Can you kill JFK? My latest Slate gaming column

Forty-one years ago today, John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. In what is surely one of the weirdest commemorative acts ever, this morning the Scottish company Traffic released JFK Reloaded — a game that challenges you to take the role of Lee Harvey Oswald and shoot the president in precisely the same way, with the same number of bullets, as the original sniper. The closer you get to reality, the higher your score goes. There’s even a contest: The company is giving away $100,000 to whichever player gets closest to a perfect 1,000.

As you might imagine, the outrage was swift and ferocious. By my last count, there have been 364 news stories on Google News alone, and Kennedy’s family has officially called the game “despicable”. But judging by the coverage, no-one had actually played the game itself.

So my editor at Slate called me up and suggested we do precisely that. My review is online now, and here’s a taste of it:

When you peer through the rifle scope, the faces of JFK and Jacqueline Kennedy (and Texas Gov. John Connally and his wife Nellie) are completely recognizable. These are real people who still have immediate living relatives—or, in the case of Nellie Connally, are still alive. While the game’s ostensible purpose is simply to re-kill Kennedy as accurately as possible, you can perform any number of alternative scenarios. Shoot the driver first, and the motorcade comes to a halt, allowing you to pick off anyone you want. Or sometimes the driver dies with his foot on the accelerator, driving the car off the road and into a lamppost. You can, if you wish, kill Jackie instead.

When I finally managed to kill JFK and watched his head blow open while he flopped forward like a rag doll, I was genuinely horrified. The game wants you to think about what’s happening as a mere physics experiment, but you can’t, nor would you want to. Because it’s focused solely on the narrow question of whether you can replicate Oswald’s shots, it doesn’t try to achieve the sort of catharsis that is supposed to come from wrenching art.

You can read the rest of it for free here! And as always, if you have any thoughts about it, hie thee to The Fray, Slate’s discussion area, where intelligent comments are always welcome.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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