Professor Yardley and Professor Wilson discuss the release of a ‘school-shooting simulator’ video game and question whether we should be surprised by it.
BBC News reported yesterday that a school-shooting video game was being promoted ahead of its release on the Steam video game store. This came not even a week after a 17 year-old opened fire at Santa Fe High School in Texas, killing ten people.
The article stated that the game was described on Steam as “realistic” and “impressive”, enabling players to “slaughter as many civilians as possible”. The article also noted a creator disclaimer of sorts, “Please do not take any of this seriously. This is only meant to be the simulation and nothing else”.
Our initial reaction to this news was incredulity.
In what way is it appropriate for a game like this to be promoted, particularly so soon after the Santa Fe shooting? It was also tempting to get drawn into the “Do violent video games cause violence?” debate that so often accompanies stories like these, as people started to comment on the story.
But on reflection, should we really be all that surprised by this?
Homicide and violent crime as entertainment – as a commodity – is nothing new, particularly in the world of gaming. For years, many of us have played video games that involve violence. It seems that the only time we get upset is when these games feature violence that we deem inappropriate, or unacceptable. It’s okay for us to slay the bad guys, that’s fine. But when we judge that violence to be unjust, or unfair, or exploitative, that’s when we get angry.
Remember the furore about Grand Theft Auto V?
This was the game where players could buy a woman, perform a variety of sexual acts on her and decide whether or not to kill her. Indeed, players were actually incentivised to do so – they got their money back if they murdered her. This glorification of gender-based violence had us fuming. But also remember that Grand Theft Auto V was one of the most commercially lucrative video games ever.
More controversially we would suggest that thousands of people rushed out to buy it when it hit the shelves. The game didn’t sell millions of copies despite its controversial nature; it sold millions of copies because of its controversial nature.
Controversy and scandal serves an important purpose for neo-liberal, consumer capitalism. How so?
When we’re all talking about how appalling games like this are, it serves to distract our attention from broader issues which have seeped into our culture but which we don’t ever seem to question. We don’t question them because they have become our reality.
No one really questions the rampant individualism which prioritises selfish interests pursued at any cost; winning has become elevated to the only goal which is deemed acceptable in every set of circumstances; what passes as social life has become a space where only the strong survive; and, just as seamlessly, those who are prepared to take risks, live fast and, more often than not die young have become models for young people to emulate.
Violent video games are about winning; they’re about aggressively pursuing personal interests and emerging victorious and so whilst we will no doubt – and rightly – be angered by the new school-shooting video game, few people will seek to question the violent, fetishized and individualised culture that has created the very context in which games such as this exist and will no doubt flourish.
*It has been brought to our attention that the video within this article originally was, not based on the game in which the BBC was talking about, neither was the header image used., we have removed both and added the correct images to reflect the actual game.
We are sorry for any confusion that may have caused anyone.
Please understand though this article discusses more than just the school-shooting video game in question and is only a small segment.