April 25, 2007

Bad Taste For The Ages

The Virginia Tech shootings have called into question a pastime among some college students that USA Today has apparently just discovered. Some students organize a game called "Assassin" on their campuses, which involves play-acting murders of each other until one person remains "alive" and wins the game. William Welch reports that the massacre has put a damper on the game and called some of the weapons used into question -- but fails to report that "Assassin" has been around college campuses for over twenty years and has been controversial in the past:

After the horrors of the Virginia Tech massacre, a popular game on campuses nationwide called "Assassin" is raising concerns and prompting warnings from police.

Officers in three communities in Illinois and Pennsylvania urged students to halt the games, which involve ambushing other players with sometimes realistic-looking toy guns or other objects, after the Virginia Tech shooting last week that left 33 people dead.

Police say they worry that players, mostly college and high school students, would be mistaken for real-life killers, endangering themselves and others.

"Virginia Tech has heightened everyone's concern and alerted them to what's going on in the country," said Leland Grove, Ill., Police Chief Mark Gleason. "It's just terrible."

Some games have been cancelled due to the massacre, while others look for alternatives to weapons that bear resemblance to the real thing. In the picture published with the article, it shows two men tapping each other with spoons to score a "kill". National organizers -- who operate a web site to assist local groups in staging the games -- also recommend socks to avoid any problems with realistic-looking toys.

And problems have arisen. Police have responded to calls about masked men stalking campuses. One incident involved three men walking into a movie theater and assaulting a woman while trying to catch their prey. Springfield (IL) police hav warned high school and college kids to drop the game and will arrest those they catch for disorderly conduct, tired of the calls they get from neighbors unaware of the game and believing themselves in danger from prowlers.

All of this should be very familiar. Twenty-five years ago, when I went to college, the fad had already been around for a few years -- and it got the same criticism back then. At the time, the game was called "Assassin" or sometimes "Gotcha!", and it had the same set-up: basically a game of "tag" for young adults. It inspired two dreadful movies in that decade, Tag: The Assassination Game, starring Robert Carradine and Linda Hamilton in 1982, and 1985's Gotcha! with Anthony Edwards and Linda Fiorentino. It inspired the same kind of scolding about tasteless and danger to the community, too, and some campus violence put a damper on it as well.

Will the massacre put an end to Assassin now? It's unlikely. As long as young adults feel invulnerable, they will play-act at the macabre, and spoons and socks will not long satisfy that impulse. It's one tradition that deserves to wither into oblivion.


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Comments (17)

Posted by Mr Lynn [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 25, 2007 6:31 AM

If they want to play at stalking enemies, there are plenty of opportunities in the US Military. Antics like this make me more inclined to favor UMT (Universal Military Training) for all youth, between high school and college/jobs.

/Mr Lynn

Posted by sam pender [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 25, 2007 6:53 AM

Yeah, guess nobody's ever seen the movie GOTCHA

Posted by Gwedd [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 25, 2007 6:56 AM


Well well. I didn't realise this stuff was going on still. We used to play this game as part of the Model United Nations teams in High School. It was more a game of acting out political assasinations amongst "tagged" military attaches, spies, etc, on the opposing high school's team(s) in order to further your own team's political chances.

Difference was, we were using blank-firing guns back then (early 70's). and the 'action" extended to the hotels and streets surrounding the conference areas.

Sigh..... I guess nothing truly is new under the sun.


Posted by rbj [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 25, 2007 7:17 AM

What's wrong with simply using squirt guns -- generally they don't look realistic.

Posted by Gahrie [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 25, 2007 7:36 AM

Why should this game "wither away"? You yourself acknowledge that this is merely an extension of playground tag games. Or are you one of those new age freaks who thinks playing tag and cowboys and Indians is harmful?

While it might not be in the best of taste to play this game at VT next semester, there is nothing wrong with this game in general.

Posted by unclebenjamin [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 25, 2007 7:54 AM

I find myself agreeing with Gahrie although he/she needs to learn how to be more respectful. Efforts to snuff out acceptable forms of aggressive impulses are dangerous in themselves. George Carlin memorably (and crassly) called this "the pussification of the American male". Obviously, given the danger of carrying around realistic weapons on campus these days, some adjustments need to be made, but it would be an overreaction to say that these games should go into oblivion.

Posted by docjim505 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 25, 2007 8:29 AM

After the horrors of the Virginia Tech massacre, a popular game on campuses nationwide called "Assassin" is raising concerns and prompting warnings from police.

Oh fer cryin' out loud! Is this now the standard response of our society to outrages perpetrated by sick, twisted criminals? To punish law-abiding people by barring or discouraging their hobbies?


