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What We Owe the Columbine RPG 66

Posted by Zonk
from the games-as-art-as-games dept.
Gamaustra's Soapbox this week touches on the lessons learned from Slamgate and the Super Columbine Massacre RPG!. Author Patrick Dugan explores the ways in which SCMRPG challenged the media and gamers alike to think about what the medium of games is all about. Covered by everyone from Newsweek to Game Informer, it opened the eyes of non-gamers to the possibilities of the format and forced gamers to rethink their assumptions. "Game Informer's benchmark of game-specialized print journalism may very well inspire other major publications to follow suit with their own coverage, and in the capacity of Game Informer's readership, paints a symbol of solidarity. The twelve year old kid who thinks Gears of War is the best thing going can take a look at these graphics, popular before his birth, and get a sense that his beloved past-time is part of something greater, something he can defend to non-gamers as being inherently valuable." This issue is also explored in the final part of N'Gai Croal's interview with Jamil Moledina, which we talked about last week.
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What We Owe the Columbine RPG

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  • "Welcome to the new online gaming sensation, "Subjugation!" As leader of a team of unsullied white merchants, you will work to maintain the status quo on your plantations. By utilizing tools as whippings and the occasional draw-and-quarter, you will strive to keep your cotton production up, and your workers underfoot. Be the first in your virtual area to stomp down on the evil menace of literacy! Design your transit system with appropriate "back-of-the-bus" rules! And how will you respond when you catch you
    • by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @01:57PM (#18335725) Homepage Journal
      I can tell you didn't actually play the Columbine RPG. The game was packed with enough info to make a Biography for both of the boys, not to mention exploration into what made them do what they do and why they felt the way they did. It was pretty interesting for someone who got tired of the original media frenzy pretty quickly and tuned out.
      • by sumdumass (711423) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @02:13PM (#18335961) Journal
        Well, Im played the game and I will tell you it doesn't have the effect most people think. It still keeps a sence of morality, senclessness of the ordeal and ends with a poetic justice.

        I does present what was going on in the minds of the killers but it doesn't justfy it. It shows them with their feelings hurt but doesn't gain sympathy for them. It makes them look like a couple crying punks. You start buy trying to sneek in and plant some bombs. Then after they fail to go off, you just kill people going from room to room untill you look out a library window. The killing quickly becomes borring and you think there is a point to it but later get let down hard. Then it asks you if you want to goto the next level. If you do, one of the boys kill the other and then kills themself. It shows them lifeless, bloody, and leaves you with the distinct vision of death isn't a do over.

        After all that, you proceed to what appears to be hell with doom like charectors comming after you. You lost most your weapons that made you so incincable in the real world and now suffer death quite often. I have played it many times and you quickly get to a point were it is too hard to go any further unless you run around like a scared little bitch but it doesn't help. There doesn't seem to be a way out of hell!

        Now, I'm sure it will leave different impresions on different people. But my impresion is that it show how stupid killing everyone was. How dumb killing your self was, and in the end, how it hurt you just as much as everyone else.

        I suggest everyone play it.
        • by jandrese (485)
          The part in hell (did you see the island of lost souls? I'm guessing not) is interesting. If you don't basically clean out the school (which is a level grind, no doubt about it), you'll get your butt kicked in hell. But if you do kill most of the students in the school you will be able to hold your own against the demons in hell (I guess it makes you evil enough) and eventually you'll talk to some of the dead philosophers and thinkers that the boys agreed with. Eventually you even fight the devil himsel
    • by shoor (33382)
      Actually, Ithink you may be on to something. I didn't RTF but the idea of putting people into a
      historical situation of one group abusing another group might have some merit. Something that
      smacks of the Milgram Experiment. The question is, would it harden people into becoming dominators
      or make them more acutely aware to the manipulations of the power elite on them?
    • SimPlantation, I'd play it.

      If you've played X:Total War you've already commanded slave soldiers.
    • Design your transit system with appropriate "back-of-the-bus" rules!

      Buses? In my Colonial Times?

      Apparently, it's more likely than I think.
  • If you have to try that hard to 'explain' something then it's clearly not the population at large that dont get it, someone is just reading way too much into their play time.
    • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @01:09PM (#18334847) Journal

      In my younger days I volunteerd at a local television station as a cameraman. It was fun to do, going out to events and make reports. Part of it was to report on art events, local stuff so for instance the art students giving a show. God what a load of crap that was.

      Being a cameraman is a great way to see things without actually having to show any interest. You get into places you normally never would go into and can "stare" as much as you want without anybody coming up to you and asking for an opinion.

      What struck me most was how disconnected these people were from real life, taking their art WAY to seriously. You can use your art to send a message but if you think a piece of performance art is going to chance the world you need to get out more.

