an indie top-down
shooter PC game by Dennaton Games that came out in October and found
its way onto many a Best Games of 2012 list (including the
has a twist ending that you have seen before. You have seen it in
and in the first Call of Duty:
game. In some ways, you have felt it shake you to your core in every
game that asks you to kill someone. The twist is that You Did It. The
game asked you to do it, but you're the one who did what the game
Hotline Miami, you killed hundreds. It might feel like
thousands, depending on how many times you played and replayed the
levels. The game desensitized you and forced you to calculate each of
these kills from a distant vantage point. The bouncy dance beats and
splashy, neon-colored levels help to distance you from the violence.
The retro pixelated aesthetic helps, too. Nothing seems real here.
screens at the end of each level tally up a score. But you do not
"win" Hotline Miami. You only are confronted by what you
have done. The end of the game points out your complicity with
disturbing narrative of anxious masculinity occurs in Fight Club
as well, perhaps most famously. Edward Norton's character awakens
the animal within himself and, eventually, within all the men around
him. Every man, according to this story, is on the breaking point;
men are violent inherently, and it is all they can do to keep that
violence under wraps. Men can use that violence for Good - by
"protecting" women, kittens, cookies, or any other objects that
they "own." But this "protection" also requires men to use
their violence for Evil: by destroying.
might only destroy other men, of course, men who pose threats, men
who are "reasonable" targets. But an ominous thread runs through
this narrative: what if men loosed their alleged inherent power
elsewhere - specifically, at women? What if a man finds that he
can't help but kidnap, rape, or kill some unsuspecting lady
bystander, what with his uncontrollable urges and all? She'd better
hope she gets rescued in time by one of the Good Guys . . . and she'd
better hope that Good Guy doesn't go Bad.
narrative pops up not only in Fight Club but in almost every
super-popular video game of the past few decades. Even Mario
games tell a tale of failing to protect the precious object that is
Princess Peach, of fighting with other forces of masculinity (from
the levels' protruding pipes and anthropomorphized bombs and
bullets, to Bowser himself) and either avoiding or destroying the
dangers of the world to protect his damsel. But why is Peach better
off with Mario, or with anyone else? The game doesn't want you to
ask this question, because the story is not about Peach. Peach is a
fire flower. Peach is a mushroom. Peach is just another Important
Thing that Mario must grab before it rolls off the screen, before
someone else grabs it first, before the game is lost.
like Mario enact a childish, simplified version of the same events
that transpire in Hotline Miami. This is why the twist ending
should not surprise you. You have seen this story before.
play as Jacket. That's a fan-given name inspired by the character's
varsity jacket, as this hero does not have a name, much like Edward
Norton in Fight Club. You are a hit man. At some mysterious
point before the game begins, Jacket signed up for this career choice
(just as you, the player, at some mysterious point before the game
began, decided to download it). Jacket gets answering-machine
messages that instruct him to go to certain areas and do
like picking up food or making repairs. But these messages
are a code. The secret code behind every message is: go to this
location and kill every last person there. Put on an animal mask, one
of the many that you own, so that no one will recognize you. Murder
every person you can find in these buildings, in tactical order, with
slick precision. Don't ask why. Just do it.
you, the player, will do it. It will even be fun.
first, the game has no female characters. There are only men, almost
all of whom are armed, all of whom look nigh identical to one
another, and all of whom will kill you on sight if you don't kill
them first. Eventually, though, you will meet a woman. This woman is
a prostitute. You have killed everyone before her, you have destroyed
the building around her, but you will not touch her. When you try to
leave, she begs you to take her with you. And you do, picking her up
in your arms like a princess or a bride, carrying her through corpses
of men you have killed and over the threshold of the doorway. It's
the only option the game provides.
woman becomes your girlfriend . . . or perhaps your prisoner. Does
she have Stockholm syndrome? Does she know you are a murderer for
hire? Is she afraid of you? Who knows?
the game, everyone (gangs, the cops, the SWAT team) is hunting you
down. As well they should be. You are a remorseless mass murderer.
