Frivolous or Frightening? A Look at the Twisted Genre of School Shooting Video Games

This week a Russian company called Acid announced the release of a video game called Active Shooter. Branded as a “SWAT simulator,” Active Shooter let the player choose between playing a SWAT team member or the active shooter at a high school. Naturally there was an understandable outcry from parents of those killed in the Parkland shooting, and the game was pulled from the online storefront Steam. But Active Shooter is far from being alone. In fact, there have been a number of school shooting video games created since the 1990s.

active shooter school shooting video games as screenshot
A screenshot from ‘Active Shooter’

Active Shooter was the latest game developed by Revived Games. The developer had previously released games like Tyde Pod Challenge (a racing game with very little to do with the actual Tide Pod Challenge) and White Power: Pure Voltage (an RPG about exploring an alternate dimension). Both games are no longer available on Steam, the online store and gaming platform.

While Tyde Pod Challenge and White Power appear to be more about gaining notoriety for their names rather than the actual gameplay content, Active Shooter was a much more accurate title since players could literally play an active shooter in a school shooting. Though Acid, the game’s publisher, attempted to clarify the game’s point, Steam pulled the game on Tuesday.

Active Shooter is not alone among school shooting video games

active shooter school shooting RPG screenshot
A screenshot of ‘Super Columbine Massacre RPG!’

Active Shooter is far from the only game to use a school shooting as its premise. One of the Columbine shooters famously made his own Doom maps based on the demonic first-person shooter game. But despite urban legends, none of those maps resembled Columbine High School. That said, some trolls did make an infamous Doom II map resembling the school — the file was titled “Columbine.WAD” — but this map was created approximately 15 years after the shooting.

“Columbine.WAD” isn’t the only Columbine-related video game either. In 2005, Danny Ledonne released Super Columbine Massacre RPG!, a role-playing game in which the player controls the Columbine shooters. First players control the shooters in a scenario re-enacting the actual shooting that took place April 20, 1999. Later on, the shooters blast their way through Hell after committing suicide. (The shooters committed suicide in real life as well.)

The creator of Super Columbine Massacre RPG! said the game was meant as a serious attempt to grapple with the question of “Why did they do it?” and to address claims of whether the shooters’ interest in video games (like Doom) fueled their crime. Ledonne has made a documentary about the game, Playing Columbine, and is an activist for video games as an art form.

Most school shooting video games are the work of trolls

The Slaying of Sandy Hook Elementary active shooter school shooting video games
A screenshot from ‘The Slaying of Sandy Hook Elementary’

While Ledonne was trying to say something about video games, regardless of whether or not you believe he was successful, that sets him apart from many other creators of school shooting video games.

For example, Ryan Lambourn has created two similar games, V-Tech Rampage and The Slaying of Sandy Hook Elementary. Like Super Columbine Massacre RPG!, Lambourn’s games cast the player as a real shooter at real-life tragedies. Unlike that game, however, in an interview with Anthony Burch, Lambourn said he intentionally made the game as offensive as possible “for lulz” (web-speak for amusement at another person’s expense).

Another game without the lofty intentions of Super Columbine Massacre RPG! is School Shooter: North American Tour 2012, a Half-Life 2 mod by Jaime Lombe.

Lombe said he created the game because “games which try to convey some larger message — or which specifically try to ‘educate the player’ — are almost always fucking garbage. That’s why we’re working like dogs on this game, in order to make sure this game doesn’t suck as much as the last couple of school shooting games.”

Lombe also said he objected to the news coverage around the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings, saying, “Even in my younger age, I saw right through most of it. The way the news victimized the victims and overplayed the evil of the shooters disgusted me more than the actual shootings themselves. The fact of the matter is, I never knew any of the victims, or anybody else who attended the schools. It affected me as much as hearing about the quakes in Haiti. Which is to say, not very much at all.”

Do school shooting video games lead to actual school shootings?

School Shooter: North American Tour 2012 active shooter school shooting video games
A screenshot from ‘School Shooter: North American Tour 2012’

Super Columbine Massacre RPG! was initially listed as a possible motivating factor behind the 2006 Dawson College shooting in Montréal, which makes sense as violent video games are a constant scapegoat for violent gun crime. But studies have repeatedly shown this isn’t the case.

One study compared mass shootings in America to Japan, which has similar amounts of people playing violent games. That study discovered that despite violent video games, Japan only had six gun deaths in 2014, compared to 33,000 in the United States.

Despite what politicians would have you believe, the problem isn’t video games — the problem is guns.

Have you ever played any of these school shooting video games? Would you ever? Let us know in the comments.

Featured image courtesy of Revived Games/ACID