Why Hotline Miami?
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.