After reading Austin Walker’s Review of Battlefield:Hardline and then Marc Price’s response I got to thinking, should a developer be held responsible for their content in relation to social climates and events?
Having done some research it seems clear that the at least in part due to the shootings of Tamir Rice and Mike Brown, the climate in the US around the release of Hardline seems to have been that of discontent with the policing system in urban USA, while it’s probably true that the developers at Visceral weren’t intending to make any kind of commentary on current events the fact remains that the single player campaign of the game is about police corruption, and nothing exists in a void.
I will take a moment to admit that I can only view a lot of this from a very detached perspective, similarly to Price’s closing sentiment regarding the “issue of privilege”, I am a Caucasian female living in Australia, not only does my racial background mean I don’t suffer similar fears to the darker skinned residents of the US but there is simply not the same level of police militarisation in my country, I can only try my best to empathise with the specific issues here.
Walker spends a lot of time condemning the game for its inadequate lip service to recent events, but he does go on to admit that taken “on its own terms” it is successful, it is engaging, it fits what consumers expect from a Battlefield game and is full of memorable locations and dialogue.
Take it from Tom Bissell, co-writer of Hardline (and well-established games critic), who told Gamespot that “Shooters are not stately; shooters are narrative rosaries strung with beads of pure chaos. Videogames are at their storytelling best when they introduce you to memorable people and give you memorable things to do.” Hardline does this. I’ll remember that mall in the rain. I won’t forget the ambient yawn of the Everglades. There were even a couple of jokes that’ll stick with me. So if we are to be charitable, if we do take Hardline on its own terms, it succeeds.
But is this enough? Most gamers don’t expect a Battlefield title to contain a gripping story or spark deep political and cultural conversation; they expect stunning visuals and engaging multiplayer gameplay. But conversation happens, meaning is found and opinions are formed regardless of the developer’s intent.
We are affected by the games we play, so does this then mean that the developers of these games have a responsibility to monitor what they release? Hardline makes a very base attempt at dissuading the player from taking the violent course, but then rewards them with increasingly violent options. One could argue that this reflects the central characters slow corruption, you start out trying to do the right thing but the temptation to be the “bad cop” is ever-increasing. Or it could be a desperate developers bid to stave off criticism in the current social climate. Is this a quiet piece of intelligent design, or a last-minute scramble?
Ultimately I feel like developers of Hardline were aware of the possible backlash to their game, especially due to the bad timing of its release. I suspect they did what they could to soften the blow, but games take a long time to develop, there’s only so much you can change on short notice, the intent behind this decision is something only Visceral knows. Maybe the question should not be are the developers responsible, but are we responsible gamers? Responsible enough to approach our beloved media in a mature and appropriate way.