May 18, 2005

Be Cruel To Your School

A couple of kids at Moundsview High (a north suburb of the Twin Cities) have developed a mod of a first-person shooter game...

...set in Moundsview High School:

Mounds View High School senior Jordan Everhart remembered talking last year to his friend and fellow senior, Pat Glynn, about a video game Glynn wanted to create.

It would be a modification ("mod") of Counter-Strike, a "first-person-shooter" game that Everhart and Glynn and their friends played regularly.

First-person-shooter games are so named because the objective is to shoot targets -- zombies, terrorists, aliens or other menaces -- and the viewpoint is through a shooter's eyes.

But in Glynn's game, there would be a twist. The targets would be hunted in the hallways and stairwells of Mounds View High School.

"We just thought it would be sweet because it's my school," Everhart said. "It's a place you know. If you set [a game] at the Capitol, well, who knows anything about the Capitol? Who has been there? No one."

Brief tangent: I've been there - and I think an FPS set at the Capitol that included zombie staffers, Legislators and media figures, might be a humongous seller.

Especially if you did fifty state editions.

But I digress.

Back to the article:

Glynn began to make his game earlier this schoolyear. Initially, he had thought about making a counterterrorism or zombie-hunting game. But recently, he said, he has reconsidered. Now, he intends to make it a "nonviolent" game where the guns are replaced with Nerf guns and the ammunition is replaced with Nerf balls.

"It's not violent," he said.

"It's very fun. The whole thing is about Mounds View pride," Glynn said about his game, which he calls Mounds View Source.

Wow. Shooting nerf gunsin school. What could be the problem?

There's always a problem:

Roxanne Cunningham, Glynn's computer teacher at Mounds View with whom he talked about the game, said she discussed its implications -- the symbolism of the gun, its setting within a high school -- with Glynn as he worked on it.

"I brought up those issues from an educator's point of view. We really did talk about that: How is this going to affect the way people look at his game?" she said.

It's worth noting, Cunningham said, that no one would die in the game. It's simply a matter of winning or losing points.

Sort of like "tag".

Let's make another digression here: Video games, especially First Person Shooters, have been under the 'scope since the first big rash of school shootings, back in the nineties. Many of the shooters were big FPS fans. Now, I don't play FPSes as a rule - they tend to act like arcade games, and I vastly prefer games like the Combat Mission series of tactics games - but when I hear people talking about the affinity of juvenile spree-killers for First Person Shooters, I feel an urge to stand on a balcony and shout "Correlation does not equal causation!". Does an incipient killer develop the urge to kill because he plays FPS games, or does he love FPS games because he's an incipient killer?

What do you think?

The school's principal, Julie Wikelius, didn't know about the game until she was contacted last week for this story. She said she isn't convinced that the distinction between a virtual Nerf gun and a bullet-shooting gun makes a difference.

"I think there is a disconnect there: How are we defining nonviolent?" she said. "That's something that as a staff we need to work on a little bit more."

I started typing something bitterly snarky, one of those "you let your kids go to a school run by a woman who can't tell the conceptual and moral difference between a Nerf Gun and a Desert Eagle?"

And the more I think about it, the more appropriate the snark seems. "How are we defining non-violent?"

Let's see if this question helps your definition: Do you see a Dylan Harris playing a game involving shooting Nerf guns?

Can you imagine a spree-killer cutting his figurative teeth on a game that, like the Nerf Gun itself, is a glorified game of tag?

All snarking aside the lack of moral, conceptual, rhetorical, ethical and practical clarity is the most depressing thing I've read all day.

Posted by Mitch at May 18, 2005 05:29 AM | TrackBack

Not Nerf balls, spitballs. From a plastic McDonald's straw. More challenging. More traditional, less violent.

But you get bonus points for hitting nerds and phy ed coaches. And you can change weapons, move up to playing cards to throw down hallways like Ninja stars; then to bottle caps to snap off your fingers (really more of a college dorm room skill than high school - might not be age appropriate).

And if you get caught, you don't die; instead, you merely WISH you'd died because they make you hand out Valentines to ugly girls or stand around checking hall passes or scraping gum off desks or beating erasers.


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