Old 9/11 video game creates fresh outrage
David Edwards and Muriel KaneRaw Story Friday January 4, 2008
A six year old video game based on the destruction of the World Trade Center is serving as a pretext for fresh outrage in the media following its re-release with upgraded graphics and sound effects.
In the original version of New York Defender, which is widely available online as a crude Flash game, the player is challenged to shoot down an endless series of planes that head for the twin towers in Space Invaders fashion. When enough planes get through, the towers collapse. (The new version is available at the developers' site, under "Chaos Games.")
When it was originally released in October 2001, this simple game was taken as a grim but appropriate commentary on the events of September 11. A writer for Slate reported at the time, "Unlike most shoot-'em-ups, New York Defender doesn't give players a sense of excitement or joy. Instead, it makes them feel powerless. It is, in essence, a grim message about the hopelessness of anti-terrorism: Try as you might to knock every enemy out of the sky, one will always slip past."
In 2004, game designer Jonathan Pitcher explained, "We only meant to fight our feeling of impotence. We reacted to September 11 like kindergarten children, by drawing planes crashing into buildings. It's just some kind of release. But looking back, we find there is a political statement to it. Since there is no way to win this game, you could say that violence cannot stop violence. Or that you cannot win against terror by using force."
The upgraded version appears to be only slightly more complex, requiring the player to distinguish friendly planes from hostile ones, which also target the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and the Brooklyn Bridge. However, it is now being taken as exploitation rather than as grim remembrance, and is being met with a sense of outrage that was not present at the time of its original release.
For example, CBS News complains, "Remembered as one of the worst days in American history, countless millions believe Sept. 11, 2001, should never be duplicated, not even in a video game. Apparently, a group of French Internet video game makers never got the message, and now families of victims from that horrid day are enraged with the notion that children get to replay the tragedy over and over again."
Jim Riches, whose firefighter son died on September 11, told CBS, "For somebody to exploit a tragedy, where so many people died that day ... it's sick, it's a sick mind. ... It's hurtful to all the families. It just brings up that pain again of seven years ago."
Both CBS and WNBC in New York interviewed Lee Ielpi, co-founder of the Tribute World Trade Center 9/11 Visitor Center, who also lost a son on 9/11. "This is what it comes to," Ielpi told WNBC. "You're going to use 9/11 as a gimmick to sell to make money. That's just tasteless."
However, a British site which has taken note of these accusations of tastelessness comments caustically, "Once again the mainstream media is using video games as pariahs of bad taste while simultaneously displaying the kind of gross ignorance and ratings chasing that you couldn't write as satire. ... SPOnG is all for the criticism of tasteless, poorly realised and plain shoddy entertainment in all forms. So, isn't it about time that the mainstream looked to muck out its own stable of drear and desolation before pointing fingers in order to make use of tragedy for money itself?"