Updated after Steam announced plans to pull the game from its site.
A gaming website cancelled the release of a video game that allows players to pose as school shooters wielding semiautomatic rifles after it drew condemnation from parents of students killed in the Parkland, Fla., shooting, along with politicians, and education groups.
“Active Shooter,” which was set to be released on the Steam gaming platform in June, allowed users to pose as either a SWAT team member responding to a shooting, as a “civilian” trying to escape, or as the actual shooter. Screen shots released to promote the game clearly show a school setting, but the civilians appear to be adults. The game is not the first to allow users to role play a mass shooting, but its planned release so close to two large school attacks—in Parkland and Santa Fe, Texas—has brought swift condemnation.
Psychologists and policymakers fear there may be a contagion effect to mass shootings, but there’s an ongoing debate about the role of video games in inspiring violent acts. A few previous shooters have been found to have played role-playing shooter games and to have studied previous attacks. And the video game was simply insensitive to the emotions of shooting survivors and students and educators around the country who are concerned about safety, those who denounced it said.
Motivated by such concerns, nearly 150,000 people had signed onto a Change.org petition by Tuesday night, calling on Valve, the company that owns Steam, to cancel plans to release the game. Signers shared their concerns on Twitter under the hashtag #notagame. By Tuesday night, the company told media outlets it would remove the game and its third-party creator from its platform.
Family members of school shooting victims, many who are working on new safety efforts to better equip other schools, called out the game as hurtful and dangerous. They include Ryan Petty, who lost his daughter Alaina at Parkland, and Fred Guttenberg, who lost his daughter Jaime in the same shooting.
-- Ryan Petty (@rpetty) May 27, 2018
This company should face the wrath of everyone who cares about school and public safety and it should start immediately. Do not buy this game for your kids or any other game made by this company.//t.co/LbkXy0upwc
-- Fred Guttenberg (@fred_guttenberg) May 27, 2018
Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, released an impassioned statement Tuesday before the game release was cancelled:
If we thought that the nation's sense of civility and outrage had not yet been sufficiently tested, we should think again. Today's news that a company called Valve will soon be releasing a video game called 'Active Shooter' is as astounding as it is reprehensible. Amid a nationwide epidemic of gun violence—particularly in our nation's schools—the greed and craven impulse of this company to cash in on the headline-grabbing suffering of American children and families shocks the conscience. By turning the heinous crime of mass murder into a game, products of this kind amplify a message of carnage as sport, and it violates every sense of decency a civilized nation should hold dear. The Council of the Great City Schools, the nation's premier coalition of large urban public-school systems, calls on the President, Congress, the Federal Trade Commission, parents and students, faith leaders, second-amendment and free-speech advocates, law enforcement, educators, and others to roundly condemn this product and its release."
Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat,said this:
This is inexcusable. Any company that develops a game like this in wake of such a horrific tragedy should be ashamed of itself. //t.co/jjp6LxNWhC
-- Senator Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) May 28, 2018
Responding to concerns, the game’s third-party developer had posted on Steam last week, saying he would consider removing the ability to play the role of the school shooter from the game after he had been “stormed with accusations and heavy critics from people across the globe.”
“Please do not take any of this seriously,” a disclaimer in the game’s description reads. “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). Thank you.”
Related reading about school shootings and safety:
- School Shootings This Year: How Many and Where
- Shooting Survivors Face Long Road to Recovery
- ‘You Have to Redefine Normal': Leading Schools in the Aftermath of a Shooting
- A Deadly School Year: 35 People Killed in School Shootings
- Columbine Shooting Survivors Form Pen Pal Group for Stoneman Douglas Students: ‘There Is a Way Forward’
- Another American School Is Devastated by Gun Violence
- Thwarted School Shooting Plans Don’t Get Much Attention. Here’s How That Affects School Safety Debates.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.