Let's talk critically about the Hitman games and their problematic legacy


#22

I always attributed the baldness to hardware limitations at the time requiring simple character models, but justified by a killer not wanting to leave behind hair samples as evidence. It’s just more creativity and laziness.


#23

At the same time, in multiple Hitman games, the enemy barks for calling in 47 in his regular clothes include identifying him as a 40-something Republican because of his whiteness and red tie.


#24

Tbh actually thought this was part of how much different/better Hitman 2016’s tone was from the rest of the series. Starting the game out with two explicitly goofy no-stakes training missions with all the actors you’d hear through the rest of the game no matter the locale took some (though defos not all) of the edge off the murder tourism.

Hearing Hitman 2’s Columbia footage have heavy accents populating a map giving me Ghost Recon Wildlands tonal vibes… doooooesnt fill me with confidence it’ll stay that way, or get any better before it gets worse. :confused:

Also on the topic of playing someone other than 47, they’ve been flirting with that in HM2’s version of Sniper Assassin, in fact the two(?) co-op characters appear to be people of colour, and one of thems a lady, too.

So basically, co-op and PoC/non-male PCs are the two things that would make Hitman significantly better provided the tone of the murder stays artificial n doofy… and they’re only in the Sniper Mission gimmick mode that’s fun for like a day. Bleh.


#25

Yeah, I saw those characters. When I first saw them I was hoping you could switch out 47 for them, have a roster of assassins. I was a bit disappointed to see they were only for the sniper pre-order game, which I’m honestly not that interested in.

I think that would be a good way forward for Hitman if they wanted to change up the formula a bit. What if one character was able to talk their way out of trouble better than another? What if one character could quickly transition melee attacks into silent takedowns better than the others? What if one character had better abilities when it came to utilizing disguises? I feel like there’s a TON of more room for customization and improvisation with the idea of having a roster of Assassin characters.


#26

So, I want to first off say that I think the HITMAN series has whole lot to criticize, and I’d like to join in with that discussion after this post. But I do also want to push back on this notion of Agent 47 as a “Nazi’s wet dream.” I’d agree with @dogsarecool that pointing to that fact that he has a shaved head and wears a red tie is a huge stretch. I’ll second that the Blood Money tutorial seems like racist propaganda both in and out of context, but I’d also remind you that a later mission in that game has you assassinate a literal white supremacist.

To me, far more concerning than the aesthetics of 47 himself is the fact that these games have a long history of you killing a lot of evil non-white people.

Also, weird side note: I find it weird to describe Hitman: Blood Money as the more serious game. Like… you do mean the game where you dress up as clowns and birds and kill several people with cakes, right?


#27

Yeah, I would expect a team of nords (I am one, FWIW) from late 90s to early 00s to come up with a problematic main character (and racist stories), but reading 47 as an aryan stand in seems like a stretch. He’s mostly a caricature of the assassin archetype that was popular around that time: serious, in a suit, white with few distinguishing details, genetically engineered since that was popular at time (the first successful cloning of an animal having been completed only a few years ago).

Now, negligence isn’t a defense, but idk. He just seems too much of a caricature to read as problematically nazi to me. He’s bland. He even starts the second game in a confessional, begging for forgiveness for killing. Which shouldn’t excuse that he has, but the story doesn’t paint him as trying to kill for a higher cause (ie. for a better future) or really anything, which is what nazism purports to. To him, he’s either in it for the money or to save somebody close to him. That’s more on the standard hero side of the spectrum, less of the nationalist.

Which isn’t devoid of politics, it’s just so generic that he fits into just about any politics around him. He can be James Bond of MI5, in the American CIA as a Jason Bourne, Mossad, KGB, or really, any spy agency around (as long as it’s western, anyway). The series has plenty of bad elements and stereotyping going around in the first place. I don’t think we need to add incidental nazism to that list, although I could be convinced otherwise.

