Super Columbine Massacre RPG!

"A child is born with no state of mind
Blind to the ways of mankind
God is smilin' on you but he's frownin' too
Because only God knows what you'll go through."
-- The Message, GrandMaster Flash

It's 2AM on Friday night. It's dark. There is no dark like a moonless night in the country. My wife has draped her shirt over the clock's grey blinking. I have earplugs in, a habit learned of sleeping with infants in the room. I'm painfully sober and irrevocably awake. Each time I close my eyes, I start thinking. And the more I think, the more I think about my kids. And about death. And about fear.

About Columbine.

Super Columbine Massacre RPG!, self-published by Danny Ledonne in 2005 (but only recently mainstreamed), is a bizarre and brutal attempt at a documentary told through a game engine. Like most machinima, it uses antique game tools to tell a story. Unlike most machinima, rather than present a film as the final product, Ledonne left the game as an actual RPG, forcing the viewer-cum-player to participate in order to advance the plot. As the name implies, it puts you in the shoes of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold on April 20th, 1999, as they walk into Columbine High School in Colorado and kill twelve students, a teacher, and themselves.

The game draws heavily from historical accounts, fictionalizing surprisingly little along the way. I will admit to not being a student of the event. I remember being horrified, saying prayers for a few nights, having a few long and wine-soaked discussions among friends, and then trying to forget as quickly as possible. I didn't read the Time Magazine stories or watch the morning talk show interviews. I was thirty minutes into the game when I realized I simply had to know how much of the game was real, and how much was fabricated. Four hours of link-chasing wikipedia later, I was more disturbed than ever. Thousands of pages, pictures, videos and audiotapes surround the shootings, much of it written and recorded by the two themselves.

The premise of this fact-as-fiction construction -- that you must do something horrifying in order to advance the story -- is no more original than Grand Theft Auto. The difference is that when you shoot someone in the face with a sawed-off shotgun in GTA, it's pretend. When you do it in Columbine, you're reenacting. Of course, I have no problem playing Defcon in the face of Hiroshima, or playing the Germans in a game of Battlefield 1942. But this pixelated and pixilated nebbish of a game crosses some internal line where it's not OK. This juxtaposition is in and of itself disturbing. Many gamers, if not most, will launch SCMRPG!, play through the first 10 minutes, face that first act of violence and promptly delete the game. This should be considered ample evidence of being human.

I played through most of it. I don't recommend that you do so. Instead, go watch the video walk-through. The meat of the game ends 37 minutes in -- that's the close of the four minute slide show, depicting the families, friends and survivors, funerals and vigils. And that's where you should stop, because after that, the game goes too far.

I don't mean it crosses a moral line in the sand, I just mean that it tries too hard. The second half of the game takes our anti-heroes directly to hell, where they wander randomly, deliver books to Nietzsche, negotiate with the devil, engage in vague anti-Christian diatribes and exchange witty one-liners with various icons of history from Mario to Nixon. Hell is rife with inside game-industry jokes and pointless, rarely-funny jabs at celebrities. It's as if Ledonne, weary from the weight of his project, decides to work on his Trey Parker and Matt Stone impressions.

But even forgetting the game's bizarre second act, I'm still uncertain how seriously to take the author. The words of his "artist's statement" (a suspect title to start with) are heavy, and certainly imply that he takes his game very, very seriously -- more seriously than the second act would suggest; and the game is far from an endless and insensitive South Park sketch. Moments of it are deeply touching, more are deeply disturbing. It sets an oddly laconic tone leveraging everything from KMFDM song lyrics, T.S. Elliot, music evocative of both 1999 and King's Quest, what-if flashbacks, to crime-scene photographs. It repeatedly lulls you into identifying with the villains, and then slams you against the wall for doing so.

Super Columbine Massacre RPG! isn't a great game. It's not really even a game. Nevertheless, it was considered for the Slamdance Guerrilla Gamemaker Competition game festival, won a finalist slot from the jury, and then got the boot because it was too controversial. It got kicked not because it's bloody and features acts of violence -- the other finalists boast such selling features as "full dismemberment and decapitation." No, the imagined threat of legal action trumped all:

"Slamdance does not have the resources to defend any drawn out civil action that our legal council has stated can easily arise from publicly showing it."

