Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

6 January, 2007

Columbine RPG dropped from competition
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 7:02 PM

I just saw an article, “Exclusive: Columbine Game Kicked From Competition” over at Kotaku. In short, the game Super Columbine Massacre RPG was pulled from the Slamdance competition. There was mounting pressure and the threat of loss of sponsorship. Ah, nothing makes it easier to marginalize art than money.

I’ve talked about Making Art before, so I found this interesting. I just wish the game were a bit better quality so that it’d be something worth defending without reservation.

I think it’s interesting that a game like this is getting this type of negative attention. I think it’s mostly people that don’t want to think about the situation, and you certainly can’t portray the perpetrators as anything other than evil people that performed an evil deed. Sympathy for their situation is simply out of the question!

In further news, another game, Braid, is pulling out of the competition in sympathy. A pretty gutsy thing to do, since this type of exposure is often hard to come buy.

What are your thoughts?


  1. I have found my thoughts on SCMRPG changing over time. My gut reaction (and I should have known better–Carl Sagan once said to never go by gut reactions) was that, as Ryan mentions, there are simply some things too sacred. Being from Colorado, and being in high school only a few miles away at the time of the killings, I was as close to Columbine as you could get without having actually lived through it. I knew people at Columbine. So I was horrified that someone could be so callous as to make a game where the object is to re-walk in the killers’ footsteps. Brian’s comments on the game did a lot to help me get over that and really try to take a more objective stance. In fact, I even wound up playing the game.

    So what do I think about it now? It’s a piece of shit, really. (I reviewed it here.) The designers met none of their game design goals, and at times even flew in the face of their stated goals. No matter how you look at the game, it’s only claim to relevancy is that it was there first. A good game probably could be made about Columbine, but this is certainly not that game by any standard.

    Another realization I had after much thought (and hijacking Brian’s comments) was that if we are to become a tolerant and open society, then there must be nothing sacred. Certainly I’m not advocating shoving victims noses into the tragedy for our own amusement. But we as a society need to get past this illusion of “evil.” There’s no such thing as evil. It’s a buzz-word intended to evoke an emotional response. The Columbine killers were not evil. They were some seriously fucked up children, but not evil. Evil is a simple explanation for simple minds. We, as a society, have to get away from our addiction to victimization, and making games that tackle controversial, topical events is one way to do it. I wish somebody would make a game based on 9/11. (Seriously I do–it’s been a slow news cycle. :) ) Or how about a game where you play a Palestinian guerrilla, or an Iraqi “insurgent?” Why not?

    SCMRPG wasn’t too soon, although it was definitely the wrong game. I agree with Brian. In principle, I’m unhappy with Slamdance’s decision to pull it. But in this case I can’t get too worked up over it. It’d be like pulling Beerfest from Academy Awards contention. Meh.

    (And now you know just how full my Saturday night social agenda is…)

    Comment by Amber — 6 January, 2007 @ 11:39 PM

  2. A few other links to sites commenting on this:

    Raph talks about Braid being pulled out in protest. He picked out a great quote from Jonathan Blow about how even though he thinks the Columbine game isn’t great, it still covers a worthwhile topic and needs to be supported.

    Ian Bogost on Water Cooler Games talks about his conflicting emotions. He felt that Slamdance was a place to show off creativity, but now he wonders if this type of game would have been shunned if it has been a movie instead. Are games just a sideline diversion not worthy of serious topics?

    Greg Costikyan over at Manifesto posted a few bits about the game in question: A description of Super Columbine Massacre and it’s artistic merit, and Super Columbine Massacre: Artwork or Menace? which repeats a lot of the same info.

    More stuff for your reading pleasure!

    Comment by Psychochild — 7 January, 2007 @ 2:07 AM

  3. I agree that it brings certain things up that should be discussed, I just believe this particular game is both a bad game and in bad taste (its old website made light of shootings… I’m going to hit up to see if they have that website that pissed me off so bad in the first place).

    Comment by Ryan Shwayder — 7 January, 2007 @ 12:51 PM

  4. Okay, here’s an example of the poor taste that the site originally displayed, which is why I feel this game was NOT made artistically, and instead to offend:

    CONTENTS: A FREE Role Playing Game (RPG) for your PC devoid of malware, spyware or other junk not related to “killing as many fuckheads as possible!”.

    Umm, yeah. “Fuckheads.” A vast majority of those killed were NOT the jocks who taunted anyone. Most of them were extremely good people, and would never be described as “fuckheads” by anyone, including those who were made fun of by others at the school.