But by all means, let’s discuss his problematic elements. Like his seeming disgust against sex workers, even after saving them (an obvious stand in of the creators of the first game, and yes, symptomatic of typical nationalist views of unclean versus pure women). It’s bad. As are the plentiful racial stereotypes littering the games. And I realize that it’s splitting hairs trying to separate the details of national socialist doctrine (especially since a lot of 47 is bad independently). It’s just, I do think there’s a core humanity of 47 trying to overcome his destiny and fight against his creators that makes him sympathetic even though a lot of his surrounding elements are bad.


#28

So I have this weird dilemma with Agent 47’s whiteness and maleness. On one hand, it’d be nice to have more representation in any game, and maybe not in the people you murder.

But at the same time, it is precisely because Agent 47 is a white man that I’m able to put up with some of the undertones in the HITMAN series. Let me explain.

The HITMAN series has almost always been about “blending in”, and Agent 47 was built to do that perfectly. He’s literally supposed to be a forgettable person. @Emily mentioned that Agent 47 is sometimes portrayed as the “neutral”. This seems kind of silly; after all, most people aren’t white men. Now, I don’t think I/O interactive had or even currently have this in mind when working with HITMAN, but Agent 47’s job is very much helped by his whiteness and his maleness. He is perceived as omnipresent. The fact that he can get away with all these things is in part due to it. He doesn’t look out of place anywhere because colonialism, patriarchy, and white supremacy have made it so he always appears in place. He blends into powerful roles because he always looks the part. People of color and/or women would not be able to do what he could because society does not view them as “neutral”. But Agent 47? He could be a mechanic in Russia, a bellboy in Turkey, a supermodel in Paris, a chef in Japan, anything anywhere; he could be anyone anywhere because white men are everywhere.

I don’t think this is an intentional message at all. The HITMAN series has a history of racism and misogyny that is pretty abhorrent. Blood Money, despite being one of my favorite games, has that tutorial that is genuinely appalling, and every other female character is barely clothed. Nearly every character of color in the early entries are just walking stereotypes. All the women have identical, exaggerated body types. And while they’ve moved away from those problems, I don’t think there’s going to be any messages about colonialism and privilege in the HITMAN games, as much as I’d like that. But when I’m playing HITMAN, and I consider his role, and I think about the places he goes and the people around him, I can envision Agent 47’s place in the world because he is a white man, not in spite of it.


#29

I think it was because of the marketing. I would see both consumer targeting and retailer/vendor targeting trailers for years and there’s no comparison - Blood Money was the first post-YouTube installment in the series and it had tonally apocalyptic trailers compared to pretty much any other game and then on top of that anyone interested in video games at all saw them all over the place because the game had long legs with a 360 port a year after:

Compare, industry folks got this very typical video game trailer of the 90s and early 00s, xtreem music, lookit these sick kills, etc.

But the general population of folks got to see ones like these that are cut and scored like 47 is a slasher monster or the Terminator:

So even though the third game, Contracts, is by far the grimdarkiest game in the series on multiple levels, I can understand why Blood Money is the serious one in many players’ minds.

I have to agree about him being some kind of Aryan wet dream character on an essential level to be a huge stretch though. Some of the artistic flair of the earlier games is gone but the stark black/white/red is pretty common in violent action fiction across any visual media, and was a part of 47’s mind too in levels that were flashbacks and most importantly that droning game over screen from Hitman 2 and the way it’s based on a major story moment from the series with the blood forming the ICA logo in that and stuff. Like it definitely always came off to me as a thought out (if obvious for the times and kind of character 47 is) artistic choice rather than them stumbling into making a Nazi.

THAT said, Hitman 2 is nuts, it actually had an entire level that had to be removed from the later ports of the game because it was based on the Golden Temple massacre and that’s pretty fucked up. Folks playing the game wondering why the story seems to kind of vanish for a third of the game, that’s why as when the level was removed they had to re-write everything around it.


#30

To be fair, old Hitman’s tone was intensely self-contradicting and shitty. You know how edgy underground dark comedies/grindhouse media is meant to be funny entertainment, but mixes in shitting on minorities/victims of heinous shit for that “hilarity”? Hitman’s been all over that, even if Absolution’s the only one that explicitly evoked grindhouse aesthetics.

