National News

'Active Shooter' Game Angers Parkland Parents: ‘This Is Gross, This Is Profiteering’

Posted May 29, 2018 9:58 p.m. EDT
Updated May 29, 2018 10:04 p.m. EDT

The online game unfolds from the point of view of an attacker, aiming a weapon down a school corridor or throwing a grenade into an auditorium. The character creeps around corners and up staircases. Bullets spray, blood spatters. SWAT team members are shot dead. Civilians are splayed out on the floor.

The game, “Active Shooter,” was scheduled to be released June 6. But it ran into controversy after several recent school shootings, including massacres at high schools in Santa Fe, Texas, and Parkland, Florida.

Parents of victims of the Parkland shooting amplified the opposition to the game, calling for boycotts and seeking to block its release.

“Nothing will bring my daughter back, but there is a role for adults to have in terms of being responsible, and this is not responsible,” said Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter, Jaime, was one of the 17 victims of the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland. “This is gross, this is profiteering, this is unacceptable.”

“Active Shooter” was developed by Acid Publishing Group, which has an online page in English and Russian. The developer was planning to sell the game for $5 to $10 on Steam, a publishing marketplace run by Valve Corp. of Bellevue, Washington.

But on Tuesday evening, after facing online calls for a boycott, Valve said in a statement that it would not carry any games by Acid, the company behind “Active Shooter,” and that it had removed other games that Acid had published on the Steam platform.

The statement said that the person behind “Active Shooter,” who had been removed while operating under a different company name last fall, “is a troll, with a history of customer abuse, publishing copyrighted material, and user review manipulation.”

“The broader conversation about Steam’s content policies is one that we’ll be addressing soon,” the statement said.

Before it was removed from Steam’s website, the description of Active Shooter read: “Pick your role, gear up and fight or destroy! Be the good guy or the bad guy. The choice is yours! Only in ‘Active Shooter,’ you will be able to pick the role of an Elite SWAT member or the actual shooter.”

Discussion about violent video games and their effect on young people’s behavior was renewed after the Parkland shooting, which the police said was carried out by a former student, Nikolas Cruz, armed with a semi-automatic rifle.

A neighbor said Cruz spent long hours playing video games. President Donald Trump said after the shooting that he was “hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts.” Researchers have rejected such claims many times as the number of mass shootings has increased over the past two decades.

An online petition to stop the release of the game had gathered more than 100,000 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.

Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter Alaina was killed in the Parkland shooting, said in a statement: “It’s disgusting that Valve Corp. is trying to profit from the glamorization of tragedies affecting our schools across the country. Keeping our kids safe is a real issue affecting our communities and is in no way a ‘game.’”

Guttenberg questioned on Tuesday why Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and others who have blamed violent video games for real-life gun violence had been silent about the “Active Shooter” game.

“None of them have said a word,” he said. “I would love for them to join me in the outrage over this.”

Guttenberg said, “They are profiting off of the murder of my daughter,” adding, “They are putting out a game that glorifies what happened to my daughter.”

He noted that Cruz had reportedly written about how he thought the shooting was going to “make him somebody. And we are going to put these video games out there to further play to that notion?”

Acid’s developer, Revived Games, did not reply to requests for comment earlier Tuesday. Acid said in a blog post last week that the game “does not promote any sort of violence, especially any [sort] of a mass shooting.”

Acid said it had contacted Valve about the criticism its game has received and would probably alter it if the company agreed. But it added that other games focus on mass shootings, The Miami Herald reported.

“While I can see people’s anger and why this might be a bad idea for the game, I still feel like this topic should be left alone,” Acid said in a statement. Some of the frames from the game that have been released show a tally for civilians killed and police officers killed. A player can apparently also choose to play as a member of the SWAT team and work to “extract civilians and neutralize the shooter.”

On the game’s Steam page, a warning reads: “Please do not take any of this seriously. This is only meant to be the simulation and nothing else. If you feel like hurting someone or people around you, please seek help from local psychiatrists or dial 911 (or applicable).”

Online, there were calls for a boycott of Steam, while others said it was misguided to object to the game’s release but not take action on gun control.

Amy Klinger, the director of programs for the Educator’s School Safety Network, a nonprofit consulting group that creates lesson plans for a computer simulation that trains teachers for a mass shooting, said Tuesday that there was a difference between a generic violent video game and one that immerses children in a setting that is part of their everyday experience.