The conspiracy game: JFK's assassination is turned into computer entertainment

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The Independent Online

For years, experts have argued over who killed President John Kennedy and whether it was the work of a lone gunman.

For years, experts have argued over who killed President John Kennedy and whether it was the work of a lone gunman.

Now, after four decades of endless speculation, a Scottish-designed computer game has been accused of plumbing new depths by turning one of the most controversial political killings in history into "interactive entertainment".

From the sixth floor window of a virtual reality book depository in Dallas, Texas, anyone with a computer and about £6 can take the place of Lee Harvey Oswald and relive the infamous assassination. A "blood effects" button can be pressed for those who prefer extra gore.

Launched on the 41st anniversary of the assassination, JFK:Reloaded has been branded "despicable" by aides to the late president's surviving brother, Ted Kennedy.

The new British-made "docu-game" aims to simulate the final moments of the President's life and offers up to £53,800 in prize money for the first person to most accurately recreate the three shots credited with killing Kennedy and sparking a worldwide industry of conspiracy theorists.

Although it is the first independent venture for the Glasgow-based company Traffic, which designed the interactive game, many of the 10-strong team, who took 10 months to research and six months to program the game, have experienced working on some of the most notorious interactive titles of the past few years - including the original Grand Theft Auto, State of Emergency and Killzone, some of which have been blamed for a rise in real-life violent gun crime.

According to Traffic, the aim is to generate interest in one of the most important moments in US history among a new audience, who may be experienced in the ways of new technology but probably know little about what happened in Dallas on 22 November 1963.

The game, which can only be downloaded from the internet, for $9.99 (£6), provides links to background information on the president and the facts and theories surrounding his assassination.

Yesterday the company denied that JFK:Reloaded glorified the assassination. "Although the actual act is violent the game itself concentrates on whether it is possible to do what Lee Harvey Oswald is supposed to have done," said Dean Barrett, a company spokesman.

"It is amazing the way some people have reacted. The topic has been the subject of films and books for years, but because somebody makes it part of an interactive entertainment piece that is somehow more offensive."

Painstakingly detailed, the reconstruction enables players to examine the challenges that faced Oswald and highlights how so many conspiracy theories have emerged.

The objective is for a player to fire three shots at Kennedy's motorcade from the digitally recreated sixth-floor window in the Texas School Book Depository and points are awarded or subtracted depending on how accurately the shots match the official version of events.

Each shot can be replayed in slow motion as the bullets pass through the president's body, and viewers can even choose to see the results of the shots by pressing a "blood effects" option.

"It's despicable," said David Smith, a spokesman for Edward Kennedy, the Massachusetts senator. "There's really no further comment."

The presidential historian GCalvin MacKenzie of Colby College, Maine, has criticised the game as being "in incredibly bad taste" and said marketing it as an educational tool appeared to stretch the notion of education beyond belief.

Traffic's managing director, Kirk Ewing, said that the game would "bring history to life" for a whole new generation of people.

"We genuinely believe that if we get enough people participating we'll be able to disprove once and for all any notion that someone else was involved in the assassination of President Kennedy," he said, admitting that reaction to the game's launch had been greater than anticipated.

"The computer ballistics model says it's possible, but players will discover just how hard it is to place those three bullets in exactly the same way that Oswald did," added the former documentary filmmaker and senior executive with the games developer VIS, which was responsible for games such as State of Emergency.

"This is not a cynical attempt to cash in on what happened. We do believe we are bringing something unique to the table with JFK:Reloaded.

"We believe that this is the first wave of these kinds of games looking at real-life events using interactive technology."

Caroline Pelletier, a researcher with London University's Centre for the Study of Children, Youth and the Media, said that computer games were as culturally important today as film, television or books.

"There's a lot of interest among educationalists as to how games could be used to help to teach about a subject."

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