Steven Poole analyses America’s virtually foolproof shooter solutions
When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and when you have a gun, everything looks like a target
Observing moral progress in action is a fine thing indeed. Videogames used to be blamed for school shootings in America, with excitable news reports claiming that the perpetrator was an obsessive player of Doom; and Gus Van Sant’s 2003 film Elephant, based on the 1999 Columbine massacre, was filmed from a brutally elegant firstperson viewpoint. But now videogames are on the side of justice, at least if we take as representative the example of the latest official product of the statesponsored military-entertainment complex.
The US Army Research Laboratory, which works on such cool stuff as environmentally friendly red flares, 3D-printed drones, and super-lightweight ceramic armour, has produced a videogame intended to train teachers to respond to school shootings. In its VR simulation, running on a system called the Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment, you can take the role of a teacher corralling terrified students into classrooms, or lining them up against walls, finding large items such as tables that can be used for barricades, and locking doors so that the shooter can’t get in. Suspensefully, in the corner of the screen is a shooter-cam that shows the murderer’s progress from his own point of view. As Tamara Griffith, one of the system’s engineers, told the Associated Press: “With teachers, they did not selfselect into a role where they expect to have bullets flying near them. Unfortunately, it’s becoming a reality. And so we want to give them that chance to understand what options are available to them.” If being the teacher sounds boring, though, you can also play the game as an armed law-enforcement officer trying to stop the shooter, or as the shooter himself, trying to murder as many children as possible. Something for everyone!
This is obviously a serious project run by people who want to help. The system is based on close analysis of real-life events such as the Columbine and Sandy Hook shootings, with unnervingly accurate audio of screaming and wailing, and helping teachers not to freeze or panic when such things happen could indeed save lives. It also allows for some experiments with school infrastructure. Project manager Bob Walker explained: “They can do some analysis in the engine and say, ‘What would happen if I did have externally locking doors? Or what would happen if I add intercoms, how would that change the survivability of this situation?’”
Even so, the very existence of such a game is culturally alarming, particularly given the heavily circumscribed nature of its ‘geo-social’ simulation. Oddly not simulated in the game, for example, is the passing of stricter gun-control laws that would make a school-based gun rampage far less likely in the first place. And the potential for this to become the basis of a perversely popular series is clear. Why stop at schools? You could have anti-shooter shooter games set in rock-concert venues, or cafés, or outside high-rise Las Vegas hotels. And it is presumably only uncharacteristic delicacy that prevents the existing game from allowing the teachers themselves to be armed, as Republican NRA stooges repeatedly suggest with a straight face. (It would hardly be surprising to learn that this option does in fact exist, in a mode not so far demonstrated to reporters.)
Further in the future, the logical evolution of such a game would be to expand its remit to situations that currently involve no guns at all. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and when you have a gun, everything looks like a target. The real tragedy of a country such as the US, which contains more guns than human beings, and in which armed toddlers kill more people annually than Islamists, is that there are so few opportunities for gun-owners to fire off rounds in a sanctioned way. This state of affairs, evidently, requires urgent reform, to be accomplished by technologically enabled social engineering.
Therefore, under the stable genius of President Trump, we should all look forward to the development of shooter games focused on how to persuade a recalcitrant Congress to pass massive tax cuts, or shooter games that train the proud citizen to make America great again by preemptively neutralising people who, on the basis of their skin colour, look as if they might hail from one of the countries listed on the travel ban. As videogames themselves have taught their fans over the years, after all, there is no situation that cannot be improved by adding guns to it.
Steven Poole’s Trigger Happy 2.o is now available from Amazon. Visit him online at www.stevenpoole.net