Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Be Men, Not Destroyers

Kieron Gillen | 27 Feb 2007 07:00
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You suspect that if Danny Ledonne knew what the fallout would be from uploading his 23 MB RPG Maker-constructed game to his website in 2005 ... well, he'd have just gone ahead and done it anyway. You don't make a game called Super Columbine Massacre RPG! if you're that worried about getting attention.

In literate circles, it's probably the most controversial game of recent years. To mention it is to beget an argument. In the mainstream, despite some sporadic coverage, it's barely a blip for a variety of obvious reasons. As an indie game, it's not popular. As a freeware game, there's no money to be had from ambulance-chasing lawyers. But where a game as castigated as Bully was generally defended by gamers who knew the mass media was misunderstanding a game built on a sound premise, SCMRPG doesn't have it that easy. It's constructed in a primitive videogame engine, taking the form of an old-school RPG. Its subject matter remains a highly charged issue. It's widely rejected on either the charge of bad taste or bad craft, often both.

Well over a year after its initial release, it's still being talked about, growing ever more infamous. Its notoriety reached a peak as 2006 turned into 2007, when it was forcibly ejected from the Slamdance Guerrilla Gamemaker Competition, after being selected for the shortlist of finalists by the panel. This precipitated a walkout of a sizeable proportion of other contestants - an act of solidarity.

With so many issues, it's difficult to know what to think about Super Columbine Massacre RPG!

Let's see if we can do anything about that.

Is there any place for a subject like this in a videogame?
There's a mass of films and books on Columbine, whether directly about the events or exploring it through thinly veiled analogues. Why is one cultural form allowed to comment on a tragedy and another one not? It's clear by the strength of the reaction that the mere idea of a game that places you in the shoes of murderers provokes powerful emotions.

The outrage comes from a couple places. First, games are for children. Ergo, a game of a serious event must, by its very nature, trivialize it. More sophisticated positions argue that it's the act of becoming Klebold and Harris, the perpetrators of the massacre, glamorizes what they did. A book doesn't ask you to pull the trigger and make you complicit. The former argument can be rejected by simply restating the truism that not all games are for kids. The latter argument makes the assumption that if you're pulling the trigger, you'll find it enjoyable. In actual fact, this is simply untrue. SCMRPG is as uncomfortable as gaming gets.

In regard to Columbine, I'd actually argue to the contrary on games' suitability. In fact, the computer game may be the most appropriate medium to explore the situation. After all, it was the pair's favored one. The music cited as influential on Harris and Klebold are cult, peripheral acts. Doom, which Harris even made levels in, was absolutely mainstream for the form. While game creators have no direct responsibility - like all creators - it's entirely natural for them to try and examine why they actually had this worm in their apple.

I'm clearly never going to play the bloody game. What actually happens in it?
It's basically divided into two sections. The first half of the game, opening with the art theorist Andre Breton quote, "The purest surrealistic act would be to go into a crowd and fire at random," retraces Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold's final morning. One calls the other; they meet up; they record a final video. They place two homemade propane bombs in a canteen and set the timer for lunch, then retire to the hill overlooking the school and wait for the bombs to go off.

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