Hitman, Brussels, and Showing Restraint After a Tragedy

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This morning, I couldn’t sleep. At about 3:30 or 4:00 AM I went online; the first reports of what had happened in Brussels were just coming in. I switched on BBC News and felt like it was 7/7/05 all over again. Commuters and travelers were targeted just going about their day, just as they had been nearly 11 years ago in the London attacks. Not much was known this morning, as it had pretty much just happened, and amidst the chaos, everyone was just trying to get their bearings and get to safety. About the only thing that was known was that it had to be terrorism. Coordinated explosions in crowded public places during peak travel times are not a coincidence. It was terrorism, and someone had intended to hurt and kill people.

Last week, it was Ankara and Istanbul; in December, it was Tell Tamer and San Bernardino; in November, it was Beirut and Paris. Every time it happens, it catches us momentarily off guard, and we think, “Really? This crap is still going on? When is this going to end? Will it ever end?” And the usual societal discourse ensues: the condolences, avowals of justice and solidarity, strategies to prepare for the future. These we expect. This is how we grieve.

What we don’t generally expect is, I don’t know, let’s say, news for a video game whose objective is to target and kill people to be announced just a few hours after a horrible terrorist attack.

This is what happened with IO Interactive’s Hitman. Earlier today, after the events in Belgium, the company released a teaser for an upcoming special mission in the game, dubbed the “Gary Mission.” Fans of Hitman were asked to choose which celebrity target to assassinate: Gary Busey or Gary Cole. Each Gary is, of course, known for his oddball antics, and that is what this article would have been about had IO Interactive not chosen to go ahead and announce this today despite the inappropriateness of releasing anything to do with entertainment violence on a day when real mass violence had occurred.

One would assume that the announcement of this contest was already planned for today, but that doesn’t mean they had stay on schedule. I mean, all kinds of things have been postponed when events render them insensitive or inappropriate. Remember when Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Collateral Damage was postponed several months in the wake of 9/11? Instead, IO Interactive decided to pull the ripcord on this mother and let the Garys fly.

But this, unsurprisingly, isn’t the first time the company has been totally oblivious with their marketing. Remember this ad for Hitman: Blood Money from 2006 (which was less than a year after the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas “Hot Coffee” controversy)? Or the weird dominatrix nuns from Hitman: Absolution? Yes, let’s totally sexualize violence because that’s normal and not at all creepy or what serial killers do all the time. Neither the nunsploitation trailer nor the Blood Money ad were released in the aftermath of an international tragedy, but IO’s complete lack of judgment is well documented as the backlash was just as strong both times. I mean, for one, the Pope was probably beside himself. And two, when there is already so much violence against women in the world, do we really need to “glamorize” images of dead women, particularly in a game where you’re already killing people? It’s not even the image so much as the caption, “Beautifully Executed,” that is disturbing. The message it sends is “the only good woman is a dead woman.” Or maybe something about necrophilia. Either way, not cool.

It wouldn’t have been a problem to be a bit sympathetic to the tragedy in Brussels and hold off on something that has some violent content, even for a day or two. Entertainment violence can be fun. It’s fantasy. But today is real life. And sometimes, we just need a breather after something awful has happened before we can begin to go back to normal. Just because we don’t stop our lives for terrorists doesn’t mean we don’t pause for victims and survivors. To the victims of terrorism today in Brussels, and for the violent events of all the yesterdays and tomorrows, we helplessly offer you the only thing we can: our love, respect, and empathy.

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