Agony as a game has been fraught with both hype and controversy since its announcement and Kickstarter campaign. As time wore on, the increasingly shocking and disgusting trek through the depths of Hell in Agony took shape, and people took notice. The rumblings started almost immediately, with a mix of reactions. Some positive, and some negative, but generally the public opinion was somewhat muted and skeptical.
As the game got closer to its May 2018 release, more and more gamers voiced their concerns over the censoring of certain content. It was revealed shortly before release that some endings to the game had to be appeased in order for the game to pass ratings boards. The change was very minor, and Agony is still extremely disturbing. For fracks sake, a demon builds a wall out of fetuses at one point, and even that doesn’t scratch the surface. And even though the gravity of that scene is made almost laughable by the muddy cartoonish graphics, it’s still a horrifying image.
Reading the Steam reviews shows a vocal subset of angry folks who just wanted the most disgusting game they could imagine, and they’re really mad that they couldn’t see a few more demonic boobies. And despite my personal eye-rolling reaction to dudes being mad over not seeing a bit more of this weird and creepy video game, it all seems to have reached a head for Agony.
Now that the game has been out a while, we can see that the fruits of that labor by Madmind Studios were less than the tasty bloody morsel that was promised. Despite the hype, Agony turned out to be an underwhelming, but still bloody and disgusting, walking simulator with an interesting setting, and not much more. The fixation of turning up the violence was ultimately a let down for some as the issues with bugs, lighting and general game design started to frustrate many players.
Cut to this week where Madmind announced that they would not be releasing a new unrated version, at all. Despite prior plans and announcements to do so. They pledge to continue updating and supporting the game, but citing financial and technical woes, they’ve scrapped plans to release a new version of the horror game.
We regret to inform you that our company is currently struggling with financial problems. Due to technical and legal reasons, Madmind must cancel the development of Agony Unrated. Part of the team will continue to support Agony on Steam and consoles by publishing new patches.
Now setting aside the idea that Madmind somehow made this game for nearly $140,000 and are still in financial trouble, what could have gone wrong here?
For all its attempts at being the gaming equivalent of the worst things you’d find in a sketch book belonging to an overly edgy teen who watched too much Hellraiser, what did Agony actually accomplish?
The setting of Hell, despite its prominence, is woefully under-explored in gaming. And Agony attempted to rectify that. Sadly, it’s not like we’re reading the works of Clive Barker here, there’s no deeper examination of society and morality. Nor is there a deep condemnation of the disastrous interactions between free will and the darker impulses of humans and power. It’s just something the makers and fans can point to and say, “look how offensive this is, isn’t that so provocative!”, but the underlying problem is that there’s no consideration paid to the impact of that thoughtless meandering. Much like the gameplay of Agony where the surroundings largely don’t matter, those praising it as thought provoking don’t seem to care about the consequences of normalizing edgy stuff like this.
For all its bluster, most of your time in Agony is spent staring at every conceivable approximation of a vagina that the game devs could come up with. Trees, monsters, walls, doorways, everything is covered in vaginas in Hell apparently. But behind that veneer of crudeness, there’s an underlying message, and it isn’t female empowerment. In fact, because the game spend so long hammering home points about domination and weirdly idealized perversions of feminine qualities, it says quite the opposite. These contradictions seem endemic to the core design of the game too. The imagery hammers home this message, and when combined with the attitudes and reactions of the fanbase, it’s clear that toxicity is what some people actually wanted. Some gamers actually wanted brutally explicit sex scenes, “demonic” children being stomped by demons, and a whole mountain of vaginal imagery. Let that sink in.
All of this throws out any notion Agony wasn’t crafted as a power fantasy, in which the notion of “hell” and “demons” are sheer window dressing, for the real subplot of the game, the domination of women and femininity. And none of this interpretation seemed to be a problem for Madmind, until their publisher and some rating organizations pointed out the more problematic and overt instances, like the graphic depictions of sexual violence.
And despite how repulsive aspects of the game and its underlying ideals might be, they’re still intriguing in a sick fascination sort of way. But at some point, that shock-fueled wonder wears off, and you’re just left with a bland game. So just maybe, outrage and shock aren’t enough to sell a game anymore in 2018.
So quite frankly, I’m somewhat relieved that an unrated version of Agony isn’t happening. Mostly because I won’t have to trudge through such a nightmare that isn’t actually that scary again.
What do you think?
Agony is available now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.