Following the runaway, unprecedented success that was ‘Amigaflakes’, the time is clearly ripe for a new recipe series.
I thought what better way to get the party swinging than to demonstrate how to bake a gut-busting ‘Viral Tabloid Story Pie’.
To begin you’ll need the following ingredients…
1. A Dunblane primary school massacre in which 16 children and a teacher were shot dead by a deranged ex-Scout leader in 1996.
2. A twisted Amiga public domain game released in 1989 called ‘Schoolyard Slaughter’.
Take item no. 1 and all the usual misery and distress that accompanies the senseless annihilation of innocent people, and misleadingly associate it with item no. 2 – released 7 years earlier – to spark public outrage and peddle tacky, tabloid rags.
For added ‘ooomph’, chuck the (then) Home Secretary, Michael Howard, into the mix and pull his voice-activation chord to issue canned threats of jail time towards the perpetrators of the sick game.
The Dunblane shooting took place near Stirling in Scotland in March 1996, though the memorial service for the victims, attended by Prince Charles, didn’t take place until October. By this stage the furor had settled and the press were in desperate need of a new fuse to ignite.
[Dunblane Primary School’s head teacher, Ron Taylor.]
Fortuitously (for lazy journalists) this is when “Paul Thorn, 24, of Guernsey, discovered the game when he ordered a catalogue from Penguin PD, a small computer library in Reading, Berkshire” and reported it to the authorities.
The story spread like wildfire, hitting the headline in all major newspapers across the country and beyond, and particularly in Scotland unsurprisingly where the outrage was almost palpable.
Many of the bulletins can still be found online, along with a segment of video footage captured from a BBC TV news report. The magazine seen in the clip featuring the Penguin PD advert is CU Amiga issue 80 (October, 1996).
Curiously one of the children murdered in the Dunblane shooting didn’t make the cut; the presenter reports the number killed as 15! We shouldn’t really be all that surprised – this is the Beeb after all, and the embellished tale is misguided at best.
For instance, Scottish newspaper, The Herald, reported that the “computer game has been withdrawn from the shelves in libraries and other outlets”.
In fact it was never on the shelves in the first place; it is a public domain game that would have been stocked by mail order distributors who maintained libraries of indie software. Even then it would only be available from companies who didn’t adhere to any sort of decency screening policy (or didn’t have the time or inclination to scrutinise the wares they were selling – this stuff was churned out faster than rabbits on heat!).
Nevertheless, the non-gaming public were fed the impression that this was a big budget release, delivered in an oversized box to be displayed on the shelves of Game, Electronics Boutique and so on.
Again, this couldn’t be further from the truth. If your PD game (or utility) stood out from the crowd, it might receive a quarter-page review towards the back of a computer magazine. If it was really impressive it might have been distributed on a cover disk, though this was rare, and most certainly wouldn’t have happened in this case given the controversial, 18+ nature of the game.
Schoolyard Slaughter was made with zero budget and using the ‘Programming for Dummies’ toolkit, AMOS BASIC. That’s not meant to be derogatory towards Europress’s extremely popular software, or the people who use it, merely to inform that anyone can make a game and submit it to a PD library, or self-distribute via the internet, which was becoming more prevalent at the time the story broke.
The game itself is pretty dismal, and had it not revolved around shooting children in the head to earn points, which would ultimately translate into the reward of ammo replenishment, allowing you to shoot even more children in the head, it would have drifted under the radar entirely unnoticed.
“Use the gun to kill the kids as they cross the screen. Only head-shots count.”
The kids scoot across the playground faster than the speed of light… almost as if they’re fleeing for their lives, which of course is disturbingly appropriate. You track their movements with a cross-hair controlled with the mouse, and use the left button to fire your weapon.
Hit a child in the head and they crumple into a bloody pulp on the ground; your cue to set your sights on the next quarry. The game ends when your ammunition is depleted, at which point you are invited to enter your name in the assassin’s leader-board. What an honour!
Sickworld Software’s ‘Duckhunt with kids’ was commonly reported as being an Amiga game released in 1992 by Rupert (programming) and John (graphics), though it actually began life on the Atari ST in 1989 (where the dubious credits are awarded to ‘Perv the Hermit’ & ‘The Outlaw’). It was subsequently ported to the Windows 3.x platform by Xian (programming) and John (graphics).
To elucidate where Schoolyard Slaughter stands in terms of legality, The Independent relayed the verdict of a Home Office spokesman: “it was a criminal offence under the 1984 Video Recordings Act to distribute or offer for sale without a British Board of Film Censors certificate a computer game containing scenes of violence to humans or animals”.
While that’s technically true, I can’t recall an occasion where a PD game has ever been submitted for BBFC approval, or the people responsible for developing one being prosecuted for not doing so.
Where would you send the battering ram wielding police? The residence of Rupert and John, Somewhere-in-Americaville? It’s possible the game was submitted to Penguin PD anonymously without any expectation of monetary recompense, in which case there would be no trail to trace. This appears to be what they were hoping for because there’s nothing online to tie the authors to a genuine company or location. Very sensible!
The Independent also printed a statement from a Penguin PD representative who defended the company’s actions:-
“Dunblane hadn’t happened and we weren’t to know that it would. Now I think about it more, I do think it’s disgusting, but there are games on the personal computer that are worse than that.”
I imagine they were referring to the Swedish PD Amiga game, ‘Berra’. I’m not even going there!