Video games are not meant to be intimidating, they are meant to be inviting. When I sit down to play a new video game, I feel timid and excited at the same time. I have no idea what the controls are, but I am anxious to start playing like a pro immediately. After I go through the tutorial phase, I feel confident that nothing can defeat me. However, there was one game that did not fit this criteria: Hotline Miami.
I wrote about Hotline Miami on Polygon last year. I explained how I played Hotline Miami timidly at first, until I progressed through levels and became more confident with the gameplay and controls. Although, every now and then, something would happen to destroy that confidence, and I would be timid again. In this post, I will expand on the progress I made from being a timid player to a confident one within the game of Hotline Miami.
Hotline Miami is a top-down 2D indie video game that involves massive amounts of blood. The character is an amnesiac who is doing what he is told to do by three masked people. He does not have a name, but people refer to him as “Jacket.” Jacket is a lost soul who is trying to make sense of it all.
Timid – Do I like hurting other people?
When I first stepped foot into the world of Hotline Miami, the tutorial was slim. I performed a few actions as a hobo told me I was doing a great job. A hobo taught me how to kill people.
The following scene pushed me to the ground and beat me with questions. Three people wearing animal masks sat down in front of me after I finished the tutorial. Suddenly, the interrogation started and I was lost for words. Why were three animals asking me who I was?
The Horse: Oh, you don’t know who you are? Maybe we should leave it that way?
The Chicken: Look at my face, we’ve met before… Haven’t we?
The Owl: I don’t know you. Why are you here?
I had no idea who I was, or what I was supposed to be doing. What I did know was that something happened on April 3, 1989. On that fateful night, I was told by a stranger to open a package with instructions to throw a briefcase into a specific dumpster once I obtained it from my first destination.
Hotline Miami would finally test my skills when I arrived at my first destination: The Metro. After choosing an animal mask to cover my face, I walked through the door, knocked a man unconscious and killed him. I bashed his head into the ground multiple times; it was very disturbing. After my first kill (not some tutorial), I felt like I could beat this game easily, until I walked into the bathroom.
I was confident, and knew this next guy urinating in the bathroom would be an easy kill. I opened the door and then… BOOM! I was dead. I asked myself, “What just happened?” My reaction time was slower than usual, so I blamed the controls, of course. Hotline Miami was one of the first video games where I had to use the keyboard instead of a controller. I am not a PC or Mac gamer, so this was all new to me. Every time I entered a room, I felt cautious and timid. The levels progressively got harder and I died far too often. Whenever I died in Hotline Miami, I restarted the entire level in my head. I asked myself, “What could I do differently?”
Acceptance: I’ve done terrible things
After an unfathomable amount of dying, it occurred to me that I was gaining more confidently and felt less intimidated. Each death taught me what I did wrong and how to fix it. I became faster and more agile. Hotline Miami was taking over and I no longer had to be forced to kill; I enjoyed it. The chicken asked, “Do I like hurting people?” Yes, yes I do.
Finally, I accepted my true calling: hurting people. My recklessness could be seen all over the levels. I killed human beings in ways I never thought could be done. There was an Uzi on the ground, a knife in the bathroom, a door where someone’s head should be, and more countless ways for me to kill.
Still, every time I entered a new environment, I felt timid, but quickly adapted. I had to kill to gain more confidence. The best part was that the controls became second nature after a few levels. I was moving around quicker, reacting faster to oncoming shanks, guns and dogs, plus I was having fun.
Confidence: I’m here
The closer I got to the final level, something clicked. I could pass through levels with ease, kill on command rather than taking my time, and I stopped feeling timid. My confidence level was through the roof and I did not plan on stopping.
I killed in ways that I never imagined when I first started the game. I went into rooms with four enemies and destroyed them within seconds. Hotline Miami did a great job making me believe the unbelievable. I was speechless after leaving a room filled with blood covered walls. I was no longer planning my kills, because I knew what would happen. I have always been told to think before I act, but Hotline Miami taught me act without thinking. Why? Sometimes there is violence without cause. Sometimes there is mindless violence. Either way, once I got to the ending, everything made sense. I knew why I killed.
It took a long time for me to gain the confidence I needed to succeed in this video game. More than halfway through the game, I was no longer intimidated by the controls or gameplay, when it would take much less time to do so in any other game. In fact, I wanted this game to last forever. One great thing about Hotline Miami was its replayability. There were tons of masks to collect and I wanted to get a better grade on each level. This grading scale made me plan my attack, but with confidence.
Hotline Miami is an intimidating video game. It takes time to perfect the controls, but it is well worth it in the end. Discovering how to adapt to this oddly disturbing video game with inadequate tutorials convinced me that confidence can and will prevail, even if I am timid. Each death in Hotline Miami serves as a constant reminder of this. I strove to be great at this game, and it paid off. I recommend this game to anyone who wants a challenge.