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Games Entertainment

What We Owe the Columbine RPG 66

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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  • by Petersko ( 564140 ) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @12:44PM (#18334395)
    "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 your daughter with a worker? Only you will know!"

    Now I could claim that such a game is "art", but is it really? Maybe, maybe not. Personally I think shock for its own sake isn't enough. Would the game be a success if it didn't have the name Columbine stuffed in the title? If not, then I would submit it's riding shock value alone.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Re:Oh oh oh! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by voice_of_all_reason ( 926702 ) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @01:41PM (#18335403)
    As for the latter, likely so when the terrorist fad passes. Look at previous "cowardly tactics" that likely have games which focus on them prior to their acceptance as legitimate tactics:

    Musketry (Late middle ages)
    Cannons (Later middle ages)
    Landmines (sometime around here)
    Guerilla warfare (revolutionary war)
    Remote artillery fire (Late 19th century)
    Machine guns (Early 20th century)
    Air strikes (World War 2)

    I'm sure if you went to a British noble in 1780 and suggested that eventually his descendants would be roleplaying soldiers hiding in alcoves and ambushing the enemy, he would be appalled at what you were doing to the gentlemanly pursuit of war.
  • Artists (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Applekid ( 993327 ) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @01:46PM (#18335515)
    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 of thing is, I'll say, what separates the men from the boys.
  • by nuzak ( 959558 ) on Tuesday March 13, 2007 @01:52PM (#18335635) Journal
    > 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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