Which is funny (both the "ha ha" funny and the eyebrow-raised sad-clown "weird" funny) in light of these comments from Ledonne's "artist's atatement":

"Somewhere between April 20th, 1999 and September 11th, 2001, America entered into a new, terrifying, and desperate era. Citizens can no longer afford to believe the necessary illusions of modern society. In an age when hastily-formed scapegoats and false dichotomies of 'good' and 'evil' run rampant, SCMRPG dares us into a realm of grey morality with nuanced perspectives of suffering, vengeance, horror, and reflection."

Personally, I don't need more evidence of a "new, terrifying and desperate era" than this kind of fear-induced self-censorship inside the cardboard-walled and desperate-to-be-hallowed halls of our industry.

I'm glad Ledonne made the game.

And I'm sure I'll sleep better in a week or two.

----

"Dont push me, cause I'm close to the edge.
I'm trying not to lose my head.
It's like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder
How I keep from going under."

Comments

rabbit wrote:

Interestingly, both Neitsche and Socrates show up in hell uttering both quotes. (In the game).

Now I have to play it this week. It's starting to sound a lot less like South Park and more like Dante's Inferno.

momgamer: enjoyed the blog post you linked. My jaw did indeed drop that someone was arrested for writing a zombie story in their journal. What a breach of the right to privacy, not to mention the First Amendment! That kind of law isn't far from Thoughtcrime. Literally unbelievable. Meanwhile, there are actual crimes being committed.

When I was in elementary school, we had a project (about fourth or fifth grade) where we had to bring in an invention. This kind of blank check really scared me back then; we also had to do a "how-to" report and I couldn't think of anything to do. My classmates did things like "How to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich", but it never even occurred to me to do something so commonplace. My mom bailed me out at the 11th hour by teaching me how to make fudge.

Anyway, the invention (and the point - don't worry, it's coming!). If the how-to scared me silly, imagine having to INVENT something. Once again, I thought I was expected to expand the realm of human knowledge somehow. One girl brought a human-sized envelope that you could use to mail yourself and thus travel cheaply (pretty good idea, really). I found a 5 foot tall piece of bent metal that looked like an upside down U, only the top was straight, and there were sort of feet on the bottom to let it stand up straight. I attached a piece of string and a lightbulb to the top center of it and said it was an assassination device. Child-sized, in this case, but with larger models available.

At the time, I don't know that there was any concern. One of my classmates did want to know who would want to kill a small child, and I explained that I didn't myself, I just made 'em. Clearly I should have been an arms dealer. I thought that girl was a terrible spoilsport, poking holes in my invention.

I wonder what would happen today? I was a little kid at the time, but I wouldn't be surprised if that kind of thing would start a file that would travel everywhere with me for the rest of my educational career, unbeknownst to me, but biasing and freaking out each of my teachers before I ever met them.

Just for the record, I've never been involved in any act of violence more serious than a brotherly scuffle.

Another fantastic article Rabbit. A while back, I actually did download this and try it out, simply because when something is this controversial, I like to form my own direct opinion rather than take bits from each of the often polarized points of view on it. Much like you said many would do in your article, I played it for about 10 minutes and deleted it. I knew it was a basic game as it was developed in the ancient Super RPG Maker, but it just hit a little close to home for me. I'm someone who has an easy ability to "disconnect" from touchy material so that I can view it while not being significantly affected by it, but that was not the case here. I do think the author of the game was trying to use it as a means to express his feelings on the event and wasn't just trying to make something for shock value. It's also obvious to me that while this deals with a touch subject in an odd way, it definitely glorifies nothing as many US "journalists" were sensationalizing it to. I personally recommend avoiding it, but if you really would like to form your own opinion outside of what other people say, try it for yourself before assuming what it is trying to convey.

Fed, that's a paddlin'.

More likely: At least a call home and probably a detention. I wouldn't rule out suspension until it's cleared up or expulsion due to "zero tolerance."

