Suicide bomber game tests the boundaries of taste

December 05, 2002


[Note by Tom Gross]

Tucked away on section G, page 9, near the end of its "Circuits" section, the New York Times today finally carries an article about the increasingly popular suicide bomb computer games for kids in the U.S. and Europe. An item about this phenomenon was first sent out on this email list almost one year ago. Since then several other papers have highlighted this trend. But as was the case when the New York Times finally wrote about Egyptian anti-Semitism recently, many other media then carried stories on the subject. News editors at papers throughout the world often look to the New York Times to give them story ideas, and even though this article appears in the Circuits section, other mainstream media may now pick up on it.

Summary of article below:

Using simple animation, an online game allows a player to control a suicide bomber as he runs through a crowded street wearing an explosives-stuffed jacket. Points are awarded to the player according to how many people are killed or wounded when they blow themselves up. So far 875,000 people have played the game according to Tom Fulp, the webmaster of the site. Fulp says he doesn't know why people object to the game and critics of it need "to lighten up".

The site is registered at:
PO BOX 480
Perkasie, PA 18944

-- Tom Gross



Suicide bomber game tests the boundaries of taste
By Sam Lubell
The New York Times
December 5, 2002

It is hard to believe you are seeing it. And that, it seems, is the point.

Using simple animation, an online game allows a player to control a suicide bomber as he runs through a crowded street, eventually detonating. The player clicks the mouse to make the bomber open his explosives-stuffed jacket. Points are awarded to the player according to how many people are killed or wounded.

The creation, called Kaboom: The Suicide Bomber Game, was released on, a game and animation site, in April. It is one of several games on the site that challenge the bounds of taste on the Internet.

Understandably, Kaboom has offended many. Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York, called on the site to remove it. Lewis Roth, assistant executive director of Americans for Peace Now, a prominent pro-Israel organization, said the group was deeply troubled by the game's trivialization of recent events in Israel. "The violence and the tragedy of the intifada is bad enough without trying to replicate that kind of bloodshed in a computer game," Mr. Roth said.

David Walsh, founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family, a Minneapolis-based group that describes itself as a resource for informed choices about media use, called Kaboom an example of particularly tasteless games that numb people especially children to violence and promote "a culture of disrespect."

But those who brought Kaboom to the Web are unapologetic. The Webmaster of the Newgrounds site, Tom Fulp, 24, said the game had been played more than 875,000 times, and the site contains hundreds of approving reviews.

While Mr. Fulp conceded that the game was offensive, he said it was not intended to promote hatred or violence. "It doesn't make specific references to Jews and Palestinians," he said. "People in general do need to lighten up and realize there are far worse problems in the world than what games people are playing."

In a statement on Newgrounds, the game's creator, going by the screen name Fabulous 999, is identified as a 21-year-old from the Midwest who said he put Kaboom together in one evening. "I just think people who blow themselves up are stupid," he says in a statement on the site, adding, "If you found this offensive, tell your friends!"

Newgrounds has more than 18,000 pieces of content, Mr. Fulp said, including animation, games, movies and discussions. Other games on the site that make some people squeamish include Extreme WTC Jumper, which makes light of the World Trade Center disaster; Sniper's Revenge, a first-person shooter based on the recent sniper attacks in the Washington area; and Pico's School (created by Mr. Fulp), an adventure game mocking the Columbine killings.

The site's greatest traffic, however, is not always to the most outrageous offerings, he said. "The most popular content tends to be anything that deals with attractive women or celebrities in general," Mr. Fulp said by e-mail. "Offensive material can slide either way some of it gets a lot of attention, and some of it just disgusts people and isn't spread around to friends.''

Who would choose to associate their products with such material? Advertisements on the site range from promotions for computer security software and Florida family vacations to come-ons for offensive T-shirts and outright pornography.

Mr. Fulp said he has received and rejected thousands of calls to rein in the site or take it down. Calling the site "great alternative media," he added: "It inspires creativity among those who visit and decide to take up the art of making their own games and movies. Despite some of the negative material, I believe the site is a very positive influence."

Meanwhile, he said he was not worried about being censored on grounds of violence or taste, citing the failure of legislative attempts to regulate even obscenity on the Internet. Those attempts include the Child Online Protection Act of 1998 and the Children's Internet Protection Act of 2001, both of which have been overturned by federal courts and have made their way to the Supreme Court.

"There's not as strong a legal and legislative history behind the regulation of violence and taste as to the regulation of pornography," said Tim Johnson, press secretary for Representative Michael G. Oxley, Republican of Ohio, who sponsored the 1998 law. "Every time violence is brought up in Congress, it's associated with trying to regulate consumer choice." As for the courts, he said, "If you try to look for Supreme Court decisions about what constitutes improper violence, you'd have to look a very long time."

While Mr. Walsh, whose institute publishes video-game ratings for parents, said Kaboom offended him, he did not call for forcing any game's removal from the Internet. "I know people have a right to express things I find offensive," he said. "That's the price I pay for having a free and open society." Instead, he recommends educating parents about the games their children are playing.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.