Analyzing recreated events can be a good thing, even in JFK game

Posted on December 3, 2004

I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon and say the new video game JFK Reloaded is a disgrace. More importantly, a game like this could revolutionize our way of regarding historical events.

To be brief, JFK Reloaded allows the player to attempt to recreate the infamous Kennedy assassination. It awards points based on the accuracy of shots made by Lee Harvey Oswald, according to the Warren Commission Report. Most articles I've read explain it's disgusting to have users partake in such a hideous crime, and to top it all off, award points and prizes (closest to Oswald's mark could win up to $100,000).

I understand the reasoning from the writers. I don't think I could play the game without feeling a little awkward about trying to assassinate the former president. Of course, there are already plenty of realistic shoot'em-up games, like Grand Theft Auto, KumaWar, etc., out there, but maybe some think the violence is "acceptable" if you're performing it on unnamed soldiers.

"It does seem hypocritical to us that because we used video game technology to recreate the assassination that we are somehow undermining the event," Kirk Ewing of Scotland-based Traffic Games, publisher of JFK Reloaded, said in an email interview. "I personally find Oliver Stone's movie more controversial because he uses film to create conspiracy and distort history. It's another example of people assuming that somehow by being a game, it's a lesser medium, and as we all know, video games are an engaging and immersive way to experience things."

To a certain extent, the ability to combine a virtual world with hard facts has been used for years, but the magnitude of the technology available appears to be somewhat misunderstood.

Many of you are probably fans of forensic shows, whether they are real or fiction. I enjoy watching old-school "Unsolved Mysteries" reruns, except the ones that show aliens conducting seances. Those freak me out. Anyway, what do they do on these shows? The last time I checked, they try to recreate the crime. They do this, based on the evidence, to attempt to figure out what happened, and if they can come up with more leads or theories as to why what happened actually happened.

Of course, this is what the Warren Commission attempted to do regarding the assassination. You've probably seen the videos of the re-enactment, putting together a motorcade, examining all possibilities of gunmen locations, analyzing the Zapruder film to its fullest. Was there a shooter in the grassy knoll, as some have speculated? How did the bullets ricochet the way they did? Were aliens involved, as they always seem to be in moments of unexplainable phenomenon?

It appears that Traffic Games is somewhat attempting to recreate the event to examine what actually happened on Nov. 22, 1963. I'm sure the company has profited nicely from the free advertising, as any press is good press. And maybe earning cash prizes for emulating one of the most infamous crimes in American history is a bit overboard.

But let's look past that for the moment and realize what technology now allows us to do. We have the opportunity to recreate significant historical occurrences in a virtual world and try to explain the unexplainable. This has been available for some time, but now, with the explosion of online activity, everyone - not just forensic experts - can make their attempts at being Sherlock Holmes and solving the crime.

What if, given a limited amount of evidence, maybe still shots of a scene and eyewitness testimony, you could map out what happened and theorize the missing pieces in other historical assassinations, or even just important events in general? Wouldn't this be an excellent educational tool, to devise a way in which children could interact with a visual representation of history, instead of just memorizing people's names, dates and places? We're obviously not to this point yet, but this isn't that much of stretch to produce.

"Sometimes, I want (video games) to just be dumb fun, but there exists an opportunity for them to be much, much, more than that," Ewing said. "JFK Reloaded is at the vanguard of the changing role of video games. I hope people are broad-minded enough to see it for what it is: an incredible way to travel through time and revisit one of the most debated and important moments in history, using technology that we love and understand."

Shooting world leaders of any kind should be taken seriously and not made into a mockery. The game's intention is not to make light of the situation, but to delve into getting the facts straight. In time, maybe other video game developers will put this to good use by creating the ability to learn and hypothesize about history in respectable ways.