The developer of Active Shooter, a controversial game that lets you carry out a school shooting, says he’s no “psychopath,” but merely an amateur developer from Moscow with poor English skills and little knowledge of US current events.
Anton Makarevskiy, 21, told PCMag he was hoping to sell a “few hundred copies” of the first-person shooter before Steam dropped the game from its platform on Tuesday and banned its developer and publisher, Revived Games and Acid.
Valve, which owns Steam, placed the blame on Ata Berdyev, who the company called a “troll, with a history of customer abuse, publishing copyrighted material, and user review manipulation.”
Berdyev, who translated for Makarevskiy during an interview with PCMag, owned up to previous bad behavior (“I did push a line a lot”), but said he was not directly involved in the development of Active Shooter, beyond offering “tips” to Makarevskiy. Valve only fingered Berdyev as its developer because Berdyev let Makarevskiy use his US bank accounts to receive payment on Steam game sales since US economic sanctions made transfers between the US and Russia difficult.
“I was essentially helping him to hold his funds,” Berdyev said during a Skype call. “I really dislike how they boot [Makarevskiy] out of Steam thinking it’s me, rather than anything else.
“He didn’t think the game would be as controversial as it turned out to be,” Berdyev continued. “He doesn’t like the idea of people fighting with each other over such a topic.”
Given that the mass shootings in Parkland and Santa Fe are still fresh in people’s minds here in the US, though, Makarevskiy’s game faced swift public condemnation from school shooting survivors, the parents of victims, and others who demanded that Valve remove the title over its “despicable” content.
“How can anyone sleep at night knowing that they are profiting from turning deadly school shootings into entertainment?” reads an online petition calling for the game’s removal, which had over 205,000 signatures as of Wednesday.
The title was originally designed to be a SWAT team simulator. However, Makarevskiy decided to let players also assume the role of the shooter. The game’s trailer depicts players gunning down civilians and hurling grenades at them—all inside what appeared to be a school.
Makarevskiy told PCMag he was caught off guard by the controversy. He noted that many other first-person shooters with graphic violence are available on Steam and sell without much scrutiny. The popular Counter-Strike games, for instance, let players choose between assuming the role of counter-terrorist fighters and terrorists. He argued that while Active Shooter lets you kill innocent civilians, children are not depicted in the game, which was age-restricted to adults on Steam.
Berdyev echoed that sentiment. “There’s nothing about glorifying violence, nothing promoting it. It’s literally about just having fun. Other games likes Counter-Strike have terrorists. It’s the same idea. Just all to give it more gameplay.”
Makarevskiy chose to set Active Shooter partly in a school in part out of convenience. The 3D model and level design for the game’s school building can be purchased by developers at an affordable price.
Makarevskiy described himself as a self-taught developer and said he began programming Active Shooter two months ago, as a way to help him escape from his “crappy job” of printing out posters for businesses and events. He was formerly a big gamer, but finds that that actually creating the content is more fun.
On Steam, Makarevskiy developed several other games with some eyebrow-raising names, including Tyde Pod Challenge and White Power: Pure Voltage. With White Power, Makarevskiy said his intention wasn’t to be racist, but to emphasize its use of white-colored electricity. (The game itself appears to be rip-off the story from the Netflix series Stranger Things.)
Makarevskiy recently decided to become a full-time independent game developer; Tuesday was his last day at his former job. It was also the day Valve shut down his publisher and developer accounts on Steam.
“He said he’s in a bad situation,” Berdyev told PCMag. “He’s just trying to figure out what to do now.”
Berdyev, who is based in the US, has also been banned from Steam, though he’s no longer a game developer and now works in social media marketing.
The two originally met six years ago online through the first-person shooter ARMA 2 and become friends. To prove his role in the game’s development, Makarevskiy offered a copy of the email Steam sent him regarding his game. The email is addressed to him and Berdyev, and comes from Liam Lavery, an attorney at Valve.
During the Skype video call, Makarevskiy also showed off a tattoo on his arm, which was labeled with the word “Acid,” the name of the publisher for Active Shooter that’s listed on Steam.
So far, Valve hasn’t responded to a request for comment or confirmed the authenticity of the email. The two friends are hoping to get Makarevskiy reinstated on Steam, even as critics of the game are glad it’s gone.
Wow, this is amazing news!!!https://t.co/004mjsntsV
— Fred Guttenberg (@fred_guttenberg) May 29, 2018
In the meantime, Makarevskiy is considering releasing Active Shooter as a free download. He was initially considering removing the “shooter’s role” from the game, but Makarevskiy has since decided to leave it in. His goal isn’t to anger the public or glorify violence, but to get people thinking about which role they’d choose in the game (either SWAT member or attacker) and why.
“It’s not promoting violence, definitely no,” he said in English.
Concerned parents probably won’t buy that argument. Others may be skeptical that Berdyev had limited involvement with the game, or that his and Makarevskiy’s explanation is legitimate. For now, however, those who buy games on Steam won’t encounter the game.
Berdyev says critics are focusing too much on one computer game when mass shootings in the US can be blamed on mental health, guns, and bad parenting. “From my point of view, they have to focus on the real issues rather than video games,” he said.