Don't get me wrong: I think that playing such a game in this day and age is foolish and a good way to get arrested or shot. However, let's keep our eye on the ball. The issue here is not college kids playing a game; the issue is the fact that we have psychopaths shooting up schools, post offices, their places of employment, etc. Engaging in a lot of liberal-hippie-dope smoking-feel good crap like this isn't going to solve our problem (unless you take the attitude that turning our people into a bunch of mindless, ultra-passive sheep is the solution). It's part and parcel with trying to make little boys into modern, passive, well-behaved metrosexuals by banning kickball or dodgeball, or discouraging thems from playing Cowboys 'n' Indians or War, or taking away their toy soldiers, or kicking them out of school for drawing a picture of a GI holding (GASP!) a gun. Some of the idiots wringing their hands over college students playing the Assassination Game are the same kind of damned fools who primly and self-righteously turned Virginia Tech into free-fire zone... er, gun-free zone, that is (gun-free for everybody but Cho).

We live in a dangerous world and we won't make ourselves safer by pretending that stopping kids playing a game is going to save us.

Posted by eforhan [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 25, 2007 8:42 AM

Taking a year-long break in respect for VTech would be good.
Obliterating it completely would be bad and PC-gone-wrong. That, or we should just get rid of toy guns altogether and be transported to that land of complete and utter peace and cotton-candy trees.

Posted by Faith1 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 25, 2007 9:30 AM

Heh. I played "Assassination" back in my college days. It was very popular amongst us ROTC cadets. Guess what? None of us ever massacred anybody. Banning games and/or guns as a reaction to this tragedy is like banning forks because some people are fat. It's a meaningless action that ignores the real problem while providing a false sense of having done "something".

Hey, I know...here is an idea that is just as valid as the "playing a game" causing a rpoblem--I heard he hired a hooker so we should ban sex right? Better yet, pass a law making prostitution illegal and that will prevent sex-for-money and college campus massacres right?

He was an English Major and he killed Engineering students so we should just ban liberal arts degrees and engineering degrees because if only he hadn't been an English major and they hadn't been engineers it wouldn't have happened right?

The level of ridiculousness has no limit.

Oh, and eforhan, to your statement "That, or we should just get rid of toy guns altogether and be transported to that land of complete and utter peace and cotton-candy trees." -- a twist on an old Steven Wright joke-- show me such a land of complete and utter peace and cotton-candy trees and I'll show you a country ripe for takeover. :D

Posted by Southern Man [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 25, 2007 11:39 AM

Ah, assassination - we used to play a lot of that back in my grad school days. We played a pretty free-ranging and pretty much non-stop game - on campus, at the mall, in our apartments - so the only weapon allowed was a banana. Banana guns, banana knives, banana bombs...I can't tell you how many times I opened my apartment storm door only to have a banana fall on my head. To this day I still sometimes jump when I see a banana in an odd place.

Posted by rdeis [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 25, 2007 11:45 AM

It's a harmless game that I played all thorough High School and College- but it's foolish to ignore the fact that this sort of game can scare people thta don't know what's going on.

Well run games have strict rules about what non-players see and don't see that are designed to hide the game from non-players or at the very least make incidents that *are* seen by the generaly public obviously playful.

Spoons, banana peels, and whip-cream filled baloons do a fine job of making hte game less threatening to the general public without diminishing the fun of it in the slightest. Our games were very popular and never experienced difficulty with school administration or authorities.

But just like everything else that is self-policed, a few bad apples can ruin it for everyone. Given the perception of real threats today, game organizers need to structure their rules very carefully so player actions aren't misunderstood.

They also need to be dilligent about getting rid of players that jeopardize the harmless image of their local games.

Posted by Big Dan [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 25, 2007 12:21 PM

* To this day I still sometimes jump when I see
* a banana in an odd place.

Uhh, maybe you *SHOULD* jump.

"Today in Self-defense class, we will learn how to defend yourself, against a maniac armed with a banana.

"(What about defending yourself against a pointed stick?!?) "

"SHUT UP! How to defend yourself against a banana: First you shoot the maniac. Then, you eat the banana, disarming him."

(-- with apologies to Monty Python)

Posted by Robathome [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 25, 2007 4:29 PM

This game goes back to at least the 60s and could get very realistic. It got a big coed boost with the movie LA DECIMA VITTIMA, better known as THE 10TH VICTIM, made in 1965, starring Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress (of gun bra fame).


Posted by Cybrludite [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 25, 2007 5:06 PM

There's even formalized rules for it from Steve Jackson Games. Killer

Posted by Consul-At-Arms [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 25, 2007 5:27 PM

I myself played "Assassins" at Va. Tech over 20 years ago; dozens of cadets throughout the VTCC participated on a Friday evening: within hours we had a sole survivor/winner.

Posted by Chris Hunt [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 26, 2007 7:34 AM

Let's see, we have young people (undoubtedly nearly all males) playing a crass game that satisfies their desires, all the while ignoring the effect of their play on the population at large.

Man, I didn't see that one coming.

Posted by Charles [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 28, 2007 11:30 PM

That's interesting. When I went to tech in the late 70s, a local music store had a contest based on this game. We all had guns, if I remember correctly those guns that shot little disks. We were identified by a band on our arms, and could only hunt each other.

Last man standing won a t-shirt. I won the t-shirt, an "ad" shirt for Memorex. Nobody was injured, although given my dorkiness there were several buff military-type guys who were pretty surprised I was the winner. I was helped by the fact that all the good players killed each other while I was attending classes :-)