Video Games

Gaming for Columbine

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reason contributor Henry Jenkins has posted a three-part interview [1, 2, 3] with Danny Ledonne, the creator of the controversial Columbine video game Super Columbine Massacre RPG! The whole thing is worth reading; I'll quote just one of Ledonne's comments:

The controversy around SCMRPG is largely one of the subject matter and not its execution. Only when I give talks at game design schools am I taken to task for my design choices. For example, the Associated Press, Christian Science Monitor, or Parents Television Council were not complaining with:

"Why did you hide a book in the upstairs classroom that you need to complete the last part of the game? I had to start over!"

"The hallway is really hard to sneak through. I couldn't even tell those were security cameras until my friend showed me!"

"The graphics suck, noob."

Instead, the mainstream press attacked the very notion that a game like SCMRPG could exist! Heavens, we can have a film or book or magazine article about Columbine but a VIDEO GAME? This was the tone of much of the initial reporting.

The newshook for the interview is Ledonne's film Playing Columbine, a documentary about the controversy. I haven't seen the movie. Nor, for that matter, have I played the game: It's only available for Windows and I use a Mac. But those of you with the appropriate OS can download the game for free and decide for yourself whether it's exploitative trash, a compelling work of art, or an ambitious artistic failure.

More from Reason: Nick Gillespie reacted to the Columbine shootings here, and I reacted to the media reaction here. Brian Doherty reviewed Bowling for Columbine here, and I reviewed it here.

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  1. Also, the trigger interface makes it hard to confirm kills on running freshmen–teh suxor!!1!

  2. If we allow games like this to be made, then the ghouls will eventually want to dig up the bodies and eat the decaying flesh.

  3. Dam it….I have vista….shitty

  4. “If we allow games like this to be made, then the ghouls will eventually want to dig up the bodies and eat the decaying flesh.”

    This is pure slippery slope. Q*bert has been around for 25 years and you don’t see anybody dying their bodies orange, indulging in major rhinoplasty and hopping around on pyramidal snakepits in space.

  5. An argument in favor of considering video games as legitimate vehicles for artistic expression is Ledonne’s Artist Statement, which is masturbatory, self-involved pomo pseduointellectualism, just like most other “artist’s statements”.

    I don’t think the game’s exploitative, because other he would have charged money. I think the game is tacky and that the “artist statement” is an Ivory-Tower-esque ex post justification for Ledonne’s “Everybody look at me!” attitude.

  6. This does seem to be in rather bad taste.

  7. decide for yourself whether it’s exploitative trash, a compelling work of art, or an ambitious artistic failure.

    I’ll go with “This Guy is Just a Dick” for $800, Alex.

  8. Maybe this is the reflexive conservative in me, but, no, I don’t consider video games “valid forms of artistic expression and exploration of societal issues” because they’re supposed to be fun…and who the hell thinks getting preached at is fun?

    Regardless, Ledonne would have a much better argument for “video games as artistic expression” if he hadn’t named his game that ridiculous and tacky title.

    I know that reason worships irreverence, but adults know when it’s appropriate to express solemnity.

  9. SLD, but good taste fail.

  10. This guy is a major douche. He has been around for years, trumping up outrage over this “game”. He has no discernible talent, the game sucks, and his “artistic statement” is self-aggrandizing bullshit.

  11. Congratulations, Danny Ledonne, you’ve just been nominated for Biggest Douche in the Universe!

  12. Maybe this is the reflexive conservative in me, but, no, I don’t consider video games “valid forms of artistic expression and exploration of societal issues” because they’re supposed to be fun…and who the hell thinks getting preached at is fun?

    But you could say the same thing about movies or books (at least fiction). They’re supposed to be entertaining, but they can also have a deeper meaning. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is an enjoyable book to read, but it still has a lot of meaning and moral. What about South Park, which is funny and also has a point? Things with meaning don’t have to be as turgid and difficult to read as Ulysses.

    You can do the same with video games. The Civilization series (until 4) teaches you that Democracy is great if you want to get rich, but you’d better bail on it if you want to start a war. Oregon Trail is interesting, educational and a lot of fun. BioShock explores some interesting moral questions. Just because something is a game, or even fun, doesn’t mean it can’t have depth. It’s not all Pac-Man.