Eventually, your girlfriend becomes collateral damage.
death seems to be an event intended to make the player feel as though
they have failed. This was a woman that you, for whatever reason,
decided to protect. It's not clear why - perhaps the only reason
needed is, Because She Is A Woman. A woman whose sole purpose in the
game is to be taken in by you and owned and objectified and killed
and used as a plot device to give your character a "reason" to
keep fighting . . . never mind how many murders he committed before
she even showed up to "justify" them.
only reason this works is because Hotline Miami doesn't seem
to want you to believe you are a hero. Hotline Miami wants you
to hate yourself.
game's secret ending offers some further clarification on this
point. (It's worth noting, given how much of this game appears to
be critical of America's brand of anxious masculinity, that the
secret code you use to get this ending is "I Was Born in the USA.")
The end of the game introduces you to two janitors who identify
themselves as "patriots" and refer to their actions an
"experiment"; their recruitment of hit men for seemingly random
murder missions is actually part of a mysterious pro-America
terrorist plot. The pair plans to create similar operations
two janitors intentionally resemble the game's developers (who are
Swedish, not American, by the way). Their answers for the player will
not satisfy most people. Why have they created this game? Why have
you played it? Why have you committed all of these murders? Well, it
was something to do. (If you don't have the secret code at the
game's end, the janitors will simply say they created their murder
rings out of boredom.) Do you want a lengthier explanation for why
you did this? The answer is America. Are you still confused? You
should be, because this is terrible, and none of these justifications
should satisfy you. This game concludes with you killing these two
janitors and riding a motorcycle off into the sunset.
the end of the first Black Ops game, as well, you discover
that much of the game was not real and that your character had been
brainwashed and tricked into committing horrific murders and
betrayals. Fight Club and Hotline Miami echo this
theme. Who is responsible for this horrific violence? We want to
believe that the protagonist isn't. If it's a video game, then we
are him, we have been him all along. We don't want to find out that
we are the murderer . . . even though, on some level, we know we are,
because we were there. But we did all of those murders "rightly,"
we think? We don't know anymore. But we have participated in the
story. And, outside of the game, we have participated in a narrative
that equates masculinity with violence.
a shooter fan who happens to also be a woman, I often find myself
feeling alienated by the masculine-centric narrative on display in
all of these games. But that alienation allows me to see this
particular form of social brainwashing from an outsider's angle.
brainwashing goes deep here. It happens in real life, not just in
these fictions. To what extent have we internalized the narrative? We
need not look far to see this view of masculinity in American society
- as an unstoppable, uncontrollable force of power and violence.
Why do we agree with this supposition in so many of our stories? Why
do we accept violence as the "natural" way that men behave?
Hotline Miami, you have only one person that you are supposed
to protect, and you fail. But, remember, you are the person of which
she should be most afraid. You are the person who has killed the most
- the person who has "protected" her the most. You are Monster
don't buy this. I don't buy this, and neither should men or women
or anyone. Why, why would we normalize a narrative that anyone is
inherently violent? By normalizing violence as supposedly "natural"
behavior, especially from men, we make it harder for people to seek
help and identify what is and isn't okay. Often, games present men
in particular as embodying a supposedly uncontrollable urge to commit
violence, and this is a gender norm that I can only hope male gamers
begin to see and reject in the future.
often talk about wanting to see games that tell different kinds of
stories. Stories about the way gender roles exist in our society now,
but also stories about how our society might change, stories about
different kinds of "good" and "bad" people and about
in-between people. Hotline Miami tells the story of where we
are now, and it is a sad story. It is a story that needs telling. But
it is also a story that I hope we don't have to keep telling and
retelling. Eventually, these "wake-up call" games need to
actually wake something up.
can always reject the narrative. You can't, within the rules of
decide what Jacket does, beyond the options provided. But the rules
of the game should be different, out here. The story can be changed.
This blog post has been slightly altered from its 12/17/2012 version to incorporate further detail.
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