      This game is a game that uses an event for shock value. Using such stuff is an easy way to rouse emotions. It is simple really, if I need to show that someone is baddy I have them kill someone, a male if they are just a little bit bad, blonde female if they are bad and a brunette if they are truly evil. You do NOT kill redheads.

      So a lot of movies use this trick because it is the easiest way of showing that the baddie is the bad guy. You could use story elements to show that, but hey, that takes time and the audience has a 5 second attention span.

      Therefore I don't consider this game to be art, it is a simple exploitation game, perhaps a new angle for games but we already know it all to well from the movies.

      It is a simple formula, examine what is keep society busy, use that as your maintheme and make sure to emphasize the controversy as much as possible.Is that art? Well perhaps but that don't make it special.

      This game is nothing more then any of those movies with taglines like "too shocking for tv", "the story they didn't want you to see", etc etc.

      Am I saying games should NOT use subjects such as this? Not at all, go righ ahead and make all the exploitation games you want, it is not new. Remember GTA Hot Coffee? Tell me that is not a black exploitation game.

      Just don't expect me to give you any special credit. All games are art in the same that movies and books and painting and photos and etc etc are art. They are somebodies form of expresion and you get to experience it.

      But using shock value doesn't make it any better.

      If you have not been moved by a single game before this game I would suggest you have either been playing the wrong games OR lack empathic capabilities.

      On the other hand, I am increasingly worried that games are dumbing down to satisfy puritans. NWN2 and its lack of the chainmail bikini is an excellent example. I don't mind exploitation movies and I don't mind PG movies made by disney, but there should be a nice middle ground were adults can simple play games made for adults and not constantly have to worry that some 12 yr old might see a nipple. Or god forbid a Wii.

      • Very insightful Post. Thank you.

          as to this phrase "You could use story elements to show that, but hey, that takes time and the audience has a 5 second attention span." all I have to say is..

        {opens browser to new page...}
      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        So a lot of movies use this trick because it is the easiest way of showing that the baddie is the bad guy

        A lot of everybody uses the trick. A lot of the people who use the trick take it to the next level, demonization. They go out of their way to make sure that the bad guy is as disgusting and bad as possible, not only does he murder people, he's a drug dealer, child rapist, and a jaywalker. God forbid someone ever get just that nagging feeling that the "bad guy" isn't really bad at all, perhaps he's bee
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by nuzak (959558)
        > NWN2 and its lack of the chainmail bikini is an excellent example.

        Not using the same idiotic juvenile cliche that's been in virtually every other CRPG is hardly the apogee of puritanism.

        It is annoying though that the unarmored models in most CRPG's always has some kind of underwear. I always wanted to play one of my favorite D&D characters (under some custom rules), namely a barbarian character that wore woad. And nothing but.
        • by Yuan-Lung (582630)
          It is annoying though that the unarmored models in most CRPG's always has some kind of underwear. I always wanted to play one of my favorite D&D characters (under some custom rules), namely a barbarian character that wore woad. And nothing but.


          Maybe you are looking for this [ign.com]?
  • Gamaustra's/blockquote.

    Four whole letters before an editor mistake.

    I think we have a new Slashdot record!
  • Ugh... The Gamasutra article starts with a quote, apparently from the creator of this game, claiming to be the world's second most famous game designer, and gets worse, spiraling into a narcissistic look-at-me diatribe about what an important cultural phenom this "work" is.

    Nothing but a self-aggrandizing piece of tripe. Sorry, but I wasn't even able to make it to pages 2 and 3. Someone else will have to read the rest of the article. I can't believe this was actually published on Gamasutra. The intervie
    • by C0R1D4N (970153)
      Well he is the world's most famous game designer, the first is of course...Derek Smart.

      Oh wait that's infamous aint it?
    • From TFA:

      "It's weird being a "celebrity;" I get autograph requests and death threats... all for an 8-bit videogame."

      -Danny Ledonne, possibly the second most famous game creator on Earth.
      The end portion, "-Danny Ledonne, possibly the second most famous game creator on Earth." is not a part of the original quote, it is the place where the quote is attributed to somebody. It is the author of the article who wrote it, not Ledonne.
      • by Dutch Gun (899105)
        Thanks for the clarification - I stand corrected.

        Still - assigning that moniker to Ledonne is the height of chutzpah, when there are so many talented game creators out there who just quietly make great products for everyone to enjoy. I'm a professional game developer, and so maybe it irks me more than most, but I've never heard of this game or the creator before. It's just that the author is using Gamasutra as a soapbox for self-promotion, oh-so-cleverly masked by promotion of his "discovery" by proxy and
    • The ratio of crap to good articles IMHO has become alarming of late and I've really started to loose respect for the staff given their poor editorial decisions. It's a shame really.
  • "The twelve year old kid who thinks Gears of War is the best thing going can take a look at these graphics, popular before his birth, and get a sense that his beloved past-time is part of something greater, something he can defend to non-gamers as being inherently valuable."