  13. “and his ‘artistic statement’ is self-aggrandizing bullshit.”

    Welcome to all art post-Goya.

  14. He should have saved himself some effort and done a Virginia Tech mod for Unreal Tournament.

  15. Things with meaning don’t have to be as turgid and difficult to read as Ulysses.

    Yes they do.

  16. Mo,
    In this game, does the player play the shooter? Cause that kind of kills any argument about its “artistic” merits.

  17. Q*bert has been around for 25 years and you don’t see anybody dying their bodies orange, indulging in major rhinoplasty and hopping around on pyramidal snakepits in space.

    Yeah, well, kids didn’t have Salvia 100x then. It makes all the difference.

    /for the children

  18. post-Goya? whoa

  19. Mo – maybe I should have clarified: I think it can be pretty damn entertaining to take the kind of concepts you talked about above and implement them into gameplay.

    OTOH, I don’t think gameplay lends itself to express and intentional message-sending the way other forms of media do.

  20. economist,

    No clue. I’m not defending this particular game for artistic merits. I’m defending the use of games period for message sending.

    OTOH, I don’t think gameplay lends itself to express and intentional message-sending the way other forms of media do.

    Sure there is. Based on the decisions the players make, you can effect the outcome of the game and the way things move forward, which can deliver a point.

    ***GTA IV SPOILER ALERT***
    For example, in GTA IV, one of your quests is to avenge the slaughter of your village by Darko (a guy that served with you). No matter what you decide, let him go or kill him, nothing changes and there’s an exposition on the meaninglessness of vengence quests and how the obsession hurt Niko more than it hurt Darko. It didn’t hurt that Darko was a miserable, pitiable character that killing him really did nothing. But it intentionally sends a message.

  21. Art requires imagination and creativity. Basing a video game–which can be a form of art–off of a circumstance in shared reality is not art; it’s imitation.

  22. Wow, the graphics in that game really do suck.

  23. JLE,

    I am certainly not an artist… but how does your point make sense with things like still life paintings and other paintings and photos of real things (events, etc).

  24. Okay, I find this offensive. Sure, kill and maim all that you want, but this is a bit much.

    I’m surprised there isn’t an al Qaeda game, with a 9/11 feature.

  25. PL – there is jfk:reloaded, where you recreate the jfk assassination.

  26. Listen to some interviews with this guy. He’s quite sane and rational.

  27. To libdem:

    Realism is so pre-camera. Want actuality? Take a picture. No one needs to paint a bowl of fruit these days. And photography isn’t art unless it adds to reality in an imaginative way. Obviously, just an opinion, but I believe it.

  28. Hogan,

    I suppose historical recreations aren’t quite so bad. Unless you’re a Kennedy, anyway.

  29. I don’t consider video games “valid forms of artistic expression and exploration of societal issues” because they’re supposed to be fun…and who the hell thinks getting preached at is fun?

    Lots of games are both. This one’s site is blocked here at work but I suspect it’s neither fun nor artistic.

  30. The best Columbine themed game came out long ago, and only shares some aesthetics (guns in school). Also, you can play it on any platform (flash game)!

    Pico’s School(awesome classic)

  31. I just think Like most “independent” artists who aren’t making it “big” they reach for taboo subjects that get attention. Could he have made the same game without the columbine setting maybe in an office building. yeah, but there’s no flare.

    Game’s piss poor btw. Execution wise i mean I’ve seen a lot of independently developed games. (hell counter strike was a mod).vThis is not a cream of the crop one.

    I like the topic though. Finally something in my area of expertise.
    Games can be artistis. Both in style (okami for instance) and design (BIOSHOCK). Most don’t explore very deep topics mostly because of the fear of alienating a portion of the audience.
    I think as games become more evolved we’ll see much more transcendent games with more meaning etc etc. Though I will admit part of playing especially RPG’s if you get into them is creating your own arc and makin your own moral decisions within the game. Movies and books can make a more “real” point because you’re basically just along for the ride. Video games are the oddity because in some cases (fallout series, KOTR, mass effect) you can directly decide how the story plays out and what actions to take.(*SPOILER* BIOSHOCK turns this notion on it’s head by exposing the usual video game mechanic of not actually having true “choice” and it’s a great twist**SPOILER END.

