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Published: Friday, 4/29/2011

COMMENTARY

Video game crosses the line

BY KIRK BAIRD
CULTURE SHOCK

You're the driver of a speeding death car who mows down people/zombies as they cross the highway.

You're a chainsaw-wielding homicidal maniac who chases and kills children -- including a boy in a wheelchair.

You're General Custer who dodges arrows to reach an Indian princess tied to a cactus and rape her.

And critics contend video games are violent now.

Death Race 2000, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Custer's Revenge all were titles that appeared in the golden-age of video games, the late 1970s through the early 1980s. And in their day, they received their share of criticism.

But those games pale in controversy to what Checkerboarded Studios might soon unleash: School Shooter: North American Tour 2012. This first-person shooter, a modification to another popular game, Half-Life 2, would allow gamers to re-enact the tragedies at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Northern Illinois University, as well as others. The goal is to kill as many defenseless students and teachers as possible before committing suicide. As the game's Web site states, "The possibilities are endless! You are free to do whatever you want (So long as it involves shooting people in a school)."

The playable character, as described on the site, is "a disgruntled student fed up with something or other (we're not exactly sure), who after researching multiple school shooting martyrs, decides to become the best school shooter ever."

Needless to say, the game has created an uproar; the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives is trying to keep the game from being released.

And what kind of twisted mind comes up with a game like this?

"Checkerboarded Studios is an independent game studio that specializes in satirical Half-Life 2 modifications. … We are a small team of people who are absolutely dedicated to bringing you -- the player -- the best school shooting experience an angsty little [expletive] as yourself could ever experience."

And this is where we've come with video games.

I remember in 1979, the city council of a small, conservative suburb of Dallas, Mesquite, wanted to ban Space Invaders and all arcade games because they thought the games promoted gambling among teenagers. Video games have come under attack several times since from groups concerned with the possible negative effects on young or impressionable gamers.

For the record, I always have stood on the side of video game makers, including during the hue and cry of titles such as Mortal Kombat, Doom, and the Grand Theft Auto series -- all of which were considered excessively violent, with each game pushing the limits further. But for School Shooter, I defer to the voice of reason.

It used to be that rock and roll was a teen's choice for rebellion and counter-culture expression. But as Madonna proved, you only can push social boundaries through music so far. That void has been filled with ultra-violent video games as de rigueur among teens looking to irk parents and conservative groups. And with School Shooter, they've found their Elvis-Alice Cooper-KISS-Motley Crue-and-Marilyn Manson all rolled into one.

Forget freedom of speech and that Checkerboarded Studios has the right to create this game. They do.

But should they? When does common sense and compassion for those still grieving these national tragedies enter into the equation? And, God forbid, this game is linked to a school shooting. Do these game makers really want that kind of blood on their hands, video game or otherwise?

Perhaps Checkerboarded Studios should rethink School Shooter ... before a video game really does kill someone.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734. Follow him on his blog, toledoblade.com/cultureshock, or on Twitter, @bladepopculture.



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