Senior Assassin: a game of privilege


SHOTS FIRED: Senior Assassin brings up discussions of privilege and gun safety. (Graphic by Tabitha Irvin)

Tabitha Irvin, Opinion Editor

Our school is allowed to do what so many others cannot. We run around the Downers Grove neighborhood unruly, wild, and free. It’s our gift for surviving public high school, each Senior Assassin pellet fired a subtle dig at the system and all its rules, rigid and stifling. Most other Americans, however, are not awarded this gift. What our community cherishes as a ridiculously childish game is a perfect nightmare for much of America. 

According to a New York Times report, firearm-related injuries are now the leading cause of death in American children and adolescents. Schools, specifically, are targeted as mass shooting grounds. Last year alone, we watched 50 school shootings leave children either injured or dead. The survivors, meanwhile, must cope with their trauma in a society that both inflicts and ignores their suffering. And yet, for many in the DGN community, gun violence remains a faraway concept – scary but abstract. 


Senior Assassin is a game based on the premise of shooting and survival. It’s an annual class tradition at DGN and many other schools in the Western Suburbs of Chicago. Played with Nerf guns, the activity is a breath of fresh air – a remnant of our childhoods that were full of laughter and running. We were never really running from anything, though. 


It’s imperative to remember that many students do run from very real threats, rampant gun violence included. Senior Assassin is a game to us, but a triggering tragedy for so many others, especially in communities with widespread poverty and high crime rates. Not every community has a supportive police force and not every community can take Nerf guns lightheartedly. 


Take Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old who threw snowballs and played with a BB gun in his neighborhood Cleveland park. After receiving a call, police arrived at the scene and shot Tamir, killing him. 


The guns are only toys, but the deaths are very real. 


Carrying a toy gun in Downers Grove may elicit passing smirks. Carrying a prop firearm in Portland, where 1 in 4 police shootings involve a toy gun, is a death wish. Just this April, 16-year-old Ralph Yarl was shot and critically injured after ringing the wrong doorbell by accident. Meanwhile, we sneak outside houses and peek into windows at dusk, armed with Nerf guns and completely safe. 


A U.S. News Report confirms that youth living in high-poverty counties are at least four times more likely to die from gun violence than their affluent peers. The cost of living in Downers Grove is 31 percent higher than the national average, a statistic that comes to life as one passes sprawling green yards and three-car garages. So, naturally, we fear nothing more than a Nerf gun bullet fired by a friend. Not 30 minutes away, however, inner-city communities such as West Garfield Park and Austin face crime rates over 700% higher than the country-wide average. To those residents, gun violence is anything but a game. 


I’ve often wondered if Senior Assassin is an appropriate game to play in our current society, where school shootings and mass killings reign supreme. After much debate, I’ve decided it is. Yes, we can and should have fun playing Senior Assassin. I know I did. In a society where gun violence is old news, there’s nothing else we can do to cope. We’ve screamed our angry protestations to blank-faced bureaucrats who’ve been conditioned into a state of complacency. We’ve mourned our losses. What more can we do? I only urge Senior Assassin players – present and future – to appreciate the luxury that this is a game and not a reality.