  32. I’m surprised there isn’t an al Qaeda game, with a 9/11 feature.

    Enjoy your meal.

  33. maybe I should have clarified: I think it can be pretty damn entertaining to take the kind of concepts you talked about above and implement them into gameplay.

    I don’t think gameplay lends itself to express and intentional message-sending the way other forms of media do.

    Do you not see the contradiction in this? It’s entertaining to insert the ideas Mo talked about into game play, but you’re doing so while somehow not teaching them? Do you think that the only way to learn a lesson is to sit down and listen to an argument for it?

  34. anarch,

    We had lasers defending New York and didn’t use them? Why? Why?

  35. On the flip side, “A Force More Powerful” was an attempt to make a wholesome game of non-violent conflict resolution. Worst. Game. Ever. Given that most games are shoot ’em ups with a puzzle element and a back story, its no surprise that people would want to mine our modern day tragedies.

  36. On the flip side, “A Force More Powerful” was an attempt to make a wholesome game of non-violent conflict resolution.

    Oh man. That game almost single-handedly put the field of Alternative Dispute Resolution back years. Not because it was boring, because it was really intended to be a pedagogical tool, but because it was awful at teaching it’s chosen subject matter. You can’t make a good educational game if you start out circumscribing what people can and can’t do.

  37. I think games are probably better for getting a message across, precisely because they don’t preach — they give you enough freedom to feel in control, but manipulate your environment to try to evoke a certain response. Because you feel as though the response came from within, rather than without, the message is likely to feel more “authentic” — more like a discovery, instead of a message.

  38. This guy is a major douche. He has been around for years, trumping up outrage over this “game”. He has no discernible talent, the game sucks, and his “artistic statement” is self-aggrandizing bullshit.

    Sounds like he should be in the Senate, or at least in the House.

  39. perilisk, you put me in mind of Monopoly.

  40. We had lasers defending New York and didn’t use them? Why? Why?

    aah. you’re beginning to see the light.

    Now, let me tell you about Tower 7…

  41. I’m at work, so this is unfortunately going to be a drive-by posting, but: Who says “artistic” = “message”? Art is not necessarily didactic. What deep message is conveyed by the Mona Lisa?

    That said, Ledonne’s defense of SCMRPG! seems to be based on the notion that it *is* a work of didactic art. Having played part of the game (I gave up in the frustrating sequence sneaking back out of the school after setting up bombs in the cafeteria), my impression was that it was something he had created originally purely for shock value, and that his high-minded defense of Games As Art came later. Doesn’t mean he’s *wrong* about Games As Art, I just don’t think this specific game is the best example to use. To be fair: As I said, I didn’t play the whole game, and from what I’ve heard, it does get more serious nearer the end.

    I’ve said this before, and I’ll probably say it again: We have not yet seen the “Citizen Kane” of video games, but I have no doubt that sooner or later, we will. After all, films had been around for about 40 years before Kane was made. Video games, as a medium of expression, have only been around for a bit over 30. We’re really just now beginning to see a few with loftier ambitions than “blow stuff up real good”.

  42. We have not yet seen the “Citizen Kane” of video games

    The last GTA came pretty close.

  43. What deep message is conveyed by the Mona Lisa?

  44. What deep message is conveyed by the Mona Lisa?

    TO QUOTE THE GREAT GENE SIMMONS, “Every time that bitch bends over, I forget my name.”

  45. I could go for a game that hunts and blows away stupid punk ass kids in long coats that are so insecure about being pimply freaks they decide to shoot innocent people and blow up their school.

    Or muslims. I’d like a game that guns down some towel heads who stone 13 year old girls for having the audacity to get raped. That’d be cool.

  46. Oh man, I just LOLed.

  47. At Urkobold, not the mouth-breather who posted beneath him.

  48. i also loled at urkobold.

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