Like, part of the tapestry of goofy wacky hitmanning in Blood Money is replacing a prop gun with a real gun for a high-falutin play to kill a dude and dropping set lights on another dude who runs up to cry over his corpse… and it’s supposed to be funny because they’re theatre-going effeminate bi implied-lovers wHo ArE AlSo ViOlEnT PeDoPhilE HumAn TraFfICkErs OoOoOo. Like yo, fuck out my face forever with that garbage, IO.

But yeah, evidently it goes beyond basic wholesale nazism/nationalism, there’s been a lot more complexity to the grossness of the series + its likely causes (and the causes for it being overlooked for so long). This is probably what makes it feel real weird when elements of that old shit carry over into the smartly trimmed-down high-concept comedy game where you take down agents the Gilbert Gottfried Bird Agency in increasingly silly ways for more Challenge Points.

Side note: Hitman 2016 does still have some questionable dialogue & homo/queerphobia, too, namely a very conservatively-coded generic hostile bark. From what I’ve seen, what’s in the game as a whole still jumps miles over old Hitman’s low & meanspirited bar, but there’s still some old IO there.


#31

You also take the clothes of said white supremacist, and easily blend in. I remember that being one of the disguises that NO ONE questions.

I feel like a lot of you are also missing some of the other points I have made about him. I didn’t just say it was the tie and baldness, it’s a lot of things.

For one thing, he’s a product of genetic engineering. Of Eugenics. His genetic make up is the result of a number of individuals giving their DNA to make ‘the perfect assassin.’ 47’s creator even ran a mental institution where he conducted experiments on the mentally ill. Sounds similar to Josef Mengele to me. Granted, this is the creator and not the man 47 himself, but he’s still carrying out assassinations even after he kills his creator. He doesn’t rebuke what he was made for, he relishes in it.

I also find it odd that 47 is a white man, despite being the result of a number of diverse DNA contributions. Wikipedia:

The men whose DNA contributed to 47’s creation are often referred to within the series as the “Five Fathers”, consisting of Dr. Otto Wolfgang Ort-Meyer himself, Lee Hong, Pablo Belisario Ochoa, Frantz Fuchs and Arkadij Boris Jegorov.

I also found this on Wikipedia:

Ort-Meyer believed that genetic recombination and human cloning could be used to produce a perfect version of the human species, superior in strength and mind, and unburdened by conscience. His ultimate goal, unbeknownst to his associates, was to create an army of flawless and unquestioningly obedient supermen under his control.

Like… The dude is LITERALLY the product of Nazi-esque genetic engineering.

It’s not just the visual cues, it’s EVERYTHING about his character. I don’t see how you can look at him… how you read about his lore without connecting him to Nazism. The parallels are just too similar.

Also, to counter the ‘Blood Money was silly!’ argument, the clown costume was an outlier in the entire game. It was the only disguise that gave Hitman the ‘Buster Keaton stone face’ comedy look that the modern Hitman games seem to thrive within tone wise now. Blood Money’s last scene has you gun down a preacher, a man in a wheel chair, and a journalist who is literally weeping and begging for his life. THAT is the final boss… A weeping, scared innocent bystander who was just a bit too curious:

Also, should we talk about the visual of the last three people you kill in that game as a bald white dude is a member of the press, a priest, and a disabled person?

YEAH, CERTAINLY NOTHING PROBLEMATIC THERE.

A lot of this stuff may come off as if I’m reaching for straws, but I am just struck by these visuals. What is the messaging here? Sure, there’s a plot that seems to justify it in some degree, but the messaging of 47’s actions are just so STARK to me.


#32

I don’t know why people are keying into my comment on Blood Money. It just never struck me as a particularly serious, the first thing I think of when I look back it is always the bird costume. But you’re entitled to your opinion. There’s a reason I said it was a “weird side note”.

I think a key thing for me, though, is that Agent 47 isn’t fighting for genetic engineering. I mean, yes, Ort-Meyer was into eugenics, but Agent 47 also goes to kill Ort-Meyer in the first game because of that very practice. The people who pushed towards eugenics are always the villains in these games. And that’s if those elements are put forefront at all. Like, I virtually never even think about the lore of Agent 47 when I’m playing these games.