Sorry if I got going. This is a hard one for me to deal with. I don't know if you know this, but my younger son (the one who just levelled up) is bi-polar. We've been fighting this since he was eight years old. With meds and constant counselling and maintenance we've managed to get him this far. But every time I think of those boys (and the others like them) I see how easy it would have been for my son to be standing there. But my son has a real identified problem and I'm on his ass about it. Most other kids don't. But they're all getting tarred with that same brush.

Feyd, that story is pretty tame compared to the stuff that doesn't make the news. The privacy laws about juveniles are keeping people from seeing it. Unless you're involved personally or the kid commits a Class 2 or higher felony no one hears and it just keeps going.

A fifth-grade girl who goes to a private school I know did time in a mental hospital because she expressed a wish that one of her teachers "blow up" while she was out on the playground. She was talking with a friend about Harry Potter and this particular teacher came up in the conversation and she said she wished she'd blow up just like Aunt Marge. You and I know that meant inflate and float away. She was overheard by a playground attendant who thought that meant she wanted to bomb the school and took her straight to the office. From there her parents took her directly to a mental hospital for a two week "evaluation".

Chiggie, I'm not going to let you off on the little things. It's exactly where it pinches the most. Like the gal I know at church who doesn't want her children to go to the teenage youth group Wednesday nights because some of the kids have piercings and tattoos and loose clothes. Come on! Yes, these kids have problems. Some of them have a really hard life. But they're spending their Wednesday nights listening to a sermon and playing dodgeball in a church for crying out loud. They're a real scary bunch. But that lady doesn't care. She's afraid of them and what they will do and is firmly convinced they are a danger to her children. She's lobbying the church board to get an "alternate activity" started for her kids and the kids of other parents who supposedly feel the same way.

This whole "make you think" argument has been used before. That one that has you assasinate JFK comes readily to mind, and there are others. This sort of shock-jocking may make you think, but it doesn't make you think constructively. I already have to exercise will power to let them walk out the door some mornings. I don't need this to help with that.

Fedaykin98 wrote:

I don't think people have the consistent morality that you do, Chig. To give an example, I once shoplifted a cassette tape when I was a teenager. I didn't think it was right. I knew it was wrong, and stupid as well. And there are plenty of times now when I'm impatient with my fiancee (or anyone), and I KNOW I'm doing the wrong thing, but I indulge my desire to be a smart@$$ or whatever instead of what I know is the course of greater character.

I meant to say this before, but knowing and feeling can be such different things, can't they?

I may not ahve made this clear in my longer post there, either, but I don't think i really even care much about the indiviuals or playing psychological detective on the two boys. I care about what I can learn about myself and about humanity.

momgamer wrote:

This whole "make you think" argument has been used before. That one that has you assasinate JFK comes readily to mind, and there are others. This sort of shock-jocking may make you think, but it doesn't make you think constructively. I already have to exercise will power to let them walk out the door some mornings. I don't need this to help with that.

I don't think you started this, momgamer, but I think that the diction here has gotten a little fast and loose -- and I think we can all agree that this isn't the kind of subject that merits such sloppy consideration. "Makes you think" is a phrase that gets thrown around a bit and can mean some very good things. If something prompts you to think carefully and constructively, as i try to do with more morally "difficult" works, then I am all in favor of it. On the other hand, some people use the phrase in a way that conlflates thought with words like "fear" and "worry," and those are not at all the same. In my estimation, they're pushing towards opposites.

If I can touch on the subject of "shock value" in art (or, as it's been referenced as part of the "art for art's sake" notion -- though I think they're pretty distinct regardless of the intentionality of the work in question), I believe there is some value to more shocking works like this. That value lies in that this game, and many shocking pieces of art, challenge the player/viewer/reader to go deeper than the shock. To explore what makes it shocking, why and how. I think those are questions that are worth asking.

