Two Views on AP Assassination: Scary Name, Fun Game

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Jordan Shenhar , Staff Writer

Deep in the heart of Africa, lion cubs chase and claw at one another, all in the name of having fun, living life, and forming social bonds with the other members of their pride.

Thousands of miles and several taxonomic orders away, countless American kids spend school recesses and summer days darting around swingsets and running through cul-de-sacs in an endless attempt to avoid being “It.”

And in the darkened driveways and shady streets of Westport, Conn., newly liberated high school seniors spend their final days before graduation plotting, stalking, lurking, armed with nothing more than a plastic apparatus capable of launching foam pellets no more than a few dozen feet away.

Much like the first two activities (unless an unfortunate antelope or wildebeest gets caught up in a battle on the plains), AP Assassination is not intended to hurt anyone. There’s even a rule explicitly protecting hoofed mammals from combat, making NERF war-torn Westport a far safer environment than the African savannah.

Yet, after a year of especially horrific gun violence, AP Assassination has turned into a lightning rod for controversy. The game of hunting targets has now become a target itself.

I can understand why. When tragedies like the mass shooting in Newtown or the handgun violence that has plagued the streets of Chicago take place, it’s easy to condemn anything associated with war or guns or combat. In some instances, the rush to antagonize guns isn’t such a bad thing—it’s created an immense public pressure to reform this nation’s screwy gun laws.

But when the movement gets taken too far—like when the producers of video games such as “Call of Duty have to face legal challenges to their industry, or when second-graders can be suspended for brandishing pencils at their classmates—the result is a nuisance for those taking part in benign activities like AP Assassination and detrimental to the gun-reform cause as a whole. By focusing extensively on issues that don’t matter, like whether or not a group of teenagers should play a game with plastic projectile launchers, we’re wasting time and energy that could be spent trying to prevent future catastrophes.

As one of the AP Assassination coordinators, I don’t see anything disrespectful about what amounts to a biologically advanced form of lion mauling and a socially advanced form of playground tag. Instead, I see history in the form of one the few major traditions passed down through the years at Staples. I see dozens of ecstatic kids dreaming of the chance to become heroes or villains or mercenaries, or create new legends (urban or otherwise) that’ll be remembered for generations to come. I see people cutting loose and hanging out with their friends after internships start. And mostly, I see people just looking to have fun—harmless, victimless, and voluntary fun, in a controlled setting to ensure the maximum level of player safety.

Now, whether it makes sense or not, there will always be people who consider AP Assassination disrespectful. Those people are free to enjoy their “civilized” forms of entertainment without fear of being targeted by a rogue assassin wielding a child’s toy that expells foam munitions. By the time the notoriously time-consuming and paranoia-inducing game ends, they might even be the only sane ones left.

But until then, everyone else will enjoy planning, stalking, chasing, collaborating, and ultimately catching a target, all while evading predators themselves. After all, it’s in our nature.