WATCH: Anger over new video game that lets people shoot up a school
The gunman is in a second-story window of a school, AK-47 in tow, prepared to make a final bloody stand.
SWAT officers rush into an entrance below. Two are struck by gunfire and are instantly killed. As they prepare to breach a door, the gunman turns his rifle toward fleeing civilians and shoots one in the back.
A digital counter keeps a helpful tally: CIV KILLED: 1. COPS KILLED: 2.
If your PC meets the minimum requirements, and you have a few dollars, you too can be a school shooter - in pixelated form.
Game company Valve is set to release "Active Shooter" on its online platform Steam on June 6 and charge between $5 and $10. The game, touted as a police-response simulator, will allow players to move through a school as either a SWAT officer or a gunman terrorizing civilians and police.
Concerns about the link between violent video games and real acts of violence have percolated for decades. But scrutiny has been renewed in the wake of school shootings in Florida and Texas, drawing responses from President Trump and Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R. They have said simulated violence inspires killers.
"Active Shooter," then, is the game of the moment, at the nexus of a heated public debate about why and how gunmen storm public places to indiscriminately kill, although recent research has found that school shooters actually tend to lack interest in violent games.
The game, although yet unreleased, has touched off strong reactions from parents of students killed in the Parkland, Florida, shooting on February 14.
"It's disgusting that Valve Corp. is trying to profit from the glamorization of tragedies affecting our schools across the country," Ryan Petty, father of slain 14-year-old Alaina, wrote on Facebook. "Keeping our kids safe is a real issue affecting our communities and is in no way a 'game.'"
Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was among the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, blasted the game Sunday.
"I have seen and heard many horrific things over the past few months since my daughter was the victim of a school shooting and is now dead in real life. This game may be one of the worst," he wrote on Twitter. In follow-up messages, he asked his followers to call Valve chief executive Gabe Newell to demand that the game be removed from his platform.
Valve and the game's developer, Revived, did not respond to a request for comment. The publisher, Acid, could not be reached.
Amid the intense criticism, Acid said on its Steam page Thursday that the developer considered removing the option to play as the mass shooter and had consulted Valve for advice. It also said that child characters won't be used in the game.
The Parkland killings and the May 18 slayings of 10 people at Santa Fe High School outside Houston have reignited calls for restricted access to violent games for minors as Trump, Patrick and others decry their social role among teenagers.
Trump said in the wake of the Parkland shooting that violent games are "shaping young people's thoughts." And after Santa Fe, Patrick cited everything from too many doors in schools to abortions and violent video games as factors that contribute to mass killings.
"We have incredible, heinous violence as a game, two hours a day in front of their eyes. And we stand here and we wonder why this happens to certain students," he said.
But recent research has overturned the popular consensus that mass killers are fueled, inspired or otherwise desensitized to violence by playing violent games. And even more surprising to some, data points to school shooters as being less interested in violent video games than most of their adolescent male peers.
An analysis of 10 school shooters between 2005 and 2012, including gunmen at Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook, showed that only two played violent video games with any regularity.
That is much lower than the 70 percent of male high school students who show interest in those types of games, said Patrick Markey, a Villanova University psychology professor and co-author of "Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games Is Wrong."
While there is no clear reason that there is a disparity between the groups, researchers say video games are so culturally ingrained that avoiding the often-communal ritual of playing games with friends can point to the antisocial behavior sometimes associated with killers.
"Kids who are psychologically healthy tend to do things their peers do," Markey told The Washington Post on Tuesday. "It's a sign of health and normal for kids to play violent video games whether parents like it or not."
For instance, Virginia Tech killer Seung-Hui Cho had no history of playing video games, violent or otherwise. In remarks to authorities, a roommate of his said it was strange that Cho did not play games with his peers, Markey said.
Research and interest on links between violent games and real-world violence spiked after it was revealed that the Columbine gunmen played "Doom," the first blockbuster first-person shooter game, released six years before their 1999 attack.
But Markey said research initially focused on the effects on behavior immediately after playing games, showing some links between spikes in aggression.
Although research has shown that players can be more aggressive immediately after playing a violent game, it does not have long-term effects, much like watching sad movies does not cause clinical depression, he said.
Markey turned to crime data and built on a 2004 study from the U.S. Secret Service that found similar numbers of school shooters showing disinterest in violent games.
Desensitization to violence does not appear to be permanent, either, he found. When players of violent games were shown execution videos and clips of surgeries, the gamers were "just as horrified" as non-gamers, he said.
But Markey said his research does not mean that he condones games such as "Active Shooter," which he condemned as "extremely objectionable" and clearly created to stir controversy.
The game also inflames another point of recent social discussion: violence against women.
In the promotional trailer, both police and the gunman encounter civilians. All 16 shown on screen are scantily clad women. Some of them are dead on the floor. No male civilians are shown.
At the trailer's closing, the gunman pulls a pin on a grenade and tosses it at a group of three women appearing to run away. He kills one with a shotgun, with the counter ticking to 10 civilians killed. The grenade's explosion makes it 11.
The Washington Post