That said, this title more than any GTA deserves the AO/"Beyond this place there be dragons"/"Abandon all hope, ye who enter here" warning label.

momgamer wrote:

A fifth-grade girl who goes to a private school I know did time in a mental hospital because she expressed a wish that one of her teachers "blow up" while she was out on the playground. She was talking with a friend about Harry Potter and this particular teacher came up in the conversation and she said she wished she'd blow up just like Aunt Marge. You and I know that meant inflate and float away. She was overheard by a playground attendant who thought that meant she wanted to bomb the school and took her straight to the office. From there her parents took her directly to a mental hospital for a two week "evaluation".

FSM, that's crazy! Most of the time I see parents being too EASY on their kids, like when they hear that their kid was picking on someone and say "Oh, not my child!" If I were that parent, I would sit down with my child and ask about the comment.

Every time I hear about anything having to do with kids, I think, "better parenting." The Columbine killers? Better parenting. This crazy case? Better parenting. Do we need video game bans to keep our kids from becoming violent robots? No, better parenting! Am I wrong?

wordsmythe, that's exactly what I'm talking about. Rabbit has expressed his worry for his kids a couple times now in this thread, and that is what I am explicitly addressing. This game isn't promoting real thought for him, but even more worry. Hence it fails that test.

And I think we disagree on the topic of shock value rather sharply. Shock is a state that is diametrically opposed to real thought. That's part of it's definition. And this goes nowhere near exploration of the issues.

Have you played the game. Did you even watch the video? (Rabbit included a handy link in his article) There is no challenge to go deeper, here. You're being led down his twisted little garden path. The artist has already laid it out in the order he wants. He hands his chosen bits of the story to you in Duplo Block sized hunks and makes you stack them together and then makes you feel guilty for being squicked out by the blood dripping off them and running down your wrists as you go. If you stick with him long enough, he throws you through the wall and you land with a brimstone-scented, wheezing chuckle in his puling little Afterlife. It doesn't ask any questions. It's emotional propaganda written in three columns of black and white he's hoping you "red" like a newspaper.

If you want to talk about someone who had the skills to use shock in a constructive fashion, look at Rodin's "She Who Used To Be The Beautiful Heulmarie". It's an amazing composition in and of itself. The masses and the structure are masterfully rendered. And even more importantly, by showing you that naked old lady he makes you think about her and every other old woman you see on the street in a totally new way. It makes a powerful statement about our interior lives and their total lack of relation to our outer shells.

You show me a videogame that does that and we'll talk about shock value in art again.

Fedaykin, this problem has more heads than a hydra. I didn't make it clear in that post but that little girl's parent's didn't have a choice if they wanted her to stay in that school. And even the public schools pull similar stunts. I've been through it twice with my kids. Both times it was due to homework that was taken out of context that meant they had to have a risk assessment by a therapist before they could attend again. Oh, and by the way the parents have to pay for it. They even have the brass plated presumption to call the policies the "Columbine Rules".

How do you define better parenting? Those helicopter parents who know the color and volume of their kid's stools? The ones who try to lock their child away from everything until they might as well live in a box in the basement? Those people who never raise their voice because it would interfere with the little one's self-actualization and kharmic function? The spare the rod and spoil the child types? Can open, worms everywhere.

I would suggest that these sorts of zero-tolerance policies are creating more problems than they are solving, if they are solving any. The percentage of kids who commit deadly violence is so small, I imagine it is dwarfed by the number of kids who are being stigmatized by these ridiculous policies. When does a child who spends two weeks in a mental hospital get over that and realize that there really isn't anything wrong with them, if ever?

One of the most obnoxious things about these policies is that they can't really be proven or disproven. There's no non-event to point to and say "Look what would have occurred five years from now if that eight year-old hadn't been reconditioned to not want to blow up schools!"

Keeping guns away from kids (good parenting! :wink:) and putting metal detectors on schoolhouse doors would do a heck of a lot more. I fear that these policies are driven more by legal CYA then by any clear thinking and desire to keep children safe. Metal detectors and a couple cops per school would do a heck of a lot more to do that.

momgamer wrote:

wordsmythe, that's exactly what I'm talking about. Rabbit has expressed his worry for his kids a couple times now in this thread, and that is what I am explicitly addressing. This game isn't promoting real thought for him, but even more worry. Hence it fails that test.

