School shooting game Active Shooter pulled by Steam

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Active Shooter Image copyright Revived Games
Image caption Active Shooter is no longer listed at the Steam store

A game pitched as a “school shooting simulation” has been ditched from Steam’s online store ahead of release.

The title had been criticised by parents of real-life school shooting victims, and an online petition opposing its launch had attracted more than 180,000 signatures.

Steam’s owner, Valve, said it had dropped the game because its developer had a history of bad behaviour.

But the individual named has denied involvement.

Active Shooter came to prominence after the BBC revealed that an anti-gun violence charity had described it as “appalling” last week.

CNN subsequently reported that the families of two students killed in February’s high school attack in Parkland, Florida had described the game as being “despicable” and “horrific”.

It also drew the ire of Florida’s senior senator Bill Nelson, who called it “inexcusable”, adding that the developer should be “ashamed”.

Other US officials had also expressed concern.

Valve subsequently emailed the media to say it had taken action ahead of Active Shooter’s scheduled 6 June release.

“This developer and publisher is, in fact, a person calling himself Ata Berdiyev, who had previously been removed last fall when he was operating as ‘[bc]Interactive’ and ‘Elusive Team’,” said Valve in a statement.

“Ata is a troll, with a history of customer abuse, publishing copyrighted material, and user review manipulation.

“His subsequent return under new business names was a fact that came to light as we investigated the controversy around his upcoming title. We are not going to do business with people who act like this towards our customers or Valve.

“The broader conversation about Steam’s content policies is one that we’ll be addressing soon.”

The BBC contacted Active Shooter’s publisher for a reaction at an email address it had provided for press enquiries.

A person identifying himself as Arthur Belkin sent a brief reply.

“Ata is my good friend, but past games I’ve created are mine. I’m still waiting for Steam’s reply regarding the whole topic.”

He also provided a Twitter account address for Mr Berdyev.

The publisher has denied Mr Berdyev was Active Shooter’s developer and declined to comment further pending the publication of an interview given to PC Mag.

‘Bad sarcasm’

The PC game’s publisher had tried to distance itself from the controversy ahead of Valve’s intervention.

Image copyright Steam
Image caption Screenshots had provided a tally of the number of civilians killed

Although the original listing had explicitly described the title as being a “school shooting simulation”, the reference was dropped.

In addition, a promise that gamers could “slaughter as many civilians as possible” if they chose to control the attacker rather than a police officer, was also removed.

The publisher had also sought to downplay a post in which it had apparently confirmed that the title would feature non-player characters (NPCs) modelled to look like children, who could be targeted.

Image copyright Steam
Image caption The publisher struck out an earlier comment made about featuring children in the game

“That was bad sarcasm on my part. Sorry, but English is my third language,” it said in a post to Steam’s discussion forums, which remains online.

Elsewhere, the publisher accused the media of “twisting its words” and claimed it was “absurd” that people were petitioning for the product to be banned.

In particular, it drew attention to the fact that other mass shooting-themed titles had been sold via Steam for several years.

“Games like Hatred, Postal and Carmageddon are literally about mentally unstable people slaying dozens of people,” it posted.

“You cannot simply say OK to one and not OK to another.”

President Trump is among those who have previously suggested that violence in video games could encourage real-world attacks. But making such a link is controversial and games industry leaders deny there is evidence to support it.

Even so, the organiser of the campaign against Active Shooter has celebrated a ban in this instance on the grounds that school shootings should not be depicted for entertainment.

“We’re all in this together – standing side-by-side with those who have lost family and friends in school shootings,” posted Stephanie Robinett.

“We have to do better!”

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