    FINALLY, remember Reb’s words: “Don’t follow your dreams or goals or any of that shit, follow your fucking animal instincts: if it moves kill it, if it doesn’t, burn it. Kein Mitleid!”

    Also not at all cool to say when you’re talking about real people who died.

    Comment by Ryan Shwayder — 7 January, 2007 @ 12:58 PM

  5. I was thinking back to a challenge you had about transitioning games into art… (along those lines at least) Maybe, ‘offensiveness and opposition’, is one of those elements that helps move a media from just a toy to an art form. Sometimes things need to upset us to provoke discussion.

    I keep thinking of Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ being covered up at the U.N. – Will games ever attain the same power? If we’re already starting to find games being removed from a festival it’s well on it’s way. Is this the minor drip that breaks the dam? Are we gonna start seeing more arguments over games being banned or pulled.


    I can understand that some of the comments were in poor taste, especially to those close to the event like yourself. However, I thought I would point out that the old site also ended with the following:

    Offended? Engaged? Stuck? Intrigued? Bored?

    Discuss the game here.

    For me, those 5 words are indicative of a desire to spark discussion. Which gives me the feeling that there may have been some artistic hope in there somewhere.

    All that being said – there’s a ton of bad art out there – for me SCMRPG falls into that category. The SCMRPG game isn’t exactly what i’d want as a poster child of ‘games as art’ but it’s a minor begginning.

    Comment by Jpoku — 7 January, 2007 @ 3:07 PM

  6. Umm, yeah. “Fuckheads.” A vast majority of those killed were NOT the jocks who taunted anyone. Most of them were extremely good people, and would never be described as “fuckheads” by anyone, including those who were made fun of by others at the school.

    I would argue that the quote is an “in-character” quote. Like, if you were looking at a WW2 game, you might see something like “Your objective is to kill as many Japs and Krauts as possible!” If you are looking through the eyes of the killers, then everyone except your partner is a fuckhead.

    Nobody deserved to die at Columbine, including the killers. The issues surrounding Columbine are as intricate as they are numerous. Can a game be made that truly explores those issues? We’re talking not just walking a mile in the killers’ footsteps, but starting even before they ever picked up a gun. I literally spent most of my middle school days (and part of high school) without a friend in the world. I know what it’s like to be bullied, and I know what it’s like to want everyone around you dead. I’d never want to go back, even in the form of a game, but I’d sure like people to get even a sense of what I went through, and if SCMRPG, as crappy as it is, inspires someone to do just that, then cool.

    Comment by Amber — 7 January, 2007 @ 11:45 PM

  7. Amber: If they made the game explore the issue fully, and they did include all the aspects that lead up to the shootings, it would be one of the most boring games ever. The most fun you’d have is making pipe bombs and shooting at trees in the forest, but beyond that you’d walk around school being primarily ignored by most people, drinking, bowling, and not doing much of anything else for most of the game.

    However, I agree that in order to be thorough and actually teach anything at all, it should be that complete.

    Comment by Ryan Shwayder — 8 January, 2007 @ 8:11 AM

  8. However, I agree that in order to be thorough and actually teach anything at all, it should be that complete.

    This is a cop-out, because you know it’s an impossible standard. That’s like saying that in order to truly understand a movie about penguins we’d have to see every minute of the uninterrupted journey the penguins take. However, I don’t think that a whole mating season only lasts 85 minutes, but March of the Penguins was still an informative movie.

    Movie makers now how to use shorthand and how to properly dilate time so that you don’t have to show every single minute in real-time. That’s one of the things we lack in game development, the toolbox of techniques that movie makers can rely on. Or novel writers, or any other creative person.

    So, I think that requiring that the player relive the experiences in real-time is unrealistic. The game actually does a reasonable job of establishing that these kids were picked on and harassed in the game without resorting to something that you know would alienate most players. Heck, the cutscenes that did show this information was almost too boring for gamers.

    As I said in another comment, this game wasn’t made for you, Ryan. It was made for people that had more emotional distance from the events. You may not appreciate that it was made, but saying, “it would have been fine if they had just done this night impossible thing that would have made a boring game.” is not being very honest.

    Comment by Psychochild — 11 January, 2007 @ 6:17 AM

  9. “There’s no such thing as evil. It’s a buzz-word intended
    to evoke an emotional response.”


    Comment by JuJutsu — 11 January, 2007 @ 8:16 AM

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