I want you to know that I largely agree with you here. I don't think that it's the pragram that fails, though. With all respect, I think it's an (initial) error on Rabbit's part. These kinds of things shouldn't be dealt with unless you are ready to struggle your way through them. It's Luke in the cave, except reality is a lot muddier than anything Lucas ever imagined. "Your weapons, you will not need them." (Seriously, check the dialogue in that scene and keep in mind that bildungsroman is all over the place, and caves and forests often symbolize the inner mind/soul/subconscious.)

And I think we disagree on the topic of shock value rather sharply. Shock is a state that is diametrically opposed to real thought. That's part of it's definition. And this goes nowhere near exploration of the issues.

Again you're right and I don't disagree. I think, though, that anything that tries to call itself art necessarily asks to be interpreted and explored on a deeper level, and if it asks that, I feel I owe it the chance to get up to my neck in the stuff before I call it bad.

Have you played the game. Did you even watch the video? (Rabbit included a handy link in his article) There is no challenge to go deeper, here. You're being led down his twisted little garden path. The artist has already laid it out in the order he wants. He hands his chosen bits of the story to you in Duplo Block sized hunks and makes you stack them together and then makes you feel guilty for being squicked out by the blood dripping off them and running down your wrists as you go. If you stick with him long enough, he throws you through the wall and you land with a brimstone-scented, wheezing chuckle in his puling little Afterlife. It doesn't ask any questions. It's emotional propaganda written in three columns of black and white he's hoping you "red" like a newspaper.

I haven't watched the whole video and haven't played the game yet. I haven't said that this particular game is "good" yet, but I'm very hesitant to say that it's not worthwhile.

As for the bias, I think I've become pretty caloused to that kind of thing. Sure, I'll analyze what this tells me about rhetoric, artistic integrity, and the creator's views, but, like watching any national news program, I'll take it with a block of water softener salt.

I'd like to encourage anyone who wants to view the video or play the game to make sure you're ready to ask hard questions of it and of yourself, though. I'm glad we're having this (these?) conversations.

Momgamer, have you explored outside the plot at all? I'm lead to believe there's more going on than is in the movie.

To get the game, the creator suggests searching for "ColumbineRPG.zip" (23Megs) on your favorite file sharing program.

Led to believe this by the soi disant artist who is trying to lend some sort of mythic import to his lurid, palsied fingerpainting, perhaps? or someone trying to justify it and all these shenanigans around it?

I played the game. I have explored. Are you suggesting there's something better in the design somewhere? If there is, please find it and tell me about it. I gave it up roaming around in Hell somewhere. I have no idea how close I was to the end and I don't care. I deleted the thing and I have no interest in ever getting it again.

That's why I've been restricting my comments to what is available in the video. If I am going to talk about this, I want to have some sort of common ground and there are lot more people willing to watch that movie than are willing to even get as far as I did in the game.

I'm curious what questions it brings up for you? The only one I have come away with is, "Why the heck did I ever expose myself to this?"

I want to thank you for this conversation too, wordsmythe. I don't think I would have ever truly plumbed or expressed the depths of my distaste for this thing without your comments for a foil.

Uberstein wrote:

Evil is evil, sick is sick, simple as that. I see no need to try to comprehend it, empathize with it, or try to learn anything from it.

Feydakin wrote:

My thoughts (and perhaps Uber's, but I don't want to speak for him) on Columbine are different. I feel that by seriously studying and trying to understand these guys, we're somehow legitimizing them. By trying to understand the thought process, it's like we're admitting that there was some kind of rational and understandable thought process. It's sort of like how you sometimes say "I won't dignify that with a response" - in some ways, anything other than "Couple of evil whackos" is attributing them too much dignity.

I'm little late for this particular argument, but I think it important to note that acts we could deem evil are only possible through a lack of empathy. To refuse empathy for those that do not have it is a far, far greater level of tolerance and legitimization than seeking to understand their motivations could ever lead to.

momgamer wrote:

I want to thank you for this conversation too, wordsmythe. I don't think I would have ever truly plumbed or expressed the depths of my distaste for this thing without your comments for a foil.

