Guns don’t kill kids, Amigas do!

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’.

Instructions…

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.

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 is CU Amiga issue 80 (October, 1996) and the page featuring the Penguin PD advert can be seen below.

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For instance, Scottish newspaper, The Herald, reported that the “computer game has been withdrawn from the shelves in libraries and other outlets”.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!

6 thoughts on “Guns don’t kill kids, Amigas do!

  • June 28, 2016 at 8:14 am
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    OMG, I remember Schoolyard Slaughter…I have to confess that where I worked (the public library), sometimes I'd have to work in the media center and have to deal with little kids running all over the place and causing mayhem. I'd let out my stress when I got home by playing Schoolyard Slaughter…found it on one of the local Amiga BBSes. (We had three at one time!)

  • June 29, 2016 at 1:39 am
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    Glad to be able to blast your past, so to speak. 😀

    It's funny that despite all the work that went into games like Operation Wolf, it was SS that gripped your attention.

    I'd love to know what became of the people behind it. Ask the media and they'll insist they're now behind bars for mass murder!

  • March 26, 2017 at 10:04 am
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    This brings me back to an amusing incident in my childhood regarding this game…

    I’m not an really an Amiga guy as I grew up using Atari computers and have very fond memories of them. I still really like the Amiga platform and never understood the childish “Amiga vs. Atari” wars that users seemed to like to partake in. This story relates to the Atari ST version of this game.

    When I was a kid I would often stay the night at my cousin’s house. His dad (my uncle) was an avid Atari user/programmer and would download thousands of games. His software library was massive. I would love going through his games and making copies of them to take home. He showed me “Pac-Land”, which I particularly liked, so I copied the disk and took it home to play. I remember being in the second grade during this time, so that would have been around 1991.

    At home I discovered two other games on the Pac-Land disk he copied for me — BOING, which was a fun PD platformer where you control a bouncing ball, and SCHOOLYARD SLAUGHTER. I don’t think he realized what he gave me. Anyway, I happened to be trying out Schoolyard Slaughter when my Dad saw what was on the screen. He was shocked by it and made me turn it off. I was puzzled at the time because, to me, it just looked like a regular point-and-click shooter; I had played dozens of them at this point. I was too young to understand what I was actually playing until he explained it to me.

    Anyway, this prompted a confrontation between him and my uncle (nothing violent or mean). I was listening from the other room and I still remember the gist of the conversation:

    Dad: Why would you give this to my son?
    Uncle: I didn’t intentionally give it to him, but it’s not a big deal. Besides, you let him play that game where you can cut off a guy’s heads (he’s referring to a game called “Death Sword” I had bought with allowance money in which you could finish off an opponent by decapitating them).
    Dad: That game has two barbarians fighting each other, not children!! In this game you’re gunning down defenseless kids!

    This whole thing was very strange to me. I’d never seen anybody upset by a video game before.

    Later on, when my uncle died, I inherited all his disks for all kinds of platforms. He had many, many offensive games like this one. Though he also had several hundred disks which contained other things he was certainly not interested in, like bible studying software and astronomy software. He was a total software horde and I had a blast going through the disks. Thank god he didn’t accidentally give me some of the other stuff he had.

    I too would love to know the origin of this software. I can’t find anything about it online that I don’t already know I didn’t even know an Amiga version existed until many years later. He most likely downloaded it from a Detroit-area BBS (where we’re from) because he was on them constantly. The opening of the Atari ST version says “from the makers of Piggy” before it runs. I do have an ST program called Piggy but its credits don’t match those of the Schoolyard Slaughter game so I’m not sure if it’s by the same authors or not.

    Ah, mem’ries.

  • March 27, 2017 at 11:49 am
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    Great story, thanks for sharing it!

    We humans are strange creatures aren’t we. Trying to draw lines between acceptable and unacceptable violence is an odd idea if you stop to consider it for a moment, but then the compulsion to protect your kids does strange things to your sense of logic (so I’ll have to imagine, not having any).

    The big question is, did playing SS lead you to become a psychopathic serial killer? 😀 …maybe just a tiny bit?

    • March 27, 2017 at 6:19 pm
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      Strange creatures indeed! Yes, playing it has turned me into a cold-hearted psychopath with a body count the likes of which nobody has ever been seen before. And all children, of course.

      In all seriousness though, one thing it did do is cause me to clandestinely seek out other potentially offensive or adult-oriented software for quite a while. I think I found the whole thing so taboo that I felt like I wanted to see other games that might offend people. This was hard to do, because I was just a little kid with no access to anything, so I didn’t see very much. In a way, I guess you could say that SS may have changed how I looked at games from that point on. Or maybe I’m giving too much credit to this silly little game.

      I’d love to tell this story to whoever the author of the game is. I bet he’d get a kick out of it.

  • March 28, 2017 at 11:57 am
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    LOL. Your dad’s reaction probably piqued your curiosity, whereas if he hadn’t said anything at all you might have passed onto the next disk and never thought about it ever again.

    Something that’s always interested me is the kind of stuff that has been banned through the ages/across different cultures and how people’s view of them changes over time. So much of what people saw as shocking decades ago is passe now.

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