NRA Blames Ten-Year-Old Flash Game For School Violence

How a terrible, deliberately provocative Flash game from 2002 became part of the conversation about gun violence.

In a press conference, the NRA's Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre blamed violent movies and video games for contributing to a culture of violence in the United States, specifically calling out Kindergarten Killer, a game in which the objective is to kill the staff and students at an elementary school. The media, he said, has been reluctant to cover this "dirty little secret."

"It’s been online for 10 years," he said. "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?"

In a strange press conference, this was perhaps the strangest moment: Kindergarten Killer is neither a popular game nor is it available for sale; by any reasonable standard, it's hardly a game at all.

Kindergarten Killer was posted to in 2002 by someone calling himself "Gary Short." The original version was deleted by popular demand, but has been reposted elsewhere. It's a Flash game, meaning you play it in your browser. The hand-drawn graphics are crude and simple, and the game mechanics are clumsy. It would have taken an amateur Flash game designer a few days to make.

Newgrounds, a portal for flash animations and games, was at the time a haven for intentionally shocking material — it hosted games and cartoons lampooning Teletubbies, Britney Spears, and other pop culture icons, often violently. It was amateurish and sometimes repellent, but above all in on the joke — a sort of small-scale 4chan of its day. Kindergarten Killer is an offensive and awful and pointless game, but in the context of Newgrounds, in 2002, it was likely intended less as a game than a simple provocation: Blame this game for something. I dare you.

Three years earlier, on the same site, a crude game called Pico's School put players in a school shooting scenario.

2002 was a year of intemperate and uninformed talk about video game violence. The shootings in Columbine were still fresh in memory, and anti-game crusader Jack Thompson was blaming the D.C. sniper on video games on the basis of a Tarot card reading "I am god" that was left at the scene of one of the shootings (many first-person shooting games have a "god" mode). Politicians and pundits were creating video game straw men, and games like Kindergarten Killer appeared to mock them.

Ten years ago, anti-game rhetoric was at its loudest and most absurd. Today, the discussion has evolved: Studies have shown no link between video games and violent crime; games have become far more realistically violent, which is troubling to some; Jack Thompson is no longer allowed to practice law. There is still an important discussion to be had about violence in games — there always has been, and always will be — but Kindergarten Killer is not part of it. It was irrelevant in 2002, which is where LaPierre's cultural sense of this issue seems to be frozen. To mention it today borders on farce.

Update: This post previously mentioned LaPierre's statements about a game called Splatterhouse, which was released in 1988. It's possible he was referring to a 2010 remake.

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