I hope I don't offend you too much if I say that the idea of using me to plumb the depths of your distaste frightens me a little. That aside, I'm always (partly) glad to be of service!

Danjo Olivaw wrote:

To refuse empathy for those that do not have it is a far, far greater level of tolerance and legitimization than seeking to understand their motivations could ever lead to.

Really not sure what you're saying there, man. I'm not trying to be difficult here.

I'd like to thank everyone in this thread for both being honest, and being civil. Given the topic at hand, it could have diverged on both counts.

MomG. I'm deeply conflicted. I won't claim the moral self-strength to say I KNOW what I feel about all this. I just don't. Like I suspect many are, I'm just trying to figure out this awesome responsibility called parenting one day at a time. The anecdotes you present -- the poor girl villified for a childhood comment -- they ring deeply with me. I was certainly a child subject to my own fits of rage and antisocial behavior. It's precisely that dichotomy of *who I was* and *who I want my children to be* that makes me ache. The single hardest part of every day is putting my daughter on the school bus. The single best part meeting her when she gets off, seeing how this day out of my sight has made her healthy, happy, strong and smart.

I should be clear -- I'm not sitting here worrying that my kids are heading off into a world full of monsters. Nor am I particularly worried that my kids will become them. Instead, in some way, I'm angry that I know so much. 1000 years ago, I don't believe there were lesser attrocities being heaped upon the world, upon parents. But I do believe they were more localized. Columbine seems so real because we were all, as a society, there. 1000 years ago, we never would have heard about it. This shrinking of the world has a terrifying "evening out" quality, where local pain becomes less important, and far away pain becomes more.

I don't have all the answers. I'd never claim I do. I understand what I perceive to be your rage at the fact I even brought this up. I understand the rage of those protesting the thing's removal from the competition. Perhaps its this very understanding-of-all-sides that puts me in such an uncomfortable place. I hope I did not try and support any "mythic import" here. I tried to make clear my agonizing fence-sitting, my unforgivable even-handedness in even approaching the topic. I did not start this with the idea of writing about it. Believe me, I would much rather have written about Katamari or Guitar Hero. It's just what happened, and writing once a week, well, that's pretty much what I have to write about.

I hope MomG, we here more from you on not just this, but on all the rest of the topics we chitter about every day.

'cause in the end, it's the "everyday" that builds up what becomes our experience under God's great green umbrella of the soul.

Fedaykin98 wrote:
Danjo Olivaw wrote:

To refuse empathy for those that do not have it is a far, far greater level of tolerance and legitimization than seeking to understand their motivations could ever lead to.

Really not sure what you're saying there, man. I'm not trying to be difficult here.

Sorry. You state that you are worried that by studying what went wrong at Columbine we might be legitimizing their actions. I am saying that is not the case at all, you have no reason to be worried. Evaluating what happened, and saying that those events happened because of factors X, Y, and Z is not the same thing as saying that those events are okay. I agree that we shouldn't be making excuses for them, but a cause is not the same thing as an excuse.

To blindly label the event as the result of insanity or evil, case closed, is an assumption; and as likely erroneous as all assumptions.

We should know all that we can about it and other important events.

Martin Luther King Jr. wrote:

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous
than sincere ignorance
and conscientious stupidity.

wordsmythe wrote:

If I can touch on the subject of "shock value" in art (or, as it's been referenced as part of the "art for art's sake" notion -- though I think they're pretty distinct regardless of the intentionality of the work in question), I believe there is some value to more shocking works like this. That value lies in that this game, and many shocking pieces of art, challenge the player/viewer/reader to go deeper than the shock. To explore what makes it shocking, why and how. I think those are questions that are worth asking.

Emphasis mine. To explore what makes cold blooded murder of innocent children by other children shocking? Does this really require exploration? I don't know. It takes me about a nanosecond to complete my exploration of what makes these events and this particular game shocking.

I guess I've never understood the fascination with "shocking" art or media. As Momgamer mentioned, the state of shock is not exactly a state where rational thought and reasoning takes place easily. Knee-jerk reaction? Maybe. But not rational thought.

