Since when did suicide bombing become a game of any kind

You, too, can be a suicide bomber. That’s what I learned at a recent exhibit, “Bang the Machine: Computer Gaming Art and Artifacts,” at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

Video games aren’t exactly “my thing.” But, after interviewing one of the featured artists of the exhibit for a previous article, I wanted to go and check out her work. A friend who worked for a TV show on video games gladly came along.

We walked into a large, surreal space filled with interactive video and computer games, samples of game scenes projected on walls, and a small, dark movie room.

It was a glorified arcade.

I wandered around the exhibit, slightly lost and overwhelmed by a world and a subculture I don’t pretend to know anything about.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a young girl tapping intently on the mouse and keyboard of one of the computers. She must have been 13 or 14. Like most kids who play video games, she appeared to be completely engrossed in whatever world was coming to life on her computer screen. Her eyes were transfixed and slightly glazed over. Her whole body quivered with the directions of the mouse.

I moved on to another part of the exhibit.

Later, we passed the same girl. She was still there, playing the game and completely absorbed by whatever was on that computer screen.

“It’s a good thing she hasn’t left that game alone,” my friend said. “I don’t think you want to see what’s on it.”

I gave him an inquisitive look and then quickly made my way over to the game to investigate.

Right before my eyes was a terrorist bomber, blowing up innocent civilians.

He was a little cartoon man in a fat, green suit, walking about nervously on a crowded pedestrian street. His direction changed from right to left, left to right (according to the girl’s command), until that perfect moment — the precise millisecond when enough innocent bystanders were within cartoon arm’s length away — and the girl clicked on the mouse. In an instant, the little man opened his coat, revealed the sticks of dynamite strapped to his body and detonated.

Bloody cartoon body parts flew to all corners of the computer screen.

“Are you done?” I asked the girl, who seemed to be frustrated with the insufficient results of her game.

“No,” she answered assertively, her face unflinchingly resolved to try her hand at the suicide bombing game yet again.

I stayed by her side until her teenage attention span got the best of her and she moved on to another game.

My friend stood close by, waiting to see what I would do. I stared at the game, too scared and repulsed to try it, yet too curious and outraged to leave its side.

I moved the mouse and clicked it. Disgusted, I released my hand and let it drop to my side.

In the past few years, I’ve woken up many mornings to news of yet another suicide bombing in Israel.

Each time, I am gripped by an anxiety that paralyzes me with fear until we have completed the frantic calls to family and friends in Jerusalem.

After everyone is safely accounted for, my thoughts turn to the suicide bomber.

How can they do it, I wonder. How can anything — any circumstances or hatred or misled education — lead someone to make that final, fatal, inhuman decision?

After the Yerba Buena exhibit I returned home and searched the Internet for information on the suicide bombing game.

I found out that the game is freely accessible on at least two gaming Web sites, and that it was supposedly written and programmed by a young man from Texas who goes by the alias “fabulous999.”

“I’m not Jewish,” the man is quoted as saying on one of the Web sites. “I’m not an Arab, and I’m not a terrorist.”

Unlike “fabulous999,” I am Jewish and I am Israeli.

For all too many people, the suicide bombing game will not be a game. Rather, it will be a harsh and violent oversimplification of a horrible crisis, neatly packaged via computer game — straight into the impressionable mind of a 13-year-old.

Michal Lev-Ram, born in Israel, is a journalism major at SFSU who can be reached at [email protected].