How Hitman Challenged My Attitude About Violence

I’ve recently been replaying Hitman: Blood Money in an effort to gear up for my eventual play through of Hitman 2016. I hadn’t played a Hitman game in some time, so I took a little while to get a feel for the controls again.

I spent around half an hour learning the recoil and range of the trademark Silverballer pistols, perfecting a few of the timing “hacks” to speed up killing/sneaking animations and just generally remembering placements of guards and patrol routes that I could exploit. Once I had re-calibrated my console controls I jumped into the game proper and went merrily on my way, sticking clowns in wood chippers and feeding circus performers to their pet sharks.

As well as replaying the game for a recap of the series, I had wanted to talk about violence for a third and final time in games. I had already looked at Assassin’s Creed and L.A. Noire, for their displays at violence and I thought Hitman might be a good game to finish the mini-series on. And the idea to write about Hitman hit me on this playthrough.

On this playthrough I had decided to ramp up the difficulty to the highest setting, Professional. I had yet to complete the achievement “5 Professional Silent Assassins” awarded for completing five levels with the “Silent Assassin” rating on the Professional difficulty (kind of self-explantory) and so I aimed to complete the achievement this time around. “Silent Assassin” is the best rating in the game. To fulfill it you have a set of guidelines including things like; not having your cover blown, no witnesses, only killing your targets, and many, many more rules.

I had completed a few levels on Rookie and Normal difficulties and getting the “Silent Assassin” rating, so I decided to use similar strategies on the higher difficulty setting. I jumped into the mission “A New Life” since I knew the perfect way to achieve “Silent Assassin” and played through the level. And this is the level that inspired this post.

Hitman: Blood Money And The Death Of Innocents

The mission “A New Life” has player character Agent 47 heading to sunny California to kill a former Cuban mob boss, Vinny “Slugger” Sinistra, who has “turned” and entered the witness protection program. The hit takes place in Sinistra’s gated community while his house is being monitored and patrolled by at least twenty FBI agents. It is a piece of cake.

Alongside killing Vinnie, 47 must retrieve a piece of microfilm hidden in Mrs. Sinistra’s necklace. However, Mrs. Sinistra counts as an innocent, so if we are to harm her it must be accidental therefore leaving no connection between the crime and us.

The most straightforward and infamous way to do this is to obtain some lighter fluid from the Sinistra’s garden shed and douse the barbeque set and sit back and watch Mrs. Sinistra prepare lunch. After she is burnt to a crisp we can simply walk up to her corpse and retrieve the film.

So I dutifully did my job; blew Vinnie’s brains out and set his spouse on fire. I finished the mission only to realise that I had not achieved “Silent Assassin” instead getting “Professional”, the rank below. So I went back in and took a more methodical, slower approach.

On the second approach I decided to play dress up. One of the more humorous aspects of the Hitman series is that although 47 is a towering bald assassin with a barcode tattoo on the back of his head, he can pretty much throw on any disguise and get away with it. So, as I got back into the Sinistra’s home I stealthily “acquired” the Pool Boy’s uniform and equipped it. The Pool Boy is having an affair with Mrs. Sinistra and after I had donned the outfit the wife told me to follow her upstairs. Since Mrs Sinistra had been day-drinking, she promptly threw up in her bathroom and then fell asleep and leaving me to take the microfilm necklace as she peacefully rested.

Then I proceeded to blow Vinnie’s brains out and complete the mission, earning “Silent Assassin”.

On all my playthroughs of “A New Life”, I had never taken the Pool Boy approach. I had never thought to open up my creative mind and critical thinking and think about how to acquire the necklace differently. I had always gone for the more “fun” barbeque approach. And it started to horrify me at how nonchalantly I had killed someone because it was “fun” and “easy”.

Another mission later on, “You Better Watch Out…”, had a similar sobering affect. One of the targets is in a pool with a glass bottom overhanging a mountain outcrop. If you mange to get below the pool and shoot the floor then the target falls through…along with the five or so party revellers with him. Again, it had been “fun” and “easy”, but after passing by the innocent victims that had fallen through the pool, my brain started to question it.

