Let’s get it out of our system before we start.
Let’s scream, shout, and foam at the mouth at how inappropriate, disgusting, and violent we feel the new Sandy Hook shooting video game is. Let’s figure out who to blame, who to chase down with a pitchfork, and who to send angry social media messages to. Let’s once again point a finger at how video games are destroying the minds of our children. Let’s get it out of our system and into the open air.
Now, let’s actually go play the game before we condemn it. We might actually appreciate what it’s trying to say.
It’s no coincidence that we’re having this conversation only weeks before the one year anniversary of when a lone gunman named Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut and fatally shot 20 children and six adults before turning the gun on himself. When else would you release a video game that you fully expected would create a massive backlash and cause a media uproar? Timing is everything.
The game itself is aptly named “The Slaying of Sandy Hook Elementary”, and has been near universally condemned by the media who have called it everything from “sick” and “grisly” to “disturbing” and “inappropriate“. Another video game designer has managed to create something that has fuelled a molten hot debate led by incensed citizens, posturing politicians, and vocal victims of the tragedy who are all calling for the removal of the game from the internet and the universe beyond.
This kind of schtick is getting very old, very fast, and at some point in the near hopeful future as generations of gamers become adults, parents, and policy makers, video games will cease to be the dead horse that an aging and out of touch demographic flog repeatedly as an easy target. Sure, it’s more than fine to show violence, blood and gore in a movie, a made for TV special, or a reenactment that depicts a story based on real events, but if you’re a video game designer don’t you even dare think about trying to tell a story with relevance and meaning.
Nope, don’t you even dare, because how could a game ever teach you anything relevant about the human condition or open your eyes to a new way of thinking you never thought possible? How could a game be designed to force you to deal with and face emotions that are both foreign and uncomfortable? How could a game capture and present a devastating historical event in a way that is easily understandable for any age range? And how, oh how, could a game ever support a positive political ideology by showing the ugly side of what it is rallying against?
It’s simple. Play the game and see for yourself. What are you afraid of?
The media has done its job in whipping up the public into a frenzy over the game, and for most people, what their preferred news source has to say about the game is about as good for them as actually going and playing it for themselves. If the nice man on television is upset about it, then damn hell, they’re upset about it and the whole world should be too because who needs to actually see something for themselves these days to have an opinion on it. After all, it’s a video game, so of course it’s evil.
I know already that there isn’t a great chance that a majority of the people who read this will actually go and play the game, because you’ve likely either already made up your mind or you just don’t think you can handle it. You are going to base your opinion on what you read or what other people tell you, so let me do my best to explain to you why every person in America should play the Sandy Hook shooting game.
It’s Not About Shooting People
The Sandy Hook shooting game isn’t about running around and shooting children in a school. It is in fact about your choice, as the player, to push the “S” button and fire the gun you are holding. At every point in the game, you have the option to not pull the trigger and stay where you are in the story without progressing. It’s your choice. You can take stock of the emotions and feelings you are having and decide for yourself if you want to continue further with the game, because let’s face it, no one is forcing you. As with all gun violence, the choice is always with the shooter, and if it takes a video game to help just one person realize that, then that is one more person whose mind has been changed for the better.
It Does Not Glorify The Events Of Sandy Hook
Telling a real life story, whether through the written word, on television, on the silver screen or even a canvas is an artistic expression. Video games are no exception to this. As artists of their own medium, video game designers, artists, and developers have just as much right to tell a story as does an author, an actor, a producer or a painter. Creating a video game about a historic event no more glorifies it than Schindler’s List glorifies Nazism, the Color Purple glorifies racism, or Precious glorifies child abuse. Telling a story, in whichever medium an artist chooses is their right and their freedom, and to consistently dismiss one art form as lesser than others is naive and detrimental to the artistic community as a whole.
The game does not give you power ups for better weapons, it does not reward you for shooting certain targets, and at the end of each of the three scenarios, it gives you factual information about the massacre. Simply put, you are not given a gold star for being the best Adam Lanza you can be, you’re left confronted with the destruction you have caused.
Gun Control Is A Central Theme In The Game
After navigating the initial play through mode of the game called “Historical” where you are taken through the events of the Sandy Hook shooting as they actually happened, two more modes of the game become available called “Gun Control” and “Eagletears”. These two modes confront the player to reenact the events of the shooting both without a gun, and with teachers who are armed in the classroom. The gun debate is central to these two points with proponents of guns and proponents of gun control squarely on either side. The game even includes a message from the creator that talks about his position on gun control and why he created the game so that anyone willing to listen to can hear his side of the story.
As a society we cannot debate the pros and cons of gun control without first acknowledging the horrific and painful impact that gun violence has on our communities. No one would be taking sides on the gun control issue if it wasn’t as important as it is and if it didn’t put our hearts on our sleeves. Ignoring the ugly side of the reason why this is an issue in our society simply isn’t possible if any meaningful conclusions are to be had.
If there’s one reason above all others why it is important that every person in America should play the Sandy Hook shooting game is because it helps to answer a simple question that every person has asked themselves about this, and every other mass shooting in America. It helps us answer “what was going through the mind of the shooter” as they pulled the trigger during their rampage.
If there are any answers we search for, other than the “why” or “how” someone could do such a thing, the answer that we all have the hardest time reconciling within ourselves is what went through the mind of the shooter. This game offers a glimpse into that very scary, very uncomfortable question, and offers the opportunity for anyone brave enough to spend 11 minutes to think about their position on gun control, and their commitment on how to end the unspeakable violence plaguing our communities.
This is not simply a shooter game to spend a few hours on my friends, this is an opportunity to learn why real change is needed on gun control in America.
This article originally appeared as an op-ed on the Liberal America website.