NY High School Bans “Assassin” Game, Completely Misses Point

First they came for our toy guns.

Isn’t is just adorable when adults stumble onto some fun thing their kids do, a thing that that they don’t understand, and then make that thing completely irresistible by telling their kids they can’t do it?

As with jazz, rock and roll, dirty dancing, voguing, krumping, D.H. Lawrence, Pokemon, and rainbow parties before, adults are again flying into a moral panic. This time, ironically, it’s all over a game that they or their friends likely played. Officials at Hunter College High School in Manhattan are cracking down on students who play Assassin, a meatspace game often undertaken as a post-exams stress reliever. It sounds violent, and yes, the game tasks players with “killing” off their competitors one by one often employing stealth and subterfuge, but it’s traditionally played with water pistols or Nerf dart guns.

Quoth the nbcnews.com article:

“Parents and students should know that we consider this a dangerous game and prohibit playing it on campus,” Hunter College High School Principal Tony Fisher wrote in an email to parents last week. “You should be aware that any students found playing the game within the school or in the immediate vicinity of the building will receive disciplinary consequences.”

The dangers, say adults, are myriad:

  • The game could cause players to dart out into traffic to avoid an assassin;
  • lead to a player being mistaken for an actual assailant;
  • or give real-life gang members who, oh, decide to paint their real guns to look like Super Soakers the ability to confound police.

The punishments being levied include suspensions, being banned from senior events like prom and graduation, or, no joke, being snitched on to potential colleges. Never mind that some pretty decent colleges have Assassins’ Guilds dedicated to the game.

Three points:

Point 1: If you’re going to ban high-schoolers from playing games that are dangerous, the stats are pretty clear: Start with football. Then move on to baseball, or gymnastics. Or basketball. Or bowling.

Point 2: Attempting to ban Assassin feels like the illogical extreme of the move toward “child-safe” playgrounds meant to prevent injuries and eliminate risk from play. You can remove seesaws and tall slides from playgrounds, replace pavement with rubber and wood ships, and ban students from re-enacting Alias all you want, but humans will do risky things, and it’s only through doing them and screwing up that they learn. And given the dearth of actual injuries cited in the nbcnews.com article, one has to wonder if perhaps it’s the adults who are experiencing the injuries constructing their strawman.

Point 3: It is indeed tragic when play guns are mistaken for real guns, but does it strike anyone else as absurd that it’s easier to crack down on the use of fake guns than it is to even engage in a conversation about limiting access to real guns? Y’know, the ones everyone’s afraid people are going to mistake squirt guns for? For that matter, where’s the NRA in all of this? I presume that the “First they came for our Super Soakers” axiom applies here.

In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that my fondness for the game is linked to the fact that I played it myself at La Salle. Despite a few bruised egos, there were zero injuries. Of course, we had rules and guidelines and the good sense to remember that it was a game. But before this wraps up as a treacly defense of tradition, Assassin, much like “violent” video games, is not to blame for violent actions, and is only really dangerous because of the truly violent gun culture that’s allowed to proliferate through easy access to firearms. If seeing actual steel weren’t such a common yet frightening occurrence, maybe a bunch of scholars running around with toys wouldn’t be such a big freaking deal.