TUCSON, Ariz. — The disgruntled, raincoat-clad man takes to the street, shotgun in hand. He shoots down police, pedestrians, a marching band, churchgoers.
As men and women fall bleeding, the shooter mutters, "Going postal."
This is no crime scene. It is a computer game, "Postal," where players can use the main character to shoot, maim, incinerate and otherwise snuff out innocent bystanders and law officers by the busload.
Post office workers and others are furious, though nothing but the title and the muttered phrase links the game to mail carriers.
"We're pretty outraged over this whole thing. To depict postal workers as violent terrorist employees is unfair," said Ken Kelble, president of the largest New Hampshire local of the American Postal Workers Union.
"We're pretty fed up. There's a movement nationally to boycott this video game," Kelble said.
In the last decade, "going postal" has become a slang term for crazed mass violence. It dates back to August 1986, when an Edmond, Okla., postal worker killed 15 colleagues, and if anything has gained momentum. Last month, a postal clerk in Miami Beach shot his ex-wife and her friend as they stood in line, then killed himself. The women survived.
None of the characters, story lines, designs or background in "Postal" refer to the U.S. Postal Service or mail carriers.
Still, Postmaster General Marvin Runyon worried that the game perpetuates a stereotype and "does a grave disservice to the more than 750,000 men and women who work hard every day."
But on the Internet, the buzz about the game has been huge. "Postal" was the No. 1 game downloaded for preview this summer on Happy Puppy, a computer game Web site.
Rated "M" for "mature audiences" 17 and older, it went on sale last month for $54.99. The cover features three fake bullet holes.
"From the beginning, we have said this is not a kid's game," said Vince Desi, the game's designer and chief executive officer of Running With Scissors, based in Tucson. "It's more for the older male adult. . . . Instead of going to the theater and watching 'Pulp Fiction,' we let you play it."
The game begins with a lone, longhaired gunman in front of a house. If "the postal dude" kills all the lawmen nearby--with either the shotgun or a flamethrower--he moves on to higher levels: a parade, a trailer park, the city, an Air Force base. At times, he fires at churchgoers leaving services and a marching band and mutters, "My weapon understands me."
Amid sounds of gunfire, victims fall and scream, "I can't breathe!" and, "He's going postal!" Bodies and blood fill the screen.
"Watch victims run around on fire, screaming for help, until their charred corpses fall to the ground," reads the company's Web site.
There are no gore-filled closeups in 17 levels of killing, with one exception: For play to end, the gunman has to commit suicide.
"I think it sounds neat," said Joe Messineo, 28, as he browsed in a Concord, N.H., computer store. "I'd probably buy it if I saw it"--though he thought it sounded a bit tame compared to other games.
David Walsh, president of the nonprofit National Institute on Media and the Family in Minneapolis, said that despite the M-rating, children could find a way to play the game.
Research has shown that feelings of aggression and anger are stimulated in people who watch violent entertainment, he said, though he knew of no studies on the effects of computer games.
At a post office in San Diego, clerk Seph Harrell, 35, said he worried the game might make people leery of postal workers.
"That would be a shame," he said. "I'm a video player, but I don't like the idea of that game. Everyone has a right to entertainment, but I wouldn't play it."
Violence and gore sell, especially among men from age 18 to 30, said Michael Patty, manager of a Software Etc. store in Tucson.
"Every time a game steps up the shock value," he said, "it seems to sell better."