Hotline Miami and Ultraviolence

Feedback is the most crucial components for nearly every game. In order for the gamer to be absorbed in the game, there has to be feedback for his or her actions. Mike Tyson’s Punch Out would be much less engaging if the characters did not recoil from your blows, or if your opponents didn’t start to show some signs of defeat over time.

Progress being made!

Imagine spending days continuously trying to beat Mike Tyson, just for him to unceremoniously disappear upon defeat, leaving you with an empty ring. Most would be frustrated, why even bother playing if the game won’t make some sort of show of your achievement? The player is rewarded for successfully mastering the game’s mechanics, and the easiest way to do this is by having your opponent show damage. It isn’t necessary to go over the top with character reactions, but there should be some sort of indication for the player that he or she is succeeding. Death and violence are important not to encourage further violence, but to show progress.

Hotline Miami chooses to revel in this feedback and uses it to alienate the player. As a game, it is nasty, brutish, and short. If done successfully, each level only takes a few minutes, but it sticks with you. Bodies are visibly mutilated, blood splatter is everywhere, and since you die fairly quickly you can guarantee that you will have to kill the same enemies over and over again. Once again video games are being tested as a scapegoat for real world violence, so how does one of the most aggressive games manage to be so unashamedly visceral?


In my opinion, Hotline Miami does not encourage violence. Even being fully in control of the game, you can begin to feel nauseous from the whole experience. The level rotates back and forth as you play ever so slightly, with a dull background that is constantly changing colors. At best the soundtrack features typical club music, but at times it can be unnerving, as if it were composed for a David Lynch film. The only thing accompanying the music is the crunching of bones and the sounds of gunfire. Even the story becomes unsettling as your reality unwinds and you begin seeing things differently.

The gameplay itself is just as unnerving. Unlike other games where you can take on an army of aliens or police officers single-handedly, you are… human. One hit from anything will kill you, be it bullet or bat. The levels are designed to place you in narrow corridors with many options and many dangers, so you will die time and time again in pursuit of the most effective strategy. This can make you impatient and eventually snap, trying to run through the hallways swinging at everything, but more often than not this is the least successful route.

The game may have not had the same effect on the majority of gamers, but I felt uncomfortable with the whole experience. I do not mean to say it was a bad game, far from it. Every minute of Hotline Miami was tense, adrenaline-fueled, and mechanically very rewarding. However, Hotline Miami abused player feedback to the point where every single possible sense was overwhelmed. Ultimately it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Part of the reason this post is coming so late from me is because I had to convince myself to return to and finish the game.

The story and ending both have implications for gamers just blindly following orders, almost taunting the player for going along for the ride and doing whatever was commanded of them. While this meta-commentary is in no way mind-blowing, it leads me to believe the developers were very aware of their audience while crafting this game. They knew they could craft a game this visceral without concern, because ultimately it leaves the player unsure of his or her actions.

Your character wears various animal masks that both grant him powers and dehumanize him.


  3 comments for “Hotline Miami and Ultraviolence

  1. Bekka
    February 14, 2013 at 1:20 am

    Just watching the embedded video made me feel slightly… off. I think Hotline Miami does the idea discussed in the ‘Necessarily Disturbing’ blog post right. It knows how violent it is and the use of a strobing, tilting background helps produce the sickness that violence should. If you don’t feel unnerved by the violent acts you’re committing or the blood splashed across the level, the developers seem determined to simulate motion sickness in order to make you have the correct response. While other games are violent for the sake of being violent, Hotline Miami seems to use their violence well. They seem to want their player to feel disgusted by their character’s violence and to question acceptable levels of violence. Also – the idea of using the masks may be a comment on how ‘animalistic’ such violence can be as well being used to dehumanize the character into a killer thriving off ultraviolent acts.

  2. mburns25
    February 14, 2013 at 3:47 am

    Having thoroughly read the “Necessarily Disturbing” blog post discussing violence in games, and like Bekka mentioned above, Hotline Miami definitely applies as well. I sat and watched the entirety of the 14 minute gameplay video you posted of the game, and while I wasn’t playing, I was moved to root for the player, despite the mindless violence. However, the violence was excessive to the point where yes, such a game shows the supposed horror behind mindless killing or massacres. In relationship to most games, I’m going to have to agree with what Bekka said about Hotline Miami’s producers using violence in such a fashion that should make players question what they’re doing.

    Of all the random games I’ve played in the past, the only other game I can think of that’s filled with killing sprees, countless weapons to unlock, and motivated by violence would be Viva Caligula on Adult Swim: (

  3. V
    February 14, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    I thought this was a phenomenal game. What really had me sold though was the launch trailer which I’m surprised you didn’t mention that can be seen here: What made this game stand out for me, aside from the stylistic elements and incredible soundtrack, was the way that the narrative forced the player to kill without ever explicitly listing that objective. Not only that but he is also encouraged to kill faster and with a variety of techniques by being rewarded at the end of each level with points for the different ways. This game uses violence as the cornerstone of its narrative; that combined with the adrenaline rush as the player powers through level after level left me sweating and a little frightened, especially after the first ending because it was so anti-climatic and left me wondering: what has this all been for?

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