Guns don’t kill people, fictional guns kill people. That was one takeaway from NRA President Wayne LaPierre’s press conference on Friday in response to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Here are LaPierre’s words:
And here’s another dirty little truth that the media try their best to conceal: There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people. Through vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse. And here’s one: it’s called Kindergarten Killers. It’s been online for 10 years. How come my research department could find it and all of yours either couldn’t or didn’t want anyone to know you had found it?
Ah yes, Kindergarten Killer—the real culprit behind our nation’s epidemic of gun violence. So insidious is this game that no one has ever heard of it, let alone played it. The NRA blames the media for that. Because when the media aren’t busy corrupting our moral fiber by promoting violent entertainment, they’re corrupting our moral fiber by not promoting violent entertainment.
Duly shamed by LaPierre for their previous ignorance (or willful suppression) of Kindergarten Killer’s existence, some of us in the media are at last performing our civic obligation to publicize this game to a wider audience. And what a game it is.
You can tell from the start that this is a title built to lure kids in and not let them go until it has turned them into ice-blooded slayers, because the first thing you see when you load it in your browser is a message telling you it probably won’t work very well even on the lowest-quality setting. Those who want the game to function properly are helpfully directed to a different website, which as far as I could tell no longer exists.
Once you ignore all that and begin, you’re immersed in a (poorly) hand-drawn world populated with cartoon images of kids whose faces you must click on as quickly as possible to fire your cartoonish double-barreled shotgun at them. Succeed in killing them all and you’ll make it to the office of the principal, who inexplicably has the head of Arnold Schwarzenegger and utters phrases such as “I outta kill you” (sic). I’d tell you more about the game, but it got so old and repetitive after five minutes I couldn’t stand any more.
This all makes more sense when you consider the game’s origins. Buzzfeed’s John Herrman reports that it was first posted in 2002 to a site called Newgrounds.com, then a haven for shock-value jokes that was “a sort of small-scale 4chan of its day.” Kindergarten Killer was most likely intended not as actual entertainment, but as trollish provocation aimed at those who would blame video games for tragedies like the Columbine shooting. In other words, the target audience was not kids, but people like LaPierre.
Consider LaPierre trolled. (As was a Finnish gaming site, which removed Kindergarten Killer after a school shooting there in 2008.) But that’s only half the irony. Having first labeled school shooters “so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them” (emphasis his), LaPierre attributed to them the rationality to target schools because the lack of guns there makes them the “safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.” His solution: more guns in schools. But wait: In Kindergarten Killer, the game that supposedly turns kids into mass murderers in the first place, every single person in the school is armed and fires back. As with just about every violent video game, the challenge of trying to shoot your victims before they shoot you is the whole point of playing.