The more I look at this subject, the more it seems to me that the author of this 'game' was in fact trying to provoke a shock reaction. This just looks to me like some guy seeking attention by creating something shocking. Honestly, I just can't see the value in it. The only thing it's likely to do is cause even more fear and hysteria among parents when there is already plenty of that available in today's media.

Danjo Olivaw wrote:

To blindly label the event as the result of insanity or evil, case closed, is an assumption; and as likely erroneous as all assumptions.

I think that we're just having some differences of philosophy here. I'm not blindly labelling the events as the result of insanity or evil - I think the events speak for themselves as such. Granted the kids weren't born evil, but I don't know what happened along the way to get them there.

At this point you may be saying that that's exactly what I should be looking for, but I'm guessing - yeah, guessing - that it still won't make sense. A large number of kid (absolutely, not relatively) go through some pretty traumatic stuff, and this never happens. From what I understand, Dylan and Klebold (happy now, people? :wink:) didn't go through anything particularly traumatic.

I also disagree with your comment about empathy. You might be totally right-on about a lack of empathy leading to evil, but I can't identify or vicariously experience the feelings of these guys - and I don't want to. This is where the evil is evil point comes in. We're only human as long as we can't identify with the monstrous. Yes, I can recognize that in all likelihood, their own lives contained tragedy, but when they decided to do what they did they forfeited any pity or empathy.

In my view (and disagree if you like, but it's definitely a well-examined and considered view), it's to our society's great detriment that we distinguish between right and wrong less and less. We punish wrongs less and less. We want to see people held accountable for their actions in any form less and less. This trend is among those that I think will eventually lead to the downfall of our particular society.

Again, that's my opinion. Agree or disagree; we can revisit it in a couple hundred years and see who was right.

Is it really worth all the grief to throw that much effort into making a game based on Columbine? Do we really need Jack Thompson lording over us with an "I told you so" because of this?

Edwin, that's my favorite quote. Made me smile a little while playing this game. Seeing as a good part of me (pun recognized, not originally intended) wanted to cry [***censoring my own spoiler here***].

I think there's some points to be made here. If you've really gotten into Heart of Darkness or Apocalypse Now (thought-wise), you might understand where I'm coming from. Thing is, we're all part monster. Seeing very bad things that we really didn't want to happen is, I think, only part of the shock. The shock builds when you find yourself thinking about how best to kill "church girl." You realize that, in a way, you are able to picture yourself doing these things if you really try to imagine. And yes, I know that you don't want to. "Once you start down the dark path" and all that.

Hard truth: You've already started down it. Some minute fraction of your soul is tainted, if even by a white lie or two. If you stare really hard at that spot, you can feel just a tinge of what you feel when you think about putting yourself behind their triggers.

My point is that if you look past the slap-dash explanation of why this is so shocking, there's a lot more there. Like your soul isn't pristine, theirs weren't black cancer. These boys, like it or not, were human beings like you and I. They felt real human emotions. They even, according to accounts from that day, felt softer things like pity and sadness. They weren't pure monsters and none of us is pure angel, and I think it's important to remember that. That, to me, is a far more shocking thing to confront.

I may add that the game does explicitly point the player towards these thoughts, including running the speech from Apocalypse Now. I'm not just pulling this out of my rear or hoping that the creator meant this.

Another thing the game points out is that it is aware of the history of art theory. Before the game starts, you get a nice quote from Surrealist Andre Breton saying, "The purest surrealist act would be to go into a crowd and fire at random." The Surrealists, like the Dadaists before them, were of the belief that society needed to stop and look around at how messed up it had become. They invented the idea of "freaking out the squares." In a way, this is what the Columbine killers were doing -- regardless of how effective you think it was. But in a less violent way, it's what this game is doing, too.

It's asking us to stop and look at ourselves, and at our society, and think about what's wrong and what could be better. It's asking us to admit that we have our own faults, and that maybe the way we think and interact could be improved. Then maybe we can think of how.

I think that's worthwhile.

Ok, I'll get off my horse now.

Events do not speak for themselves. As far as I know trauma is was not a cause here, so the overcoming of tragedy by others doesn't really say anything about this situation.

