Activists managed to quash a video game called Active Shooter before it was even released to the public, the culmination of a public uproar over what critics described as the game’s normalization of violence and glamorization of death. This, as it turns out, is not precisely the reason. After all, most video games contain violence, and in many the goal is to kill. What doomed this particular game was the setting of that violence and death—a school—combined with the particular sensitivities of the country at this moment in history.
Active Shooter simulates a school massacre, allowing the player to be a SWAT officer or the gunman himself. In the latter scenario, according to apparent screenshots of the game, the player-as-murderer wields a semiautomatic rifle while traversing school buildings in pursuit of civilians (presumably students and teachers) who are shown huddling in classroom corners or fleeing down flights of stairs.
This isn’t the first school-shooting video game to surface in the aftermath of a high-profile campus massacre. Super Columbine Massacre RPG! came a few years after the 1999 rampage in Littleton, Colorado, created by an undergraduate film student who said he designed it as a critique of how the news media sensationalized the shooting. In May 2007, just a month after the shooting at Virginia Tech, a 21-year-old Australian game creator released V-Tech Rampage, explaining in an interview at the time that he meant for it to be offensive and funny. Several years ago, the same Australian creator made The Slaying of Sandy Hook Elementary, though that time he claimed his intent was to promote stricter gun laws. Its release date was just a month shy of the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre’s one-year anniversary.