Osama bin Laden video games gain popularity, offer users revenge

by Shira Kantor

The Kill Osama Game, Bend Over Bin Laden, Osamatron Torture Machine – the list of computer games targeting the world’s most sought-after man goes on.

They sprang up en masse shortly after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. For many, firing at Osama bin Laden electronically has made it easier to cope with the devastation on the East Coast.

Jason Day, marketing manager for Twistedhumor.com, the humor site that originally launched the now-widespread game Yo Mamma, Osama!, said he came up with the idea for the game as a way to revive humor and positivity in people and to help get their lives back to normal.

“We made a concerted effort to make it about as funny and as cartoonish as possible” to keep the game from entering shaky political territory, Day said. He said the public response has been overwhelmingly positive, with almost no signs of dissatisfaction despite more than 4 million downloads of the game since its birth nearly six weeks ago.

“I certainly think it’s somewhat therapeutic,” Day said. “And I’ve seen plenty of e-mails backing me up on that one, saying, ‘I just beat him, I loved it, it felt good to knock that guy out,’ that kind of stuff.”

Wanting to share the game with as many players as possible, Twistedhumor.com waived the licensing fees that would normally apply to other Web sites and made Yo Mamma, Osama! downloadable for free on the Internet.

Part of the reason, Day said, was to acquire donations for the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. The game’s end brings with it the option of donating money to the fund, and the site has already accrued more than $18,000.

Cyberextruder.com, a Web site that creates characters to be used with commercial video games, developed a bin Laden character – or “skin” – after the attacks. Later, in response to high demand, the site added a matching George W. Bush player.

Jack Ives, one of the founders of the New York-based Cyberextruder.com, said the close-to-home events made him long for revenge and brought about the creation of the terrorist leader.

“I found a picture of bin Laden,” Ives said, “and I ran it through our software and ended up creating a three-dimensional model. From there I threw him in a video game and blasted the hell out of him.”

The number of hits to Ives’ site, like those to Twistedhumor.com, have exploded since creating the bin Laden skin. So have frustrating amounts of calls and e-mails from players wanting help using the downloaded software, Ives said.

“It’s been a pain in the ass,” he said. “I put something up there that was amusing to me. The next thing I know, everybody wants it. Tens of thousands of people are coming a day and downloading it and now I’m getting all kinds of questions: ‘How do I install it? How do I play it?’ I’ve created a customer-support nightmare for myself.”

But Ives said his frustration stems more from the fickle nature of the public. He said he created the bin Laden skin to help him cope with the tragedy – not as a marketing tool – but the sentiment behind it has become obscured.

“People not living with the sight of the piles day in and day out, they forget,” Ives said. “It sounds like the American people are not remembering what this is all about.”

The flood of recent e-mails included death threats. What has been deemed credible, Ives said, was forwarded to the FBI.

William Robiner, a psychologist at the University Medical School, said he was unfamiliar with the influx of anti-bin Laden games, but he said humor is a natural reaction for those looking for a way to deal with the terrorist attacks.

“I’m not really sure that it’s healthy or unhealthy,” Robiner said. “I think it’s consistent with other things people do when they feel frustrated.”

He called the games “a technologically updated version” of other stress relief techniques, such as hitting a punching bag or throwing darts at someone’s photo.

Robiner said as long as people didn’t become obsessed, the games could provide a valuable outlet for emotion and might help reinstate a sense of control, albeit an illusory one.

Shira Kantor welcomes comments at [email protected]