Empathy as pity is not exactly what I'm looking for. Empathy doesn't always have to go so far as to vicariously share feelings. Just realizing that everyone you meet is a human being like yourself is enough. That's the crucial part of growing up these two didn't get, or didn't get fast enough. They were capable of monstrous actions because they did not see others with empathy, that is why can not afford to do the same to them, or anyone.

I refuse to forfeit them their humanity. No one can do that. They are simply an example of how badly a human can turn out. We need to know why, if only so that future catastrophes can be averted.

Society's shifting desire for accountability really has nothing to do with this case, as they can not be held accountable at all.

Well put, Danjo.

I may add that I think that refusing to see them as fellow human beings exemplifies, to a lesser extent, the same fault that was at the fore that day at Columbine.

Sorry to come late to the conversation, excellent thoughts from all sides.

I chalk this subject up as one of those "sick fascinations," and we all have such fascinations. We call them sick because our society and ourselves have marked those subjects off-limits, but life is beyond morals and laws. We must live in the world therefore we must understand it, not blindly let the rest of society take care of everything outside of these boundaries. The police officers in Columbine certainly didn't have the option to ignore this event. There is nothing under the sun that humans were not meant to endure.

This developer, Danny Ledonne, just might take what he's learned from this game and come back with a true work of art. You never know about these things.

I don't see anywhere in Fed's post where he denies Dylan and Klebold their humanity. I see where he denies them his empathy or pity. This whole discussion seems to be about whether or not we should try to understand these kids. Whether or not we should try to empathize with their actions, to put ourselves in their shoes. That seems to be what folks are arguing this game tries to help one do.

I apologize if I sound like a broken record. Evil like this is not deserving of understanding, it's not deserving of pity. There are so many people out there in the world that are deserving of understanding, empathy and pity. As Fedaykin said, I have no desire to empathize with that which is monstrous. In fact I refuse to do so.

Wordsmythe mentioned that this game can help make one realize that one's soul isn't pristine. Ummm. Was anyone here really under the misapprehension that their soul was even close to pristine? See, that's what I'm getting at here, I guess. I don't see where this game helps move anyone towards any conclusions about life that weren't already pretty obvious. These boys were human like you and I. I get that. We're all flawed. Obviously.

That still doesn't mean I have to feel sad empathetic kinds of emotions for them. I feel sad for the families of those whose lives were brutally taken by these two monsters.

I'll save my empathy for those whose situations fall under the headings of tragic and unfortunate, not evil.

Danjo Olivaw wrote:

I refuse to forfeit them their humanity. No one can do that. They are simply an example of how badly a human can turn out. We need to know why, if only so that future catastrophes can be averted.

Society's shifting desire for accountability really has nothing to do with this case, as they can not be held accountable at all.

I think we've got a partial disagreement in terms and a partial real disagreement. I'm working with a stricter definition of empathy (I looked it up before that post, just to be precise). I know they were human, and that they were examples of how badly humans can turn out. I just believe that at a certain point, a person has done something as unforgiveable as this and is past deserving pity, past consideration. Christianity would definitely disagree with me - that's the real disagreement. We had a thread recently where someone called for understanding towards child molesters. I disagreed. At the point that you commit veritable atrocities against innocent people, you've thrown away any claim to pity or claims of your own prior victimization.

As far as holding people accountable, I'm not just talking about legally, what have you. I'm talking about making excuses for bad behavior (or atrocious behavior, in this case). One can get to a point (and I'm not saying anyone here is - I definitely don't think so) of "understanding" "why" someone did something like this to where you feel like you can hardly blame them, as if their actions were the inevitable result of events beyond their control. The fact is, almost no one does anything this bad. Actions - CHOICES - define us. Yes, we all have tainted souls, we're all capable of evil, but embracing it to this degree is an aberration, not the kind of event that makes me think "Well, it could have happened to anybody."

And again, disagree if you like. I've given it some thought.

Well said, Fedaykin. Every time you post something, you say all the things I mean to say but then get lost in my addled confused brain as I'm attempting to form a coherent paragraph.

Obviously the game has some worth if its inspired this depth of debate.