by Christopher Paslay
Disgruntled teenagers who fantasize about shooting their classmates need not worry about increased security in America’s public schools. A new video game, “School Shooter: North American Tour 2012,” provides adolescents with all the opportunity to gun down teachers and students in the comfort of their own homes.
The video game, developed by Checkerboarded Studios, allows players to arm themselves with the same weapons used by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the teen duo who killed 13 people at Columbine High School in 1999, and Seung-Hui Cho, the college undergraduate who murdered 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007.
Checkerboarded.com, the website for Checkerboarded Studios, explains that “you play as a disgruntled student fed up with something or other (We’re not exactly sure), who after researching multiple school shooting martyrs, decides to become the best school shooter ever.”
Players of “School Shooter” not only score points by blasting teachers and classmates full of holes in simulated school settings, but are given the option of committing suicide at the end of each level.
The video game is not without its critics. Pennsylvania state Rep. Lawrence Curry has objected to the video game’s content, as has Cornwall-Lebanon School District Superintendent Joe Kristobak.
As a high school teacher, I too am taken aback by the game’s concept. Although supporters of such games insist they are protected by the First Amendment, this does not stop them from having a negative impact on education. Research continues to show that violent video games not only contribute to an increase in violent behavior, but also shorten attentions spans.
Worse still, they desensitize children to murder and death, and even help them cultivate a healthy taste for it. My students’ fascination with blood and guts at times can be quite troubling. This fascination is not limited to video games, of course. It stretches into the realm of music, film, television, and the internet.
Over the years, I’ve heard kids in my homeroom passionately discuss the scene in the film American History X where the skinhead makes the black guy bite down on the curb and then stomps on the back of his head, killing him (this, by the way, has become known in the urban lexicon as a curb stomp).
I’ve heard them proudly recite the lyrics to their favorite songs that talk about killing someone or smashing-in their face with the butt of a pistol because they didn’t act right. I’ve seen them huddle together in their desks and talk about the crazy internet sites they visit, the ones that show actual footage of real war, real murder, real suicides.
In light of the fascination young people have with violence in the 21st century, how should schools proceed with education? How do teachers compete with the adrenaline rush of blood and guts and death when it comes to classroom instruction? How do they continue to get on a student’s radar?
This is a dilemma I’ve recently faced. Over the years, lessons of mine that were once spicy and provocative have slowly become mundane.
Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film Romeo + Juliet is a perfect example. Ten years ago, my students sat captivated by the opening scene, which depicted a full scale gun battle at a gas station between the Motagues and the Capulets. Today when I show the film to my freshmen, too often they are less than enthused.
This lack of enthusiasm carries over to the literature in our textbooks. There’s only so much I can do to make Henry David Thoreau’s 1849 essay “Civil Disobedience,” which is part of the Philadelphia School District’s 2010-11 eleventh grade curriculum, fun and interesting. There’s only so much I can do to get 16 year old inner-city teenagers excited about The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, even when I focus on the bloody fist fight between Douglas and Mr. Covey, the slave master.
And video games like “School Shooter” are not helping matters. Checkerboarded Studios should consider pulling the plug on the project, if not out of respect for the victims of the Columbine and Virginia Tech massacres, than out of respect for public education.