essay, playing, video games

Not Really Appealing: Practice Range

NRAFor a game about Practice shooting, I spent most of my sessions on loading screens looking at text. Each time I would select a mode to try, the game would pause for several seconds after the loading bar was filled before play would start. During each of these, I read all of the Facts and Gun Safety Tips. And I also reflected on the game itself.

My first thought was that the presentation was one of complete control and constantly on-message. This was obviously a branded and funded game put out by the NRA. Therefore, more than most games, it was positioned as a message packaged as a game. It was supposed to be spin and rhetoric in the form of an experience planned and designed around the premise that guns are normal and going to the practice range to fire an assault weapon is commonplace. Everything about the game, I expected, would back up this claim.

However, as the game crashed for the second time on me, I began to question this thinking. If this was a message for others that going to a practice range might be fun, well, it wasn’t for me. It was boring. The game, I decided, included another message encoded along with shooting and gun safety it was trying to promote. Put simply, that guns are boring and not, therefore, worth trying to regulate.

It was then I questioned something else about this. Maybe, with everything I had played and read, I had become too fixed on the overt message to see the subtle ones. In forcing the player into a “waiting period” before having a weapon, there could be nod to the rhetoric of some lawmakers preventing people from having “fun” or even exercising their constitutional rights. There might even be more to the core mechanics of turning and touching to shoot too, I thought.

NRA

There is a variety of weapons in this game. All of which would require some type of training to use them as well as the shooter does in the game. And given how the grip on the weapons is always steady, this too speaks to the advanced familiarity with these guns. It all points to  some type of professionalism and not a hobbyist. This is devotion to guns.

The fact that players must make in-app purchases to unlock more underlines this concept. There is no notable difference in the stance or handling of the different guns. What the player is paying for is brand recognition, not a change in difficulty. Adding guns to your collection, says this process, is nothing more than spending a little money for something that looks cool to shoot. If you are going to have a gun, you might as well have one that projects your style and personality more than any other practicality.

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It’s this type of banality that is so dangerous. The boring aspects and the frequent safety tips build towards the image of going to a practice range as so uninteresting that the message swings the other way. This is not a game hoping to get people excited about shooting guns. No, this game wants to show you how mundane shooting assault weapons and handguns can be. It’s high mastery in the guise of “practice” in order to promote how easy it can be to get more guns and spend time honing your skills.

Never mind that the purpose of having experience with multiple handguns and even assault weaponry is never explained. It’s a fantasy dressed up as just-another-skill-based-game. Don’t think about the funding, the title, or even what is going on in the game. No, says the game, I’m just another game, just like all the others on your device. Don’t think too hard about what is going on, it repeats, merely keeping practicing until we tell you to stop.