So let’s think about it…

As mentioned previously, it wasn’t the brutality or the bloodshed that affected me (like it did in L.A. Noire). It was that it look little to no effort on my part…and without much coercion. The game gave me the tools and sat back as I played a violent fantasy.

A similar event happened in Spec Ops: The Line with the infamous white phosphorus scene. In his analysis of the game, Lucas Raycevick states a similar feeling,

“What unnerved to the core me was how casually I did it [used white phosphorous (an outlawed weapon)]. How routine it was to fart a laptop screen and play polka dots with missiles, exterminating white blips that may as well have been zombies.” (17:20).

Another comparable gameplay event, the AC130 gunship level “Death From Above” in Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was critiqued for this similar ease of dispatching of life. Journalist Quintin Smith, talking about the mission on Charlie Brooker’s How Videogames Changed The World, says this,

“It is tremendously disturbing because you can’t make out what these figures are. It could almost be a statement, but it is not. It is just there so you can have fun and that’s very dark.” (1:26:10).

But with the white phosphorous and the AC130 gunship, there isn’t any choice. The lack of alternative gameplay can undermine any statement that might be trying to be addressed, they were forced into that situation with no way out, other than turning off the console (which is an interesting thought but counter-intuitive because…you made the game, so why would you want people to turn it off?). But with Hitman: Blood Money I could have taken many different non-violent routes, but valued the easiest route rather than the less violent.

Conclusion

Thinking of the game as a whole, Hitman: Blood Money has a continual theme of unnecessary violence against innocents. Throughout the game a rival firm is mentioned in the end mission newspapers (the newspapers are how you find your score/how good of an assassin you were). In these margin stories it seems the rival assassins have no care for innocent life and will murder anyone who gets in their way.

Even the first assassination of the game is meant to spark the realisation that murder and assassination is not meant to be nice and “fun”. The first hit, Mr. “Swing King”, is not fully guilty for the crime that he has been targeted for and begs for his life after you confront him.

Warning: the following dialogue could be very disturbing with themes of murder. Reader discretion is advised.

“Please, haven’t I suffered enough? Don’t you think I know how much suffering I’m responsible for? I can’t sleep. I haven’t slept in…the guilt I feel. I’m so sorry, I know I can never…I’ll pay you. Twice what your client is paying, triple, please, I’m a [inaudible, I think he says broke or good] man. All I want is a second chance. Everything I ever did I did for love…please…I see it in your eyes. You’re not a bald man, uh, a bad man. You can’t just kill me…please…ah, no, don’t…please, please, I beg you, I haven’t done anything. Please, I don’t wanna die.”

Note: I recorded that scene on my phone and play it back a few times to get the full quote and I’m not going to lie, the dialogue and delivery messed me up. I had to take half an hour after writing the quote just to compose myself.

Yet we kill him anyway because it is what we do. We continually bringing destruction and death to subroutines and AIs until the job is done. Like 47 we are “born” into the game world to kill; we have no morality system to shape us, only a number with seven zeros after it and two words signalling if we have done a “good job”.

So while I love the Hitman series I have to admit that it has broken me. And all it took was the absence of violence. The lack of a kill made me realise how much it is pushed within the games I enjoy and how much I’ve been conditioned to go for it.

And that is very dark indeed.

 

Photo Banner Source: portalprogramas.com

How To Make A Good Video Game Film

So, 16% on Rotten Tomatoes for Assassin’s Creed eh?  And after seeing it myself, I can whole heartedly agree. Seeing as we are all disappointed after Warcraft, Ratchet And Clank (remember Ratchet And Clank came out in 2016? No you didn’t, because nobody went to see it) and now Assassin’s Creed, I’ve decided to help Hollywood and the rest of cinema out. As a film fanatic and a gamer, I have been hoping for a good video game adaptation for a LONG time. And while some have come close, none of them ever become worldwide smashes. So, I have devised the four major points of how to get a video game film going in the right direction. Directors and producers, when you approach a video game film, feel free to use this as a tick list to make sure you are on course.

1.Know Your Source Material (And Whether It’s A Good Choice)

To truly understand a book you are adapting, it is widely accepted that you read it multiple times. Why are video games any different? Sure, some games range from four to forty hours, but you don’t even have to play the whole thing. Watch a Let’s Play, or if that’s still too hard, have someone in the crew play it and give you a highlight reel of moments.

