of my previous arguments with one small qualifier: yes, it seems like the creators of the game tried to comment on this ultraviolence in the game itself. However, I sincerely think it's a case of them trying to have their cake (violence) and eat it (comment on it) too. I don't think the game's structure supports the kind of introspection that everyone is giving it credit for. The vast majority of the Hotline Miami experience seems to be killing people and/or pressing R to try killing these people again. The non-gameplay elements are not inconsequential, but they seem completely overwhelmed by the gameplay elements. My response to the gameplay was one of disgust and, both before and after playing, abstention.

Finally, let the record show that abstaining from gameplay is not the same as abstaining from completing a book or movie. This will likely be my last word on Hotline Miami. I quite honestly just have too much work to do to let a game I disapprove of consume my free time.

Thanks everybody for reading and/or participating, even if you aggressively disagreed with me.

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Will Hubbell
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I havenít read this article. Iím not going to read this article. Iím not going to recommend other people read it, either. I have no interest in reading the article because I donít see what there is about this article that isnít pure ignorant nonsense.

phil fish
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im baffled too.

Tont Voles
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You really need to finish the game to get any grip at all on what it's about, or what questions it's setting for the player to answer.

Mark Desmarais
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"However, Hotline Miami is apparently nothing but a crass celebration of violence in itself, and Iím not into that at all."

That's where this post seems to go completely off the rails. This description of Hotline Miami is, well, not very recognizable as the game I've been playing.

I appreciate the idea that games should have more depth. I agree that violence is overused and tends to be a cheap solution to a deeper problem.

Hotline Miami is anything but cheap. Your criticisms, when applied here, seem to apply on only the most superficial level.

It seems as though you want to say that good games shouldn't focus on violence because other, lesser games tend to rely on violence. I disagree, since Hotline Miami is a wonderful game on its own merits. I don't see the point of blaming it for using violence simply because other games use violence poorly.

Justin Speer
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"Finally, let the record show that abstaining from gameplay is not the same as abstaining from completing a book or movie."

It's actually the exact same thing as walking out on a movie. It's still your right to do it, of course.

Erik L
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Hey Devin,

How can you justify your love of Counterstrike, moreover your bragging about getting 5 headshots in your twitter stream, while at the same time slammin Hotline Miami for violence in an article you write before even playing it? Seems like total hypocrisy.

Quite simple, I'm baffled.

Frank Hornborg
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This is an excellent game with or without the violence. The style, the atmosphere, the perfect gameplay, the incredibly well-balanced difficulty level. It could be Buck Rogers fighting alien robots and, although the underlying point would be different, the game would still be a solid 9/10.

I can get why people may find this distasteful and that's a fair criticism. But personally, this kind of excessive absurd violence bothers me much less than the pro-militarist pro-nationalist xenophobic rah rah heroism of any Gears of Medal of Battleground. Really, if one is disgusted by this game and not those, then imho it's time for some self-reflection.

As for the feminist point, I think it's reading way too much into it. Where the poster sees a damsel-in-distress cliche I see a point about abuse and cruelty against women. And about the clean home, I saw that as him getting some meaning and hint of sense in his life, not a comment on womans-place-is-in-the-home.
She doesn't ever say anything, and it's not like she's running around with a vacuum cleaner. She never has any interaction with the player, they don't even sleep in the same bed.
Maybe it's because I'm scandinavian (as the game devs are) where sexual equality is years ahead of most of the rest of the world, but it didn't even cross my mind that this was misogynistic in any way. And I'm usually pretty sensitive to that.

All in all though, you Simply Can Not judge anything based 2nd hand experience or a short play session. If for no other reason than credibility.

By the way, it might give some perspective to check out Cactus' previous work.

Nikita Dudnik
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Can't read your article in whole. Too much nonsense. But I've read enough to see your personal preferences of how the world around you shall be are stopping you from perceiving what's really out there.

Graham Luke
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Wow you're behaving like a fool.

Play the game, see the mechanics. Don't judge a book by its cover is a cliche. Please grow your mind.

Graham Luke
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And by play I mean "play," not "play." If you don't understand what I mean by that then you still won't understand even if I explain it to you.

(wrote this after you seeing you tried the game)