Published January 25, 2013
BOSTON – It was 10 days after a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six educators in Newtown, Conn., when Tracey Abrams and her family came upon a teenager firing a lifelike toy rifle on a video game at a Massachusetts highway rest stop.
As Hyams, her husband and their 12-year-old son walked by, they could hear the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire coming from the arcade game.
"We looked at each other and said, 'Did you see that? How inappropriate,'" Hyams said.
She sent an email to Massachusetts transportation officials, asking them to remove the game. About a week later, they got a response — the state pulled not just that game, but eight others at rest areas along the Massachusetts Turnpike.
In Yonkers, N.Y., a moviegoer got similar action this month after he complained about a video shooting game in the lobby of the Showcase cinema complex there. National Amusements Inc. removed the game and replaced it with a Pac Man game.
In both cases, owners of the games said they were trying to be sensitive in the wake of the horrific Newtown massacre.
An executive with National Amusements, based in Norwood, Mass., said the theater chain plans to review its theaters to determine whether additional games should also be removed.
"We are going to meet with our vendor who supplies the games, and we're going to review it on a case-by-case basis," said Steve Horton, vice president of operations for National Amusements, a Norwood, Mass., company that operates more than 1,500 movie screens around the world.
Sara Lavoie, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, said Hyams noted in her email that Newtown is about an hour away from the rest area in Charlton where her family saw the shooting game on Christmas Eve, 10 days after the school shooting.
"We thought, 'Yeah, we agree with you. We will ask that all of the video games be replaced with more passive video games,'" Lavoie said.
Simon Kubiak, a founding member of the National Video Game Association LLC, an association of video gamers, said he sees the pulling of the arcade games as an overreaction.
"There are billions of copies of games out there, and the incidence of mass shootings hasn't increased. I don't think there's any correlation between the video game industry and the movie industry and mass shootings," he said.
"It's a terrible event, no doubt, but I think the powers that be need to address underlying problems and not cast blame on the video gaming industry."
Richard Reitnauer, the Yonkers moviegoer, said he first noticed the game after seven people were shot to death in July in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. He didn't complain then, but when he noticed the game again days after the Newtown shooting, he called National Amusement's headquarters and asked if the company would remove it.
"I told him that I felt it was inappropriate game in an inappropriate place within view. You can hardly walk into this large theater lobby without your eyes drifting over to the game area. I told him that in the context of the shootings, this was kind of like the last straw. Society needs to become more sensitive," Reitnauer said.
When Reitnauer heard back from the company two weeks later, he was told the game had been removed.
"I feel it was a good gesture for the theater to take the guns out, and if everybody across America decided to take a small step, we just might start getting at some solutions."