National Press Club

How did killing journalists become a game? Sniper 3D CTO explains

May 23, 2019 | By Julie Moos and Ricardo Sandoval Palos | jmoos@press.org

A screenshot of the 'Breaking News' mission selection screen from "Sniper 3D Assassin."

A screenshot of the 'Breaking News' mission selection screen from "Sniper 3D Assassin."

Since at least 2015, the popular game Sniper 3D Assassin has featured a mission that requires players to kill a journalist who has just bribed a police officer. When that mission was made public over the weekend in a tweet by New York Times journalist Jamal Jordan, the gamemaker’s Chief Technology Officer Michael Mac-Vicar told HuffPost, “After listening to our community today, we have decided to remove the mission ‘Breaking News’ from the game.”

But the mission has not been removed from all versions of the game. The iOS version in the Apple App store no longer has the “Breaking News” mission, but the Microsoft version in Steam, a popular gaming platform, still included it to play as of Wednesday night, and the Google Play version still shows the mission, though it cannot be played.

Mac-Vicar confirmed this in a brief reply to a LinkedIn message. "Updates are being rolled out, iOS and Google Play are already updated (they represent more than 99.99 of the users), other minor platforms like Amazon and Steam might take some more time,” he said.

The company faced backlash over the weekend for including the mission, then faced backlash from players after removing it.

“I have been playing this game for about a year and loved it & spent real $$ because I will support a good mobile game,” said Skitzo23!!! in a one-star review in the App Store. “What I won’t do is support a company who will REMOVE A LEVEL because of B-----t Activists who call themselves ‘Journalists’ who never even played the game or spent a dime on it!!!”

“I came for the journalist level. Disappointed!” said another one-star review posted after the mission was pulled from the Apple version.

These reactions highlight the danger this mission represents, given the real violence and threats journalists increasingly face. A year ago, four Capital Gazette journalists and another staff member were killed in Maryland. This year, at least five journalists have been killed worldwide, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, and several have been attacked in the U.S. while covering a teacher strike in California and covering a political rally in Texas.

The “Breaking News” mission in the game “seems like pandering to the anti-journalist crowd,” said GamesBeat writer Dean Takahashi in a brief online conversation. “It creates the inaccurate impression that journalists pay sources for stories, and then suggests that anyone who does so deserves to die. It is, of course, horrifying for any non-combatants to be dragged into war, but this scene seems particularly gleeful about doing this with a journalist target. The developers should think about the real-world consequences of their decisions.”

And the platforms hosting the games should consider that as well, said National Press Club President Alison Fitzgerald Kodjak. “Apple, Google, and the other technology platforms that make this game available should think twice before hosting games like this that put journalists at risk,” Kodjak said.

“The fact that this escaped notice for so long demonstrates that violence against journalists is becoming normalized, and that is unacceptable,” said Barbara Cochran, president of the National Press Club Journalism Institute.

Contact: Julie Moos, jmoos@press.org