Makers of iCombat simulated shooting game deny it's harmful to kids

A child psychologist says iCombat's level of realism is too dangerous for kids, but those behind the game say it's more like an organized sport.

The makers of a simulation shooting game that lets children pretend to be elite SWAT officers and kill bad guys with fake assault rifles deny that it promotes violence.

The game, called iCombat, was adapted from a law enforcement training system called irTactical that was created by Wisconsin-based Universal Electronics and is now deployed with law-enforcement and military agencies worldwide.

The first iCombat arena in the United States opened in New York City last year at Indoor Extreme Sports, a former warehouse in Queens. Inside, a 7,000-square-foot "field" is set up to resemble a war-torn foreign village with, among other entities, a bank, restaurant, clothing store and supermarket. Players are outfitted with equipment modeled after "real-world" battle gear, including M16 rifles and MOLLE tactical vests, to hunt for enemies.

The "guns" use infrared laser technology to hone in on the target. Players wear electronic vests that light up with bright red dots when hit. Compressed air in one type of toy gun simulates recoil when the weapon is fired. "Real weapon recoil and noise — you'll know when you're shooting or being shot at," iCombat's website says.

A child psychologist told NBC New York, which reported on the game on Wednesday, that iCombat's level of realism is too dangerous for children.

"There's no question that this increases aggression and it desensitizes them to killing, and it's a big, big mistake," Harris Stratyner told the station.

Sal Lifrieri, a security consultant and former director of security and intelligence operations with the New York City Office of Emergency Management under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, was also disturbed by the game's realism.

"They're going to want to take it to its natural progression, to the next step," Lifrieri was quoted as saying by NBC New York.

In the wake of the Dec. 14 school massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 children and six adults were killed, there has been a heightened sensitivity toward gun violence.

Peter Fermoselle, who supervises iCombat at Indoor Extreme Sports, denied that iCombat promotes violence in children.

"If anything, it's easier to desensitize a child who watches graphic violence on TV 24/7, 365 days a year, than coming once a year to our facility to play," he told MSN News on Thursday.

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Fermoselle said iCombat "is safer than Airsoft and Paintball" — simulation shooting games that have been around for much longer. Unlike those games, iCombat weapons, while real-looking, don't fire any projectiles, he said.

Fermoselle added: "I have five kids. I own no guns whatsoever. Nobody in our family owns guns. That's not what we're about."

ICombat, which is owned and managed by Whitewater, Wis.-based Universal Electronics, said the simulation game is more like a tactical version of laser tag and allows kids who play video games an opportunity to get off the couch and do something more active.

In a press release Wednesday with the headline "iCOMBAT Promotes Non Violence In Wake Of Shooting Tragedies," iCombat said its policy and mindset "is one of nonviolence and non-aggression."

"Whenever a terrible tragedy occurs that involves weapons or firearms, there is often a quick, brash judgment of not only all shooting sports and games, but also of other physical and fighting-type activities. Paintball, Nerf guns, boxing, wrestling, Airsoft and video games usually fall into the categories of items looked at as promoting the proliferation of violence throughout society," iCombat said. "However, these sports and games have been around for decades and are safe action sports in which people of all ages may participate."

Ocie Mathenia, a product manager for iCombat, added: "We do not feel that iCombat products or services promote violence any more than other action sports. Kids playing cops and robbers in your neighborhood are doing the same thing at iCombat facilities, only then it's more of an organized sport."

At the end of the day, the company said, parents have the ultimate responsibility in deciding what their kids can and cannot do: "If a parent deems iCombat unfit for their child, they do not have to let them play. Same goes for any other sport."

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