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Let me start off by saying I think videogames can be art. I am very much a fan of videogames, I find them fascinating, and I think they have incredible potential as an artist medium and do things that books, movies and animation cannot. That said, not every videogame is art.

Recently the game Hatred was pulled from Steam Greenlight, due to… well I don’t really know. Valve, the owners of Steam, have down piss-all to explain and justify this decision, one which, I believe, needs some justification. That said, I don’t really give a damn. What I’m more interested in here is the ideas of artistic license and censorship floating around this discussion.

Let me be clear, I have not played, and have no interest in playing, Hatred. If the Greenlight trailer is anything to go by, it’s a game essentially about senseless violence, and kill innocent people, and is not something I would enjoy. However, I’m certainly not in favor of censorship, and while I don’t think Steam has done actually is censorship, I’m not in favour of it either.

Steam has demonstrated repeatedly in the past that it will put any shit that gets through the Greenlight process onto their store, and allow it to be sold for money. While I don’t think suddenly changing this system is censorship, it is still a limitation of speech; it is disallowing something from having a stage, and even if that’s your stage to begin with, you are impeding and slowing open dialogue by kicking them off. If you need the stage for something else then that’s reasonable, but as I’ve said, Steam lets countless other games share this stage, one more isn’t going to ruin the show.

But enough has already been said about Steam in this and other Greenlight problems. The more substantive conversation is about games and artistic expression. Games can be art. Arguably, all games are in some way art, just by their nature of being created to be played in a non-utilitarian way. But that’s not really what they’re created for, that’s just what they’re used for. What a game is created for is equivalent to why its creator created it. To be sold for money. Games are a product.

Product and art are not mutually exclusive. Games that are art are proof of this; games like Spec. Ops: The Line and Bioshock. These were created for the purposes of selling, but it’s clear that at least some part of the development teams were also creating them to express something.

In the case of something like Hatred, I’m not convinced it is created to express something. Obviously it does express something, specifically hatred, but that seems to be part of its being a product; that’s not a point of artistic integrity, that’s a point of marketing. I don’t think anyone will deny that the game devs were trying to get at least some of the negative feedback that the game has gotten, because that gives it attention, media coverage, and free publicity (for example, what you’re reading right now).

I find it a little silly that we immediately defend this game and condemn Steam for removing it, based on the idea of “artistic freedom”. Hatred might be art, but I find it more likely that it’s just a product, like any other shit shilled by a shrewd and selfish syndicate that sells stuff.

Like is said, I haven’t played the game, and I don’t mean to say my opinion on whether or not it is art actually means anything. But I won’t just assuming by default that it is art, deserving of the respect of artistic license. From all I know so far, the game’s just product, and you can’t “censor” a product. If the devs want the same rights for it that art and speech get, they can’t just show senseless violence and expect us to respect their artistic expression. Give me a reason to believe this product is art, and I’ll defend its right to exist. Until then, the game can be senselessly gunned down in the street for all I care.

Don’t Lose Your Way

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