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

So I played the whole thing last night and went to bed depressed, like I knew I would. Aside from my burning desire to explicate the less journalistic aspects of the game (particularly the way he handles Hell), I've done a lot of thinking (meditating, praying, staring at walls for extended periods of time).

I've got a lot more thinking to do.

I personally lack the parental viewpoint on this. I lack my youthful belief in absolutes. What I do have is my memories of high school.

I was part of this group of kids at a high school deemed most like Columbine in the US. The one thing that kept coming back to me through this all was the memory of conversations with kids who wanted to do this before April 20 ever rolled around. What they needed was someone they felt they could trust, with an open heart and an eager ear. Deny them sympathy if you have to, but please don't deny them empathy. That's not what kids or anyone else in the world needs.

wordsmythe wrote:

I was part of this group of kids at a high school deemed most like Columbine in the US. The one thing that kept coming back to me through this all was the memory of conversations with kids who wanted to do this before April 20 ever rolled around. What they needed was someone they felt they could trust, with an open heart and an eager ear. Deny them sympathy if you have to, but please don't deny them empathy. That's not what kids or anyone else in the world needs.

I think this shows where the disconnect seems to be. For those of you who would deny them empathy or understanding, at what point do you deny them? The obvious point would be when they pulled the trigger. Say you had, through some quirk of fate, met these boys and ended up in a conversation where they told you of their desires and doubts before anything happened. Would they be worthy of your empathy and understanding at this point? Having not yet committed any atrocities, are they so inhuman?

They are worthy of understanding, even without empathy, if only so that you can provide empathy for those who have not yet committed any heinous acts, and by doing so, prevent them.

Well said, Bill. You more or less took the words out of my mouth after reading wordsmythe's post. I think you've also demonstrated that a large number of disagreements on GWJ are really just temporary difficulties in communication.

Jolly Bill wrote:

They are worth of understanding, even without empathy, if only so that you can provide empathy for those who have not yet committed any heinous acts, and by doing so, prevent them.

Are you saying it's nobler in the mind to take arms against a sea of troubles? Why do I see Shakespeare everywhere I look?

wordsmythe wrote:
Jolly Bill wrote:

They are worth of understanding, even without empathy, if only so that you can provide empathy for those who have not yet committed any heinous acts, and by doing so, prevent them.

Are you saying it's nobler in the mind to take arms against a sea of troubles? Why do I see Shakespeare everywhere I look?

What a piece of work is wordsmythe...

Jolly Bill wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:
Jolly Bill wrote:

They are worth of understanding, even without empathy, if only so that you can provide empathy for those who have not yet committed any heinous acts, and by doing so, prevent them.

Are you saying it's nobler in the mind to take arms against a sea of troubles? Why do I see Shakespeare everywhere I look?

What a piece of work is wordsmythe...

  • ...How noble in reason! how infinite in /
    faculties! in form and moving, how express and /
    admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension, /
    how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of /
    animals!
  • Man delights not me; but women sure do. Giggity.

Before the act? Absolutely. At that point I would try to empathize and understand if only to try to prevent something like this from ever happening.

There's a line, and that's pretty much where I draw it.

You guys rock. I've kind of said all I have to say... I don't mean that in some passive aggressive "I'm outta heah" kinda way. Just I'm not sure what else I can say. But reading all this -- both sides, if there really are two -- makes me just feel better that there are thinking rational human beings out there willing to see all different sides of the damn thing.

Yeah I enjoyed this discussion, I seriously did. I've lurked other forums where something like this would have gotten way out of hand.

I love this community.

Uberstein wrote:

I love this community.

I don't mind agreeing with that.

"What the world needs now
Is love, sweet love"

Aww shucks, guys! Group hug!

Butt pat.

Crotch slap.

Uneasy sidewise glance.

Awwwkkkwwaaarrddddd....

Seriously, I just got back here and came in and it looks like all is sort of said and done. My ^%$)(&@ DSL still doesn't work at the house and it's cutting into both my gaming and work time.

Rabbit, please understand I'm not at all mad because you brought this up and I'm so sorry if that is what has come across. Please continue to bring this stuff up. People don't think about stuff like this (until it splats down right on their lap). The average Goodjer is just at that age/lifepoint where starting to do so would do the most good.

What you're probably seeing as "my rage" has to do with this screwed up world and what kids are going through all around us. Your kids are pretty little as I recall. Wait until you start getting toward the teenage years and you start really getting exposed to the sheer stupidity around them. To me it's a testament to the basic goodness in every human being born and strong evidence of a gifting God there isn't more of this going on every day.

And things like this game don't make it better. The people who really need to see this and think about how it affects their life won't. They'll see a blurb between two soundbytes on their news station. Tops. They'll get fed about 30 seconds of alarmist lies and half-truths about this game and the Columbine shootings. It'll be one more random data point that makes them continue to support specious nonsense like the zero tolerance policies in schools and game carding laws as if they do anything useful rather than looking for something that really helps prevent this sort of thing and spending the effort to do it. Just take a look around you and see how many people still blame the shootings on the games Doom and Quake.

It makes me so mad because it doesn't have to be this way. Kids are not that farkin' complex, people. But I've got up on that soapbox more than a few times, too.

I'm not sure you want to be taking parenting advice from me. We've had our share of serious problems at my house. We're far more like the Addams Family than the Waltons. But we get through and while we're not done quite yet I can honestly say that looking back over the last six months I've felt better about us as a family than I ever have before. To counteract the ample evidence that I completely suck as a parent, I can see the work and effort we have all put into our family paying off as they start going their own adult ways.

momgamer wrote:

Rabbit, please understand I'm not at all mad because you brought this up and I'm so sorry if that is what has come across.

Not at all momgamer. I didn't get any sense you were getting angry at me or anyone else here, so it's all good.