GUN video game is the subject of Native boycott

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SEATTLE -- Surrounded by an onslaught of hatchet-wielding Indians
attempting to blockade a railway trestle, the "hero" fearlessly raises his
rifle and begins to fire indiscriminately.

The ultimate goal is to kill all those who stand in the way of the hero's
quest. During this particular mission, it was a band of Apache that was in
the gun's crosshairs.

This depiction of the Wild West, whether this scenario ever occurred in the
late 19th century, is being portrayed in thousands of homes across America
in the form of a video game and has drawn the condemnation of an American
Indian group. The Association for American Indian Development has launched
a petition demanding the recall of the game GUN as produced by Activision
Inc., of Santa Monica, Calif.

Citing the charge as to how the game is "damaging, socially harmful and
insensitive," the boycott lists how the myth of the "savage Indian" is
perpetuated -- including the practice of scalping human heads and killing
sacred white animals. AAID Treasurer Litefoot pointed out how in neither
the game nor the manual instructions provide historical details or
references to attempt to explain the westward expansion of 150 years ago.

"When you just take a piece of history that no Americans know about and put
it into a video game, when it reverts into a Native American context as in
this game, all you see is the savage Indian that perpetuates the stereotype
against every Indian," Litefoot said.

Released last November for game consoles including Xbox and PlayStation,
GUN follows the main character, Colton White, who is on a journey to
determine his family lineage. The subtitle of the game invites players to
"Experience the Brutality, Lawlessness, Greed and Lust that was the West";
and with an unlimited supply of ammunition and other armaments available to
Colton, the storyline quickly develops (or deteriorates) into a stream of
extraneous violence.

GUN's premise is established in the second scene of the game when Colton's
missionary ancestor was killed by an Indian. Litefoot believes this
cold-blooded murder, which takes place so early in the game, acts as a
stimulus to White's behavior.

"I don't know that it is those things that we find offensive, but how
Native people are portrayed in this game," he said. "To me that is much
bigger than what the purpose of the game is because it's out of context."

While Activision provided a copy of GUN upon request to Indian Country
Today, the company remained unavailable for comment despite numerous
attempts to obtain an interview. However, posted on several gaming Web
sites and blogs, Activision has issued this statement:

"Activision does not condone or advocate any of the atrocities that
occurred in the American West during the 1800s. GUN was designed to reflect
the harshness of life on the American frontier at that time ... We
apologize to any who might have been offended by the game's depiction of
historical events which have been conveyed not only through video games but
through films, television programming, books and other media."

GUN is marketed as a fictional game, with White participating in different
jobs in order to accumulate points and purchase other weaponry. Yet, the
task at hand can easily be lost in the heat of battle when the game's
graphics provide a point-of-view perspective of staring down the barrel of
a Winchester.

The intensity of violence and imagery of blood earned GUN an "M" for mature
audience rating, and it's suggested that the game is intended for those
older than 17 years. Such a rating, however, would not keep this video from
getting into the hands of younger kids; even so, Litefoot claimed, most
teenagers wouldn't have the educational background to distinguish some
basic facts from this gaming fantasy.

"Does your average 17-year-old know or care about what happened to Native
people today or in past? Unfortunately, no."

The petition requests if GUN cannot be re-released to "remove all
derogatory, harmful and inaccurate depictions of American Indians," the
game be recalled in its entirety. Nowhere, though, does the petition charge
that GUN or Activision Inc. is racist, in part because White is just as
likely to shoot non-Natives who impede his path. In one particular scene,
White even frees numerous Apache who were trapped in a boxcar and destined
for slavery as some method to repay a karmic debt.

Regardless of whether the political motives of the game's designers are
debated, Litefoot said AAID's petition strikes at how American Indians and
their imagery have been trivialized. He feels that if any other video game
portrayed a distinct ethnicity, such as blacks, Jews or Hispanics, in such
a manner there would have been a much greater uproar by the consuming
public.

"When anything like this comes up in Indian country, it's asked: 'Aren't
there other bigger issues that we need to be focused on?'" Litefoot
rhetorically pointed out. "How are they going to find anything relevant in
contemporary society when they don't understand the history and that these
are the issues we face every day?"

The petition can be found at www.boycottgun.com.