A controversial game has made its way to Valve’s Steam store, and it is sure to spark a vigorous debate about common decency and what is acceptable as a freedom of expression. The game, Active Shooter, allows you to serve as a SWAT team member during an “active shooter” situation at a high school. While this might be a bit unsettling, given recent events in the US, that’s not where it ends. The game features “dynamic roles”, in which the player can also take on the role as the actual shooter, targeting innocent school children and teachers.
Although the Steam listing for the game has been updated since it initially went live, it originally stated that players have the ability to “slaughter as many civilians as possible, as well as forces that are against you”. In fact, there’s a counter on the left-hand side of the screen that keeps track of how many cops and civilians that you have killed.
The United States has experienced two horrific mass shootings at high schools so far in 2018. In February, 14 students and three faculty members were shot to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. More recently, nine students and one teacher were shot and killed last week at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas. Needless to say, many Americans — especially those with children — are on edge about the subject matter. It’s also a sad statement on the occasionally troubled times we’ve been living in more recently.
The developer of the game, Revived Games, has since posted an update to address the growing outrage over the game’s appearance on Steam (it isn’t set to be available until June 6th):
First of all, this game does not promote any sort of violence, especially any soft [sic] of a mass shooting.
Originally when this game started its course of the development, I have planned on having SWAT only based gameplayer [sic]. Then I thought about adding more gameplay to it by adding additional roles: of the shooter and the civilian. 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. As I mentioned in steam discussion forums, there are games like Hatred, Postal, Carmageddon and etc., which are even worst compared to “Active Shooter” and literally focus on mass shootings/killings of people.
Comments from gamers are quite varied, with most of the commenters siding with the developer. “There were 60 million people killed in WW2, yet companies have been cashing in on the back of it for years and don’t get this sort of abuse,” wrote MrGuarnere. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not playing down these school shootings as its atrocious what is happening in the world.”
“I don’t see a problem. Games line GTA, PayDay, etc are glorified, why is this such a big deal,” added Magnus. “Its just a game. In 22 jump street there was an hour long shootout in a school, nobody complained.”
“Letting someone play as the shooter is extremely bad taste,” wrote ThisCharmingMan. “It also smacks of wanting to get publicity by any means necessary. Now that people have heard of your game, you have a chance to show some class and remove that part. And to the customers… if you get off on that fantasy, seek help.”
On the other hand, DephDK wrote, “I think your game looks horrible, BUT if HATRED released on Steam, then so can this piece of sh!t. More power to ya, and don’t let ’em get you down!”
For those that don’t remember, HATRED is a game that was posted to Steam just over three years ago, but was quickly removed due to its violent subject matter. The player was able to take on the role as a serial killer that goes on a rampage against innocent civilians. In one section of the game’s trailer, a woman can be seen laying on the ground begging for her life, after which the protagonist puts a handgun in her mouth and pulls the trigger.
Trailer for HATRED (Warning, Extremely Graphic Content)
Valve CEO Gabe Newell actually stepped in and apologized for removing HATRED. “It turns out that it wasn’t a good decision, and we’ll be putting Hatred back up, wrote Newell back in December 2014. “My apologies to you and your team. Steam is about creating tools for content creators and customers. Good luck with your game.”
It remains to be seen what will happen to Active Shooter, but it appears that many gamers are firmly on the side of the developers in this case. There’s the notion of “free speech” here but where do we draw the line on the grotesque and depraved?