“Sick Sandy Hook videogame lets players shoot mom, collect ammo and fire into school” announces the headline in the New York Daily News.
“How quickly do you think you could turn the murder of dozens of kids into an object of entertainment? Most of us would be too horrified to try. For some unethical game designers, it took no time at all,” says an editorial on the website for liberal advocacy group Americans Against the Tea Party, which also quotes Democratic Senator Chris Murphy as hoping the “very disturbed person who could think of something like this sees the cruelty of what he’s done and stops it.”
Would you care to guess what neither writer actually mentions…and therefore we must assume they neglected to do entirely?
DingDingDing! That’s right – it would appear that neither author actually played the game through. I know this because I did, and I know what’s really in the whole thing (they seem not to). They both quote the game’s creator, Ryan Jake Lambourn, as saying to those who ask him to explain himself, “Sure, but you’d learn more by ‘playing it.'”
Actually, the Daily News hilariously calls him “An Australian techie believed to be Ryan Jake Lambourn,” and then proceeds to give more biographical information about him that leaves no doubt (Lambourn lives in Australia, but he’s American by birth). His name and a recording from him explaining his intent can actually be found at the end of the game, but that might require research – even though each level of the game allows you to skip directly to the end almost immediately. To know that, of course, you have to actually play it.
Here’s how the game works:
As seen in the image above, you play the shooter as an ominous silhouette. Initially, you play in “Historical” mode, which is the way events happened – apart from the fact that in real life things aren’t all shadows and neon. You slump around at the slow pace of someone weighed down, steal your mother’s guns, shoot her, and then proceed to the school and shoot at the kid and teacher shadows there. Once you’re in the school, you have the option to skip ahead to the end of the level, at which point the police have arrived and the only remaining move the game grants you is to shoot yourself in the head. If you don’t skip ahead, there’s a countdown clock that gets you there eventually.
After this level, you can play “Guncontrol” level. In this version, no guns are available to you. You have to stab mom repeatedly, and after failing to open her safe, are magically given a katana sword and a sledgehammer, with which you enter the school again, and try to kill the shadows using only a sword. You still kill some, but it’s much harder, and you have to off yourself with pills (the end card lets you know you got your stomach pumped and stood trial) You might see the beginnings of a point emerging here.
And emerge it does, because this unlocks a third level called “Eagletears,” in which you are in the NRA world, with no gun control whatsoever. Mom is still a sleeping duck, and the teachers have handguns, but you have a machine gun. This, of course, is the easiest level of them all. If you wish to play Lambourn’s message at the end, he makes it clear – if you have a problem with the way gun laws are, you need to contact your representatives – and he provides a link to where you can do exactly that.
[warning: pink stylized blood ahead]
There is in fact a long tradition of games that mess with your expectations by either turning out not to be games in the traditional sense at all, or which turn around suddenly and cast you as the villain when you thought you were the hero. We even did a list of them. One similar to this, Super Columbine Massacre RPG!, actually spawned a whole movie on the topic. A recent movie equivalent would be something like Ender’s Game, which sells itself as a fun space war film, only to let you know at the end SPOILER that you’ve been rooting for genocide.END SPOILER
So why wouldn’t the writers actually play the games? Just spitballing here, but there seems to be an assumption that violent games magically make people do violent things against their will. It’s why the media made note of the fact that the Columbine killers played Doom. It’s why pro-NRA politicians are quick to blame video games after a shooting as surely as their opponents will blame all gun owners.
In my senior year of college, I did a research paper on the topic of violence and video games – this was the era of Mortal Kombat, which was fairly groundbreaking in its photo-realism for the time. I read lots of studies. Do you know what I found?
There is a correlation between games and violence, but it’s probably not the one you think. Violent behavior increased in players…who spent long hours playing the game by themselves, regardless of the violence content in the game itself. Video games induce violence only to the extent that they encourage the kid to be anti-social.
One caveat: this was before consoles had remote mutliplayer action, and so I don’t know where playing with others online rather than in-person fits in to all of that.
Ryan Lambourn did not make this game to make you turn violent, or to celebrate death. He didn’t even make it as escapism or entertainment. He made it in the hopes that he could convey a political point in a digestible game format that would reach people who’d ignore a tirade on TV or a newspaper editorial. As usual, the debate got framed by people who can’t understand that video games are yet another story-telling tool, which need not merely tell a single kind of story.
Agree with his politics or not…the misunderstanding of video games is the real problem here. And while protesters try to get this game taken down from various sites where you can play it, the last time I checked there were still a few. Take a look if you like.
I’d normally end with a joke here, but given the subject matter I’m just afraid someone would accuse me of joking about actual deaths. Besides, I have giant wild mushrooms to eat and bricks to hit with my head.