In Defense of Senior Assassin


A screenshot of the profile of the Senior Assassin Instagram account.

Noah Meyerhoff, Editor-in-Chief

On April 13, 2023, Deans Gausselin and Jimenez sent an email to the Class of 2023 with the subject line, “Nerf blaster game,” and I began thinking about the message therein.

I am not a participant of Senior Assassin; I only know about the game from what is posted on the Instagram account and any news that may percolate to me through the filter of conversation with the friends of mine that participate in the game. And—from what I gathered through talking with them—-to the students, the game is an assertion that the American epidemic of school shootings is not our fault. It is the statement that it is assault rifles—not children’s toys—that kill people. It is the ludic affirmation that we will not let gun violence steal our childhoods from us.

And when I say, “I began thinking about the message therein,” I really mean that I was frustrated by the tone of the email. It put “game” in utterly unnecessary quotation marks. With incredible circumlocution, the deans described the activity as a “Nerf blaster game,” and later, “a game…which involves the use of Nerf blasters,” as though the name—Assassin—is some kind of taboo. They called it “significantly disturbing and highly insensitive.” I urge you to consider how ridiculous it should sound that my classmates and I, who have to go to school in fear of being shot, should be told that we are the disrespectful ones by the institutions and the generations that caused this catastrophe over the course of decades wasted in apathy and  obstinacy. I ask: should a teenager with a Nerf gun be considered “significantly disturbing?” The insinuation that activities like this are the real problem is deeply troubling—in line with the claim that “video games cause violence.” That my school should arrogate that my classmates are engaged in vicious mockery, while itself treating toys as though they are equal to murder weapons, is what’s actually “highly insensitive.”

Now, I understand the impossibility of the deans’ position. For P.R. reasons, the school obviously cannot be seen as encouraging a game played with Nerf guns. I know that their ultimate priority is maintaining a safe and happy school community, and the official interpretation of that priority could not possibly permit this game on school grounds. And for those same P.R. reasons, I imagine that the school cannot afford to change its official stance. Nobody is asking for that. And almost all of us recognize we cannot play on high school property. Weonly want to have fun, in defiance of the world that endangers us, without being told that we don’t know the meaning of what we’re doing. Trust me—we know. We have to think about it every day.

I anticipate a few criticisms of my position.

For one, I know that the deans, too, have to think about it every day. They work in the same danger zone that we attend, and may feel it unjustified that I’ve united them with “the institutions and the generations that caused this catastrophe.” And to an extent, it is unjustified. They are real, individual people who are not responsible for any of this, and they wish everything were different just as much as we do. We are thankful for the disciplinary work they do when members of our class are being actually disrespectful.

In fact, it is precisely because I know that they are real, individual people who expressly “invite a conversation” that I write this. I hope that, in the future, they won’t feel the need to represent the whole of the activity and the perspective of the students who participate in it as “inappropriate.” Because, for them, it is entirely appropriate and necessary that they not allow this threat to their existence to get in the way of having fun in their senior year of high school. This is something of a tradition, actually, and the game was played by the Class of ‘22. I do not believe we should have to let go of it because of a problem that the adults consistently fail to solve.

The second objection is that, however well I may articulate my point of view in this article, I can’t very well say that all of my classmates are consciously making a political statement through their participation. 

For two reasons, I don’t think this matters. First, they did think about it before going ahead, and the Instagram account even polled the participants over whether or not they should cancel the game after the incident at Highland Park. My classmates considered the circumstances, and then decided to continue with Assassin. Second, if the problem is that nobody is playing in the solemn, lawyerly manner in which I wrote this article—well, that’s the point. The assertion is that the school shooters cannot keep us from having fun. We have to have fun for it to work.

The third—and most important—objection is that this game may make our peers uncomfortable, both at Deerfield and Highland Park. 

This is a problem with everything that deals with a controversial topic, but, in this case, the concern is that the Nerf guns are triggering to some. This is a real and valid concern, and I have people in my own family who were traumatized at the Fourth of July parade. I get it. But this game is entirely optional—nobody has to participate or even follow the Instagram account. And, if you searched for it, you would see that there is an Instagram for the exact same game set up for the Seniors at Highland Park High School. Beneath their April 5th post containing the rules of the game, the game-runners wrote: “We need to stop letting the acts of others bring us down.” Certainly, they have the standing to declare in this way that the gun incident at their school will not ruin their Senior year. 

That’s the crux of the issue. Nobody should be trying to make others uncomfortable—and nobody is trying that. Equally so, nobody should be trying to browbeat high school students for trying to prevent a somber and depressing end to their Senior year. Nobody should be calling these teenagers “significantly disturbing”  when they are simply trying not to let the school shooters win.