You wouldn’t try and make a film adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings if you had only read the blurb and if you’re serious about adapting it, you should know the lore and story of your game. I’m not a huge fan of Halo, but I really enjoyed Halo: Legends because the creators knew the source material. They took the time to learn the lore of the galaxy and world and didn’t deviate from it, creating some exciting action anime fights.

Knowing your game also means knowing whether it is a good property to adapt. Usually this means having a game with a narrative, as you don’t have to faff about with devising a new script. Tomb Raider, good. Silent Hill, good. Warcraft, promising. Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Tetris, FNAF, terrible, terrible, terrible. 

  1. Understand Your Source Material (What Makes It Successful)

Now that you’ve invested time into learning about your video game, you now need to understand why that video game has fans and is widely celebrated. For example, I give you Hitman.

The appeal of Hitman is simple. A stylish man heads to exotic locales, kills usually the maximum of one person in an understated manner and then leaves without anyone knowing he was ever there. Understanding Hitman means that you know this is the gold standard for play, and that unnecessary killing, especially spectacular explosions where everyone in the surrounding area becomes aware of you is seen as the worst and wrong way to play Hitman. Yet both Hitman films have gone down the explosions and gun-battles route because it’s “easier”. To some the proper way to play Hitman may not seem cinematic enough. In response, I would offer up 2010’s The American of how to do a Hitman-esque film and it to still be entertaining.

For another example, Max Payne. The fun in Max Payne comes from the slow-motion action and the over-the-top hardboiled detective genre. The film didn’t include either of those, with terrible slow-motion effects and a dull script. They took the two things that separated Max Payne apart in the video game world and didn’t add an ounce of them into the film. A film that would be a good template is John Woo’s Hard Boiled.

And I obviously don’t need to talk about Super Mario Bros and why that failed.

  1. Get People Who Are Enthusiastic About The Project (And Dismiss Those Who Aren’t)

I know films have a limited budget, but you can at least try and get people who are interested or have investment in the film. I’ve been critical of Warcraft, but at least Duncan Jones was passionate about his film. Another one would be Christophe Gans, the director of the first Silent Hill (which in my opinion is the best video game based film so far). Gans went out of his way to make sure it was as true to the game as possible, even recreating shots from memorable sections. Actors can also help the film, such as Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft. Jolie wanted to do the stunts for real and worked with the filmmakers to create some amazing action scenes (go back and watch Tomb Raider II before you dismiss me, some of those are great action sequences). And most of us will sit through the turgid Street Fighter for oodles of Raul Julia. Passion from the filmmakers makes things watchable.

Don’t get people who aren’t going to invest time or effort or think video games aren’t worth it. Mark Whalberg loved the original script for Max Payne but became wary after learning it was based on a game. Skip Woods looks like he hasn’t played any of the Hitman franchise before writing the scripts to BOTH Hitman films. And it seems Uwe Boll just uses the name of the games he adapts to generate interest, rather than create anything remotely connected to the games. This type of bounty-hunter approach to filmmaking needs to stop.

  1. STICK AT IT

I’ve been hearing over and over again from many facets of both the film world and the geek world that video game movies should just stop. We got our hopes up that 2016 would be the year where video games films started achieving critical success from both fans AND critics, but we were once again left saddened at what could have been.

But we mustn’t shut video game films down. The only way to get good is to persevere. Let’s look at superheroes. Comic book/superhero films are dominating the box office nowadays, but they weren’t always a massive success, critically or commercially. Another geek touchstone, Star Wars. We had to get through two terrible Star Wars films to get back to good ones (yes, two. Phantom Menace is entertaining). Video games are a young medium. Superman was introduced nearly eighty years ago; the superhero genre has had a while to simmer before becoming the hottest property in Hollywood. Lord Of The Rings was almost a century old before that got the full cinematic approach. Games as a cultural phenomenon have had only a fraction of that time; they will have their moment any day now.

So, do you think they are any legitimately good video game films? Are you waiting for a singular property to get the silver screen treatment? Or should we all just drop them and never speak of video games and movies again?

Banner picture courtesy of cbcnews.ca.