The senseless killing of a killing game

    It’s a game of cunning, agility and creativity where the winner is announced when all the other players are dead. And, about a month ago the University of Nebraska-Lincoln banned it because, as the e-mail from the administration read, “It is at least disruptive, and could be dangerous.”

    Residents of a dorm at UNL were playing Assassins. The game allows awkward and stressed college students to embrace their inner badass as they pretend to kill each other using epic maneuvers that include dirty laundry and hiding out in “safe spaces” like bathrooms. Rolled-up socks, NERF guns, water pistols and, apparently, even paper cups are lobbed at targets to take them out. Once someone successfully makes a kill, that assassin inherits his or her kill’s target. The final round finds two contestants glancing over their shoulders at every turn as they suffer from escalating paranoia.

    But a student failed to respect the first rule of the assassination business: Thou shalt never leave your weapon unattended. Another student saw the fake gun and, unsure about whether it was real or not, called the police. Though possessing a green toy gun is not yet a crime in any of our fine states, UNL officials seem to have forgotten they’re not policing kindergarteners, and so they have outlawed Assassins.

    Unfortunately, more idiotic than a student displaying a toy gun in the middle of lecture is an administration that thinks it’s a good idea to forbid college students from playing an innocuous game. Banning a game on grounds that it is “extremely inappropriate in this day and age [of school shooting]” is the draconian move of an administration deceiving itself by thinking its value judgments are superior to those of its students. It would be similarly ridiculous if for example, Mary Desler banned Vanilla Coke on the Northwestern campus because she finds the flavor tastes “inappropriate.”

    Participation was voluntary and players were well aware of the rules. If pretend shooting is in bad taste so soon after schools have suffered from actual shooting, then let the moralists go hoarse from ranting about the depravity they see infecting modern society. But bad taste can’t be banned, mostly because taste is subjective. Imagine if raw vegans were put in charge of the Hinman dining-hall menu. Just thinking about the possibility should leave a bad taste in every meat-loving administrator’s mouth. Can’t demonstrate real harm to a person or group? Then you can’t ban the activity!

    Ah, but the clever school official would counter, toting a fake gun around can stir up panic in all the innocent kiddies sitting in class, and that’s demonstrable harm. So maybe it is inconvenient to make the police show up when it’s a false alarm. Solve the problem by making it in students’ interest not to look like they’re doing something illegal. If the police have to show up because some jerk thought it funny to carry a fake gun, then charge the student a hefty fine for the police’s wasted time and effort. The gun-wielder is the one responsible for making sure he’s not stupid, not the administration.

    Banning a game between a private group of students as a way of ensuring campus safety is the equivalent of treating an addict by telling him to wear long sleeves to cover up an arm full of track marks: It doesn’t work, and only mitigates the symptoms instead of curing them.

    Consider Northwestern’s policy on hot-water heaters, microwaves, and flatirons. They’re technically not allowed in dorms. Yet CAs don’t inspect every nook and cranny in each resident’s room to exterminate these menaces. In fact, normal protocol is, “If it’s hidden under a blanket, it doesn’t exist.” But once the smoke curls and rises, setting off the fire alarm, the owner of the burning candle would be in heaps of trouble. Perfect! Punish the perpetrator after they screw something up, not before.

    Hiding contraband in dorms and pretending to kill friends may be the preferred activities of some college students. But banning a game like Assassins fails to solve real violence or any problem for that matter. What’s more, administrators are overreaching by restricting something only because they don’t agree with it. Once the first casualty of Assassins is documented, then it might be time to reexamine this policy.


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