New Zealand bans video game that 'celebrates' Christchurch mosque attacks

Chief Censor David Shanks labelled the game 'abhorrent', and said it was now an offence under New Zealand law to share, download or host it

FILE - In this March 17, 2019, file photo, a police officer stands guard in front of the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. New Zealand's major media organizations pledged Wednesday, May 1, 2019, not to promote white supremacist ideology when covering the trial of the man charged with killing 50 people at two mosques.(AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)

New Zealand's chief censor has banned a video game that appears to glorify the Christchurch mosque shootings that killed 51 people.

The game has been freely available in New Zealand for several weeks. In it, the player goes on a shooting spree in a scenario that mimics a livestream. It includes several direct references to the mosque attacks. The main character's name is "Brenton Torrent", which is almost identical to the name of the alleged gunman in the Christchurch attacks.

Chief censor David Shanks on Thursday classified the game as "objectionable", which makes it illegal to share, host or download under New Zealand law.

“The creators of this game set out to produce and sell a game designed to place the player in the role of a white supremacist terrorist killer," Shanks said in a statement.

"In this game, anyone who isn’t a white heterosexual male is a target for simply existing."

FILE PHOTO: People comfort each other before the Friday prayers at Hagley Park outside Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

On March 15, 51 people were killed and dozens wounded when a 28-year-old Australian terrorist entered two mosques in Christchurch and opened fire. He streamed the assault on social media in a 17-minute video which was shared widely and remained online for another 12 minutes before being taken down.

Shanks said the game was "cheaply and crudely made", and everything about the game – from the name of the shooter to its purchase price of $14.88, which includes the “14 Words” white supremacist slogan and "88", the recognised code for "Heil Hitler" – made it clear it was being marketed to white supremacists.

Shanks was faced with another similar game in April which promoted mass murder, but chose not to classify it as it would give "producers of this game the attention that they were seeking". Instead, he had reached out to the gaming industry to ensure the "toxic product" was not promoted or given a platform.

However, this time around, he said his approach had needed to be different.

“The game producers appear intent on producing a ‘family’ of white extremist games, and they have established a revenue stream, with customers from New Zealand and from around the world able to purchase the games from the producer’s website.

"Having assessed it now it is clear that this game promotes and celebrates white extremist mass murder. The games producers will try to dress their work up as satire but this game is no joke. It crosses the line. Most New Zealanders will find this game abhorrent."

At the same time, Shanks also banned a document said to have been shared by the gunman who is suspected of attacking a German synagogue and killing two people earlier this month.

“For the public, the message is simple. These are illegal, terrorist-promotional products designed to spread hate and encourage killing. Don’t support, purchase or distribute this stuff. If you come across it, report it to the Internal Affairs Digital Safety team. If you hold copies of them – delete these now,” Shanks said.