I’m not saying HITMAN isn’t racist/etc and that there aren’t any prejudiced undertones going on here. There totally are. I’m just saying I don’t really see Agent 47 as a “Nazi’s wet dream”. That’s just personal perspective. That’s just my reading. Calling him a “Nazi skinhead assassin” implies that there’s any ideology underlying his choices, which I don’t really see. There is, however, ideology underlying the authorship of his actions. I think that’s more than evident.


#33

I think for me personally it’s not so much that I don’t think there are some connections to Nazism, it’s that when I think of Hitman and I think of the time the game was created and who the creators were, I think there are more connections that lead to the Soviet Union.

I feel like so much of the mythos of Hitman is held up by this notion of “science left behind by the fallen empire” and while that certainly can and has been used to frame stories around the the third reich, when you consider the time of development for the first hitman which was not that far removed from the fall of USSR and how Denmark was very much a country placed on the precipice of that geographically, I think it’s pretty likely that this played into how they imagined 47.

The rootless nature of 47 feeds into that as well I think. He has no home, no country origin. He was born as an amalgamation of several genetic backgrounds, raised under a banner that doesn’t exist, and now he is just here, in the world, untethered, a product of an organization that doesn’t exist anymore. I don’t know exactly how to explain it but there is something about the parallel between 47 and people who were formerly under Soviet Rule having to find their own place in the world after taking away that banner of identity, and while there are certainly people who look to raise that old banner again, I don’t think that is a central point of the 47 character.

This got kinda rambly and incoherrent but I hope it’s at least somewhat clear what my interpretation is, this is a very interesting discussion/thread and it has made me think a lot more about 47 than I have in a loooong while.


#34

If you played as Ort-Meyer it would be a problem but you’re not you’re playing as his creation who ends up murdering him and then tries to unsuccessfully get out of the murder business. 47 isn’t taking over the super soldier clone making business or running ICA he’s just this dude whos been manipulated over and over again to do the one thing he’s good at which is murdering. He’s been manipulated since the day he was born and he will continue to be until the series dies.


#35

I think the reason people can look at 47’s genetically engineered origins and not connect it with Nazism is because the Nazi association is just a tiny part of the history of biological engineering and eugenics. Human biological engineering ideas go back at least 2000 years. The eugenics movement that we associate with the Nazis began in the 19th century UK and US. Genetic enigineering didn’t exist until the 1970s - the double helix wasn’t discovered until after WWII.

Ort-Meyer can be read (I would say probably should be read) as a modern take on Dr. Frankenstein. It’s not that you can’t make parallels to Nazism (although I’m not sure there are any in-game beyond “German scientist”), but that was just the go-to cliche of the time. Hellboy turned Rasputin into a Nazi, for crying out loud. It’s an easy, “safe” shortcut that adds “evil” to the mad scientist trope that the character represents.

That’s not to say it was good writing - it’s hacky and cliched. But I don’t think it’s particularly problematic.

I think the point about 47 blending in is, I think, a really good one. The first thing I thought when I read that is the saying “A clipboard and some confidence can get you in almost anywhere.” I think that’s largely what the games are relying on (conveniently ignoring the damn UPC symbol on his head). Then I thought about the type of people that’s true for and, more importantly, the type of people it isn’t. I think you’re really on to something there.


#36

Thanks for the response.

I’ve been encouraged by a mod to steer the conversation away from debating back and forth about my main idea, and instead divert discussion about the Hitman series with a more open forum. There’s a lot within the Hitman series that deserves observation and scrutiny, and not just my thoughts on the character’s visual projections.

So I encourage people to just talk about the series as a whole!


#37

I get where you were coming from, it’s impossible to disconnect the premise of genetically-engineered super-soldiers from eugenics and fascism.

However, I’m fascinated by the place Hitman occupies in the minds of players. Back when Absolution was being marketed, I remember people talking about how the part of Hitman that they identified with was the amorality in Blood Money especially, a game that leaned into giving you targets that you had no moral or emotional reason to kill. This didn’t square with my first introduction to the series, which was with Contracts.

