Videogames are among the suspects that the National Rifle Association blames for gun violence in the United States. In his press conference after the Newtown massacre, for instance, the NRA's Wayne LaPierre called game makers "a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people." So the rest of us are entitled to ask, aren't we, why the NRA just released a free app for iOS that teaches how to shoot? Especially since, as Annie-Rose Strasser noticed, the first screen shot that pops up on the game's page is of coffin-shaped targets, with helpful red marks at head and heart level. (That screenshot is my illustration for this post.)

We know the NRA has decided to take an in-your-face, arm-the-janitors, guns-don't-kill-people, movies-tv-bad-laws-and-games-and-the-kitchen-sink kill people approach to changing politics of gun safety, so I guess this is not a surprise. So from their P.O.V., why delay releasing the app? It is, after all, a public-education tool, which, according to the app description, "instills safe and responsible ownership through fun challenges and realistic simulations." The "official NRA licensed product" also, of course, gives you "2d Amendment newsfeeds" and "gun law information centers," presumably so you can help raise the alarm against restrictive gun laws. Unless, of course, you're a kid. The app is rated OK for anyone 4 years old or older.

In fact, the game is an example of a hot trend: The gamification of many aspects of life that used to be addressed by lectures, pamphlets, informational videos and the like. Gamification is an example of the way we're moving into a post-rational world, in which the old 20th century premise—people are rational, just give them the information they need—is being replaced by another: People will respond much more to information when it comes to them in the form of an engaging game. (Gamification is one reason I've kind of lost interest in debates about how rational people really are. Because corporations, lobbyists and governments increasingly use powerful post-rational techniques to influence us, regardless of whether we believe in those techniques or not.)

So, O.K., the N.R.A. has gamified both the business of teaching people to be safe and sober gun users and the business of rousing the grass roots for political action. How well? I don't know. I've downloaded the game (it's free, though it costs 99 cents to upgrade its gun to something more exciting, like an MK 11 sniper rifle) but I haven't tried it yet. You have to wonder, though, about those coffin-shaped targets. Did some developer go rogue? Or do shooting ranges offer real-life versions? Either way, is that particular trip necessary?


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