In 2005, a filmmaker named Danny Ledonne was inspired to make an RPG using the program RPG Maker 2000, wherein the player assumes the roles of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold – the shooters in 1999′s Columbine High School Massacre. The incident revolved around two boys who planned to go on a massive killing spree at their high school. They managed to injure twenty-four people and take thirteen lives, before taking their own. In Super Columbine Massacre RPG!, you will see a re-enactment of that day from the shooters’ perspectives.
The idea, according to Ledonne, is to explore the elusive question of “why” Harris and Klebold perpetuated such a violent act. SCMRPG was made to show us a different perspective on the question of “why” and introduce the situation into moral shades of gray, while not trivializing the entire event or glorifying the shooters. Here’s the most important question, though: Did Danny Ledonne succeed?
There tend to be two main camps when criticizing this game: The first would be the people who readily condemn the game without much thought. Likely, they are the people who probably believe that the game touches upon the sensitive subject matter in an insensitive way. Then, there’s the diametrically opposed group of people who just as quickly laud the game for its forward thinking, stating that the game really pushes the envelope for viewing games as an art form capable of conveying a meaningful message.
Place me firmly in the third camp: I think it’s nice to see a game that takes a particular event or situation forces people to possibly look at it in a different way than they did before. However, so many aspects of the game are detrimental to conveying the message in a serious, mature manner that the thought of this game being intentionally thought-provoking is suspect.
At the very least, assuming that Ledonne had the best of intentions, there were so many inappropriate aspects of the game that it undermines the entire message, in my opinion. I’m sure there’s more people who share my opinion; however, it’s hard to find any articles that make an attempt at anything else but judgmental repudiation or unconditional, unqualified reverence. And, of the few that make any criticisms, only one bothered to talk about them in depth. Eleven articles and only one negative critique with any qualifying statements.
So, what’s the problem, exactly? Personally, I would say that most people are looking solely at Ledonne’s intentions, rather than looking at how well the experience conveys the message. This is very obvious when you look at articles, and none of them describe the gameplay in depth. After all, why would you, right? Super Columbine Massacre RPG! is obviously not about the gameplay, so talking about it is pointless! Right?
To that stance, I say “Bullshit.” If you just look at the thrust of Ledonne’s message, everything checks out okay. However, the gameplay aspects are the things that get passed off as unimportant, while in reality, they sabotage the experience. In other words, it’s the gameplay that ruins the story.
For example, if SCMRPG wanted to be respected as a serious artistic statement, then:
Is it really necessary to make it so that almost every ‘enemy’ can survive a gunshot attack when most of them don’t fight back in the first place? The whole idea, I thought, was that a turn-based RPG perfectly captures what the shootings must have been like; in other words, people just waited, hoping they wouldn’t die, not fighting back nor doing anything to agitate the shooters. But, it feels silly when some characters can survive like two or three shots.
Is it really necessary to make it so that you have to kill every person in a room to see a particular cutscene? This is especially horrifying, because you’ll wind up shooting way more than the number of people shot – not necessarily killed – in the Columbine School Shooting. The very fact that you can miss these very important scenes, which attempt to characterize the shooters – in other words, the meat of the entire game – feels so ridiculous. Even worse is the fact that there are several rooms in the game where you don’t get a cutscene for killing everyone. So, you have to slaughter a huge excess of people on the off chance that you might see an important cutscene. If these scenes are so important, shouldn’t steps be taken to ensure that they’re seen, without having to add a tasteless element to an already sensitive subject?
Is it really necessary to have ‘enemies’ that do things like cry and pray to get health back? That might be funny in a different setting, but it just makes the experience feel like a joke in this case. The same is true for the various dialogue in certain places, particularly a banal bit of dialogue about menstruation. What the hell?
Is it really necessary to make an entire second half of the game with a ‘real’ ending that you can miss if you don’t find a certain item? I imagine that this game was made so that people would see these events unfold. In that respect, it’s really dumb that you can miss one the most important scenes in the game.
And for that matter, why is the second half of the game so pointless? After the shooters commit suicide, they walk around in hell, fighting enemies from Doom. You absolutely will not be able to finish the ‘hell’ segment of the game unless you level up the shooters by killing absolutely everyone – an action that is boring to play and disgusting to watch. To top it off, all the dialogue in this section is really stupid, and feels like really awkward, out-of-place comic relief until you finish it and see the ‘real’ ending.
I feel that all of the points I brought up were very serious; by ignoring the gameplay, you’re ignoring the many tasteless aspects of the game really destroy it. Is it any wonder that there are people who wouldn’t take your game seriously as art when you have to kill everyone you see for no good reason? Or, if the second half of your game being running through hell, fighting enemies from Doom, and shooting the breeze with a cartoon satan? Quick! Tell me how it’s artistically relevant to have a room in hell that’s comprised of old video game characters! The people who immediately praise this game as art are just as short-sighted as the people who immediately shun it due to its subject matter.
When Super Columbine Massacre RPG! was pulled from Slamdance’s Guerilla Gamemaker Competition in 2006, it became a sort of martyr for games and gamers. To most all of our brethren, this was the shunning of a game that tried to break barriers in video game storytelling and push the limit of what kinds of messages could be conveyed by the medium. I wonder, though: Did anyone really consider what the game really tells you? What does the game tell you by having you kill in excess, or by wasting time in ‘hell’ talking to an egregious personification of Nietzche? What new perspective did the game really unveil for us that hadn’t already been explored?
Is this really the game we want to be our hero – the representative which we will use to demonstrate the heights of storytelling in our medium?
We’ll host the game for 24-48hrs (or until we reach our DL limit) so you can experience it for yourself and come to your own conclusion. We’d love to hear your thoughts on what you thought.