A shooting simulation game that lets children pretend to have shootouts in an indoor fake village with a bank, offices and what appears to be a school has come to Queens and is raising concern among law enforcement authorities. The company behind the game says it's "harmless fun" similar to tag or cops and robbers. Jonathan Vigliotti reports.
The game, called iCombat, outfits children like SWAT officers -- with fake assault rifles and other toy guns. Compressed air in one type of toy gun even simulates recoil when the gun is fired. And players wear electronic vests that light up when hit -- showing where the victim has been shot.
A child psychologist told NBC 4 New York that this 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," said Dr. Harris Stratyner.
The children's version was adapted from a law enforcement training system called irTactical that was created by Wisconsin-based Universal Electronics and sold to the military and police departments nationwide. Last year, the company ventured into children's entertainment, and renamed the system iCombat. Indoor Extreme Sports in Long Island City was the first facility in the nation to get the game, and there's no age minimum to play.
Among their target groups are children's birthday parties -- the offer comes with free cake and pizza.
The game is remarkably realistic, and that is what disturbs many in the law enforcement community.
"They're going to want to take it to the next progression, to that dangerous next step," said Sal Lifrieri, who served as director of security and intelligence for OEM under former Mayor Giuliani.
There is also the concern that the tactics used in the game should not be available to the public.
"There are still secrets in tactics and techniques that law enforcement is currently utilizing. the thing that scares me the most is that we are going to lose those secrets," Lifrieri said.
Indoor Extreme Sports declined to comment. Universal Electronics said in a statement that iCombat is a like a new version of Laser Tag, which gets kids who play video games off the couch and into something more active.
A spokesman said the game is similar to "any other toy guns" and added that "it's the harmless fun of tagging each other or playing cops and robbers." The company noted that parents ultimately decide whether their kids get to play.
When it comes to law enforcement concerns, the spokesman said "iCombat does not and will not teach the public or kids about police tactics."
Still, critics worry that this game could channel some energy for those who may blur the line between fantasy and reality.