School shooting simulator has right to exist

By Matt Liparota

What is the purpose of art?

Art’s purpose, as I see it, is to challenge our perception and question social norms. Art is intended to ask us to look at things in a way that’s different than how we might normally.

Sometimes, this can be uncomfortable. Sometimes, it can be offensive – extremely so.

If you’re reading this, it’s possible you’ve heard about School Shooter: North American Tour 2012, a game modification of Valve’s Half-Life 2. According to the mod’s website, the developers “are… absolutely dedicated to bringing you… the best school shooting experience an angsty little s**t… could ever experience.”

The mod allegedly recreates a number of real-life school shooting situations – including the Feb. 14, 2008 shootings at NIU.

This is, quite understandably, a sensitive subject for most people in our community. Within hours of Time Magazine‘s original report on the mod, my Facebook and Twitter feeds were aflutter with comments. According to my social networks, people around these parts were disgusted, appalled and angry. People questioned what kind of mind would come up with (and what kind of person would want to play) such a game.

And, before I go on, I should say that I agree. A video game scenario modeled after one of DeKalb’s worst tragedies in recent memory is tasteless, horrific and appalling. I have no desire to play the game, nor do I agree with the message it sends.

But that’s not my point.

My point is to ask a question to the NIU community that may be uncomfortable.

Yes, it’s tasteless. Yes, it’s abhorrent – does that mean it shouldn’t exist?

I think your answer to this question comes down to what you believe to be a valid artistic medium. Film, literature and music are generally accepted to be valid vehicles for artistic expression. What are your thoughts about video games?

If the video game industry, as a medium, is a valid art form (and I’d argue that it is), then it must be accepted that people can use this medium to express messages that you may disagree with – even messages you may find overtly offensive or disgusting.

Now, that doesn’t mean I would jump to call School Shooter a work of art. But if video games can be used as a valid vehicle for artistic self-expression, then I believe this mod is subject to all freedoms allowed by the First Amendment.

That’s kind of how the First Amendment works – you get to say whatever you want, but someone can say something that you disagree with.

If you ask me, the video game industry has become just as capable of producing art as the film industry or the music industry. That doesn’t mean I have to like every game, book or album that hits the market, or even think they have any merit at all.

But it does mean that these things have a right to exist.