    Inherently valuable? What does the game media provide to this story that a book, movie, or news report does not? Nothing, except the ability to become numbed by it.

    "When it came time to pull the trigger, she felt demonstrable remorse f
    • Hey, we could end all violence in the world if we just let everyone kill whoever they wanted to at any time. Eventually, everyone would get bored of killing and go to the library. Well, if they could make their way over the piles of rotting corpses in the streets.
      • If you read wikipedia's description [wikipedia.org] of the shootings it sounds like even Eric and Dylan got tired of shooting people. "At this point, several witnesses heard Harris and Klebold comment on how they no longer found a thrill in shooting their victims."
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Aim Here (765712)
      "The repetition lessoned the humanity of the action, until she reported feeling like she wasn't killing people but simply scoring points in a game. Eventually she got bored, went to the library, and "ended" the game. "

      "Yes, she got so numb that killing people bored her. Oh yeah, way to go!"

      What's your problem with that? Isn't it a Good Thing that the murders in Super Columbine Massacre aren't portrayed as fun, the way murder is in every other computer game out there? I suppose you prefer games where you're
    • by sumdumass (711423)
      I think this is a point if the game. It shows how pointless killing people like this is. And after all the killing? yo goto th libvrary to end the game but it doesn't stop there. It shows you how they ended the real game. Then it puts you in a position that you cannot win from. can someone say hell?
  • In Poor Taste... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nick_davison (217681) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @01:29PM (#18335181)
    It's worth remembering some of the other things humanity's put out in poor taste...

    In 1612, there was the righteous outrage at questioning whether God's creation, the Earth, was truly the center of the universe. This was much worse than poor taste or glorifying killing... This was going against God's will and outright seeking damnation. To quote from Wikipedia [wikipedia.org], "In 1614, from the pulpit of Santa Maria Novella, Father Tommaso Caccini (1574-1648) denounced Galileo's opinions on the motion of the Earth, judging them dangerous and close to heresy."

    Also in poor taste, a self absorbed director made a movie that was little more than a pretext for ridiculing the life of one of America's most influential people - William Randolph Hearst. There was a massive media backlash against it, the film was a failure in the box office and it pretty much destroyed the career of the director. SCMRPG has nothing on the backlash against this "poor taste" project that tried to pass itself off as art. Of course, today we know it as Citizen Kane, arguably the greatest movie ever made.

    Then there was the disgusting picture of Kim Phuc Phan Thi, a burned, naked child in Vietnam. How on earth could we ever describe a picture showing a child burned by napalm as anything other than in poor taste and utterly without merit on artistic grounds? In this case, it went on to be one of the most powerful photographs of the 20th century. wikipedia [wikipedia.org]

    Time and again, we dismiss anything that makes us uncomfortable. Apparent attacks on powerful people, pictures of burning children, questions about our world's place in the universe. All of these have made us uncomfortable. All of these have been condemned as being in poor taste. It's usually only with the benefit of detachment that we realise that very discomfort they cause is where their value lies.

    SCMRPG may be a lousy game. It may have many elements of terribly poor taste to it. But, if it makes us think and question even a little - be it about the massacre, how the massacre has been portrayed in the media, or even what we consider acceptable in an emerging media - then it has value. It's that kernel of value, even if in terribly poor taste, that the founding fathers recognized as so utterly important that they protected it in the first ammendment.

    Ideas don't have to be good. They don't have to be well phrased. They don't have to perfectly encapsulate the idea. They simply have to be free to exist, to be judged for their own merits, for us to have a society raised up by daring to think rather than held back by censorship of anything that the majority doesn't find acceptable from their first gut reaction.
    • by nuzak (959558)
      If Citizen Kane was filmed in a garage with a cast entirely under the age of 16 whining about how their mom is suppressing their artistic style, then maybe it would have some parallel to the Columbine game. If someone made a flash game where you got to napalm a bunch of Kim Phuc Phan This, that might also be in the same league.

      Making a bad game in poor taste then demanding the world respect you for only that might be a sort of performance art, but it doesn't give the game any merit.
      • If Citizen Kane was filmed in [a garage] with a [cast entirely under the age of 16] whining about how [their mom] is suppressing their artistic style, then maybe it would have some parallel to the Columbine game.

        Citizen Kane was filmed in [RKO's lot] with a [director who was the equivalent of a 16 year old*] whining** about how [the media**/RKO execs***] was suppressing their artistic style.

        *Filming took place between June 29 and October 23, 1940. Welles, born on May 6, 1915, had barely turned 25. For the f
    • by gmezero (4448)
      But to counter one of your examples, I don't think the photographer of that Vietnamese kid when around whoring his picture to everyone that it was the best picture ever and deserving of high-art consideration.
    • by kamapuaa (555446)
      Get a sense of proportion. This is an attention-whoring indie video game. Kernel of truth? It's the equivalent of writing "fuck" on the wall. The video game equivalent of porn - it's offensive, and appeals to nothing more than the purient interests. You compare it to the Western Canon, it's hilarious!

