'Thoughts and prayers' do nothing to stop mass shootings in this video game (or in real life)

Your thoughts and prayers will do nothing to stop mass shootings in this viral video game that mocks played-out, post-tragedy platitudes.

Satirical game from GOP Arcade mocks played-out, post-tragedy platitudes

Thoughts & Prayers: The Game was created by Mike Lacher, Chris Baker and Brian Moore for GOP Arcade following the deadly mass shooting in Orlando this month. (GOP Arcade)

A new video game that puts you in the shoes of a U.S. lawmaker trying to save lives with your "thoughts and prayers" as mass shootings break out across the country proves in elegant fashion just how effective that strategy is.

Spoiler alert: It's not even a little bit effective, ever.

Launched on Friday amid an actual, existing gun control crisis, Thoughts & Prayers: The Game has been tearing up the viral web all week with its poignantly frustrating 8-bit gameplay.

"America faces an epidemic of mass shootings," reads the free, web-based game's title screen. "It's up to you to stop them … with the power of your thoughts and prayers."

The premise seems simple enough, at first, but after a few minutes of playing the game it becomes strikingly clear how little thinking and praying will do to combat gun violence.

The shootings just keep on happening.

After about 10 seconds of futilely clicking on "think" and "pray" within the game, a welcome "ban assault weapon sales" button appears on screen. 

Touching it, though, will only bring up blocks of text that scream things things like "THAT'S UNAMERICAN," "YOU DEPEND ON THE NRA FOR DONATIONS!" and "PRAY HARDER!!!"

More than 17 million thoughts and prayers have collectively been sent out within the free, web-based arcade game since it was released — and yet, not a single life has been saved.

Could it be that mass shooting victims aren't actually helped by all of the pledges to think and pray we see flooding Twitter when tragedy strikes?

Um, yes, according to the game's creators.

"We had the idea a couple of days after the terrible shooting in Orlando," said Mike Lacher, who created Thoughts & Prayers with his friends and collaborators Chris Baker and Brian Moore for their series of satirical, U.S. election-themed games.

(GOP Arcade)

"As usual, all the 'thoughts and prayers' talk was starting to happen and we were like, 'We need to do something about this,'" Lacher told CBC News on Thursday. "My friend Brian was like, 'It would be funny to have a game where your only actions are to think and pray, to put you in that position of powerlessness.'"

So, in the time outside of their jobs, the New York-based trio of freelance writers, designers and developers hustled to put out their sixth GOP Arcade game — and the response was worth it.

Lacher said that more than 300,000 people came to share their thoughts and prayers in the first weekend alone, and he predicts the game's success may be due to the same phenomenon that inspired its creation.

"I think that the three of us had all been pretty frustrated by the lack of any sort of gun regulations despite the constant waves of mass shootings that happen in this country," he said. "I think it's a frustration that a lot of people have."

'Thoughts and prayers,' the internet meme

While the gun control debate rages south of the border, there's more to the game's message than the need to ban assault weapon sales. 

The act of tweeting out "thoughts and prayers" for victims in the wake of tragedies has itself been a hated, predictable and painfully annoying social media trope since at least 2012.

"People see something horrible happen in the world and they run to the internet, and they run to their social media, their Facebook, their Twitter, whatever they got, and they all write down the exact same thing: My thoughts and prayers," said comedian Anthony Jeselnik in his famous 2015 standup bit. "Do you know what that's worth? … Less than nothing.

"You are not giving any of your time, your money, or even your compassion," he continued. "All you are doing is saying, 'Don't forget about me today. Don't forget about me. Lots of crazy distractions in the news right now, but don't forget how sadz I am.'"

Politicians have been called out many, many times in recent years for sharing "thoughts and prayers" online, but doing little else to combat gun violence, if not making the problem worse.

In the wake of 2015's shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., Igor Volsky of Think Progress made headlines by retweeting dozens of American lawmakers who'd sent thoughts and or prayers to the victims — along with links to their gun control voting records, gun-related campaign contributions and NRA connections. 

He did the same thing earlier this month following the gay nightclub shooting that killed 49 people in Orlando

GOP Arcade took a different approach to lambasting the "useless" phrase, as Lacher put it, but the group's goal was similar.

"We thought that a game was a pretty effective way to show how little it does," he said, "to just sort of say those empty words and hope that maybe things will just change on their own when there's a pretty clear solution in front of you."


Lauren O'Neil covers internet culture, digital trends and the social media beat for CBC News. You can get in touch with her on Twitter at @laurenonizzle.