NEW YORK – As in many other video games, the Internet program Kaboom! involves a main character who uses explosives to blow up his enemies, earning more points for more kills.
But this isn't your typical videogame hero. And his targets aren't aliens or robots. To many people, the "star" of Kaboom! is an apparent Palestinian suicide bomber who kills innocent men, women and children in Israel.
And with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict spilling into the world of interactive entertainment, a number of Israelis, Jewish organizations and at least one New York congresswoman are hopping mad, demanding Kaboom! be taken off the Web.
"Kaboom! trivializes the heinous act of killing and maiming innocent people," Rep. Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., wrote to newgrounds.com, the site hosting the game. "Even as our men and women in uniform continue to fight against terrorism in many places around the world, this program makes a game of terrorism in the global community, encouraging players to consider suicide bombing a recreational sport, complete with objectives and scores."
Lowey isn't alone.
"It’s disgusting and sick and it’s offensive, and no matter what your politics are, there can be no kind of justification or rationalization for this kind of hate," Anti-Defamation League spokesman Todd Gutnick said.
The explosive controversy has even reached the Middle East, where it was reported on in the Jerusalem Post on May 2. A major Israeli radio station that mentioned Kaboom! was flooded with angry calls. One listener, an Israeli who called himself Ron, e-mailed newgrounds.com with what he called a friendly warning.
"This might sound like good publicity, but … some people here might not see it as the fun game you've made," he wrote. "Knowing our politicians, some of them are probably already looking into pressing charges against you or some such. … Then there's the hackers — we may be a small country, but we do have some, and they might decide to take matters into their own hands."
Newgrounds has refused to take down the game, despite the criticism.
"As long as it's not illegal, we don't take the stuff down," Web master Wade Fulp said. "We're just trying to protect (the author's) free speech."
Lowey has no plans to take further measures to force Newgrounds to remove the game. But her office was pleased to see Kaboom! enjoying a less prominent spot on the site, said spokeswoman Elizabeth Stanley.
"Rep. Lowey completely agrees with (Fulp) about freedom of speech, but she also believes in the rights of the people who have been affected by the suicide bombing," Stanley said in a telephone interview. "It's completely disrespectful."
And Gutnick urged the Web site to adopt a policy about what kind of programs ought to be allowed to stay on the site.
Newgrounds is a submissions-based site, where designers send their games to the site via the Internet, and Newgrounds publishes them automatically..
Veteran videogamers might find Kaboom! a fairly unimpressive game. Using a mouse to control a terrorist's movements, the player can move left or right through a vaguely Middle Eastern-looking neighborhood until enough men, women or children are in range. Then, with a click of a button, the terrorist opens his jacket and detonates a crude bomb, killing or dismembering his civilian victims.
The current version is only a working demo that will be expanded later.
The game's creator would not give his name, but identified himself on the Web site variously as a 21-year-old from Detroit and a 23-year-old from Houston. He said in an e-mail interview the purpose of the game is "to show that suicide bombers are nothing but expendable pawns whose sole purpose is to terrorize innocents," and that "90 percent of the e-mails I've received are from people who loved the game, and a lot of them are from Israel."
He said he came up with the idea after reading a Time magazine article on suicide bombers. He eventually plans to expand the game to include terrorist missions to 12 different countries.
"I'm not going to try to make any money off the game," he wrote. "I don't make games ... for profit, just for fun."
The game creator acknowledged his critics were entitled to their opinions. He insisted, however, that the game "does not center around Israel."
He could not explain, however, why the game opens with an illustration of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.