Contracts is a decidedly lesser Hitman but it had a grisly sense of justice to it. You were hunting Bad People in that game and the game’s characterisation of 47 as a merciless angel of death felt like nihilism at the time but looking back on it, I prefer that to the “You’re just a hitman, man, you’re not supposed to care why you’re doing this” that people seem to like about these games.

There’s definitely a conflict in the series between edgy nihilism and dark satire punching up, and for a while it seemed like IO thought it was the former that drew me to the series.


#38

I honestly love Contracts.

It’s just so weird. We associate 47 with this badass, relentless assassin, but the whole story revolves around him fucking up. He’s basically on death’s door, sloppily falling through his stakeout, leaving the door wide open, and going back to a cover that’s completely blown and surrounded by police within hours. I think it humanizes him to the player, because let’s face it… We’re not all going to silent assassin every level on the first try. In canon, the games want you to think you’re that good, but Contracts is the first game that kind of bucks against that idea.

I love how it starts in the white room where Codename 47 ends, making it this surreal space that we only saw in cutscenes in the first game, and then a playable space to interact with. Every mission in the game is just so dark, stormy, moody. Levels that are remakes of old Codename 47 levels are now take place in night when they once took place in the day. 47 even reacts to people differently in his memory of the event rather than how he acted when it happened.

For example, when Mei Ling kisses him in Codename 47:

As opposed to when she does it in Contracts:

This is such a small, unnoticed character moment for 47, but I absolutely love it because it gives sooo much development for a character who is just supposed to be a block of wood. It’s a little moment of sweetness in a series that is so edgy and problematic.


#39

I know some fans were disappointed with Contracts for how many missions it re-hashed when it was new but I really did appreciate that a lot (and how every single level takes place at night in the rain no matter when it originally was). It made me want all the future games to have levels alternate between ones in the current storyline and ones that are flashbacks because it’d be an easy way to develop 47 just by letting you encounter some characters a few times in the same game and they could play with what 47 thinks about a situation vs. what everyone else does. Like they could have it both ways with the character that way.


#40

To build on some of what has already been discussed in this thread, I want to mention that I feel like the series’ reactionary ideology comes out most in its representation of sex. Lots of the game’s targets are characterized by this sort of pizzagate/Frank Miller degree of sexual pathology. Many levels (the ‘heaven and hell’ one from Blood Money comes to mind) involve entering into sex parties of the elite, whose moral vacuity is usually only given concrete expression through what the game frames as sexual depravity.


#41

Unfortunately this also means old Hitman comes in with the built-in South Park fallacy of “we’re punching at everybody!” when the games shit all over queer people. Like yes, everybody in old hitman is an unsympathetic shitbag (except for the tortured white soul being persecuted by very stereotypically Polish ideas of black people in BM’s tutorial, suspiciously enough), straight dudes still get to be the most diversely characterized even when stereotyped. The queers in BM aren’t just portrayed as the worst kinds of people, they’re also slotted into archetypes that were widely considered shitty cliche even back then, meaning their depravity was defined by every part of their identity, and vice versa, so even if every other target was just as bad, it would still be barely-veiled homophobic garbage.

Hilariously, the fandom’s old standby of praising Hitman’s absolute amorality was always wrong on many fronts, as most of Hitman does want to characterize hits as Bad People, just with little toe dips into “makes u think” territory that never actually works. Otherwise, yeah, it’s so reactionary that I’ve seen defenses for its unending stream of horrific prejudices boil down to “thats just how 47 sees the world, maaaan”. Like, nice, really made yer teehee funi fat man reference to Blade fuckin deep, man, really gets me in the provocative mindset of the grumpy barcode head clone boy made by an evil scientist he killed with a minigun, truly the darkest of all tragic comedies.

edit: tangential note, but i basically never engage with the Contracts mode in the new games despite liking it in theory, because it’s driven by a community i know is reactionary enough to be all about murdering minorities, which’ll prolly be exacerbated by the more predominantly non-white locales/non-white default targets in HM2 :confused: