Following 2005's notorious Super Columbine Massacre RPG, the Virginia Tech shootings have been turned into a flash video game.
V-Tech Rampage, which promises "three levels of stealth and murder", was uploaded to the flash website Newgrounds.com at the weekend by a user known by the alias 'Pigpen'. It puts the player in the role of Seung-Hui Cho, who slew 32 of his fellow students at Virginia Tech university on 16 April, and controversially recreates the tragedy in the style of a simple shoot-'em-up game.
The opening sequence of V-Tech Rampage
Reaction to the game has been mixed, with most reviewers on the website critical of what they see as an exercise in bad taste, but a handful reluctantly praising Pigpen's "balls". Several more admitted that they enjoyed the game itself despite having serious reservations about the subject matter.
One reviewer commented: "I'm a student at Virginia Tech and when I saw this, V-Tech Rampage, I thought maybe you killed Cho so it wouldn't be QUITE as bad. But after actually playing, it is awful. You are a very, very sick person. You are barely any better than Cho."
When Super Columbine Massacre RPG came out two years ago, the general response from the gaming community (such as it is) was to defend what was seen as an important principle: the right of games as a medium to portray whatever they choose, and not be seen automatically as toys and by extension a means of corrupting children with inappropriate content.
Many felt that SCMRPG was a childish and tasteless stunt, but when the game was dropped from the Slamdance festival line-up several other games makers pulled out in protest at a perceived threat to freedom of speech.
But V-Tech Rampage is a different kettle of fish. Firstly, the timing is far less sensitive - SCMRPG waited six years after the tragedy it portrayed (longer, let's remember, than United 93, the first cinematic treatment of the World Trade Center attacks), V-Tech less than a month. Which suggests that Pigpen is motivated primarily by getting his name in the limelight and The Daily Mail's letters page (or whatever the US equivalent is).
Second, V-Tech isn't original. SCMRPG had a few important if somewhat trite things to say about desensitisation and the portrayal of violence; V-Tech is just a childish swipe at right-wing commentators who claimed the shootings were caused by excessive video game consumption.
Finally, V-Tech isn't terribly good. As Kotaku puts it: "Free speech and free expression are great. Just make sure you've got something to say."
Update: Virginia governor Tim Kaine's final report on the killings has concluded that gunman Seung Hui Cho did not play any video games with violent or war-related themes, and does not implicate gaming as a factor in the tragedy.