      While I don't think it should be censored, big deal if it it. The only relevance is what it says about the US as a whole - its capacity for letting offensive juvenile shit to get a free pass, in the se

    • by Bios_Hakr (68586)
      Making the game wasn't the statement. Killing their classmates was the statement. That game just forces people to see it as such.

      High school violence was largely ignored prior to Columbine. When I was a kid, jocks roughed up nerds all the time. It was a way of life. Most nerds never fought back.

      Columbine should have forced teachers to address the issues that make people feel the need to shoot each other. Why were jocks allowed to torment? Why did they feel that the only answer was to shoot? Instead,
    • by VagueX (1047440)
      (Sees the American flag waiving behind nick_davison while the national anthem is playing) I don't think anyone is arguing that he shouldn't be able create and show it. I think he's just another person that is capitalizing on a tragic event and the suffering of other people. The only difference in this case is the form he's presenting it under, i.e., a game. From playing it and reading what he says, I don't see any "hihger value" shining through. He's just an opertunist, one of many. A comparison of th
  • Missed the point (Score:3, Insightful)

    by omnilynx (961400) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @01:34PM (#18335267)
    The article pretty much missed the point, here. First of all, the game was crappy. Horrible graphics, even for 'retro', a story that managed to be both simplistic and nonsensical, and bad gameplay. It was worthless as a game or art. However, it showed that games are a form of free speech, as well. Games are limited and lambasted in a way that other media would be shocked at. Far more depraved, gratuitously explicit stuff is shown every day on TV and in theaters than all but the most mature games, but games receive a lion's share of the blame for real-life violence and degeneracy. This game is a first strike back at that. And I like that trend, despite my contempt for the game itself. It's time for games to treat real subjects in a mature manner (by mature here I mean in depth, not necessarily in explicitness).
    • by gmezero (4448)
      Right, but it really needs to be a better game if it's going to carry that burden. I mean, this is like if I took a picture of a pile of human feces on the ground and called it "Columbine Fight or Flight", and touted it as a statement about the visceral fear inherent to the crises... it might be art. But it still a photo of a pile of shit.
    • by westlake (615356)
      Games are limited and lambasted in a way that other media would be shocked at. Far more depraved, gratuitously explicit stuff is shown every day on TV and in theaters than all but the most mature games, but games receive a lion's share of the blame for real-life violence and degeneracy.

      The typical movie runs ninety minutes and is seen from both a physical and psychological distance.

      The movies, like all theater, began as a social experience, not a solo viewing. That is not irrelevant when you are trying t

  • Opinions on the game itself aside, the ONLY thing we "owe" to it is exposing the idiots behind the "festival".

    Like those they pretend to hate, the organizers of "arts festivals" are often in bed with large corporations.
  • Artists (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Applekid (993327)
    They're called "starving artists" for a reason. If you want to be an artiste , and you're going to rely on shock and things that people find distasteful to gain audience or instill emotion, then don't be surprised you're not going to get wonderful accolades and prizes and financial benefits.

    You're... not just in it for accolades, prizes, and free swag, right? Not for interview time to push an agenda, right? You did it because you had a message to get out.

    How you produce and handle backlash over this sort o
    • by Snowmit (704081)
      You're... not just in it for accolades, prizes, and free swag, right? Not for interview time to push an agenda, right? You did it because you had a message to get out.

      Err, having an agenda IS having a message to get out.
  • He described an example of a newscast in which the reporter was explicitly equivocating games with drugs and tobacco.
    I think the word he's looking for is "equating."

    Danny Ledonne, possibly the second most famous game creator on Earth
    Really? I've heard of SCMRPG, but not Ledonne. Some game designers that I can name: Will Wright, Shigeru Miyamoto, Sid Meyer, Peter Molyneux.

    Does Gamasutra have editors? Yeesh.

    SCMRPG is an interesting idea, but I think it makes for a better conversation piece than anything else. That's fine and all, but a real work of art should be able to stand on its own. I'm not sure SCMRPG does that, and I think it's gotten so big because of its subject matter, not because it's really well-designed. I admit I haven't played it. I play games partly because they're a form of art but mainly because they're fun, and if a game is designed to be sickening instead of enjoyable, it's not worth my time. In this way, games are different from books, movies, etc. If it's not fun, it's a simulation, not a game. And I have no interest in a school shooting simulator. I'm not saying that SCMRPG is evil, but I don't think it's a really great idea either. I am glad that it's gotten people talking, but I don't think that that means SCMRPG a really great game or even worth my time.

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