Saturday, January 13, 2007

Super Columbine Massacre RPG

An ancient blog post under Video Games.
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There’s a shake-up in the world of independent games. An authorship festival called Slamdance has a Games category, where they reward the best independently developed video games of the year. This year a game called Super Columbine Massacre RPG! (SCMRPG) was selected by Slamdance’s jury and made a finalist. Shortly after, the head of Slamdance pulled SCMRPG from the competition — a first in the festival’s history — citing his own moral convictions.

For those of you not hip with the times, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot thirteen people dead and wounded twenty-four others before killing themselves at Columbine High School in 1999. The massacre was blamed on Marilyn Manson and DOOM.

SCMRPG’s expulsion gave rise to a lot of whining from the gaming media, a lot of bandying-about of First Amendment and Free Speech and whoa-censorship! and yada-yada, about half of the other Slamdance finalists being so outraged that they removed their own games in protest, and one sponsor has even withdrawn its support of the festival. People were saying that SCMRPG is a work of art, and a necessary step for video games to be taken seriously as a medium.

That said, I like to form my own opinion of things, so I had to try SCMRPG. I couldn’t trust the author’s Artist’s Statement because it reminded me too much of something I would write — like the author noticed all the bad press, and wrote it to try to kick some heat off.

It’s an isometric 2D RPG, like a Final Fantasy on the SNES, complete with pixellated graphics. You play as the Columbine shooters as they go through the motions — packing weapons, setting bombs in the cafeteria, and gearing up in a nearby park before waiting for the bombs to explode. The game is nothing new, and nothing amazingly special or innovative, but that’s exactly its forté. I found the most noteworthy part of SCMRPG to be the combat.

Combat is just like any other turn-based RPG, and this is the aspect that disturbed me the most. I have played and enjoyed many such RPGs, and never batted an eye at hunting and killing hundreds of monsters to level up my characters. That I was now hunting and killing students to level up murderers was always present in my mind, but even though I knew that what was happening was unacceptable, there was a certain familiarity — a routine, if you will — that I had developed from years of playing RPGs. Though I hate to say it, the games I had played had conditioned me to continue entering classrooms and emptying shotguns into students and teachers, not because of the content of those games, but of their pattern; death becomes prerequisite to success.

As a game that examines an event that was itself blamed on video game violence, and which made me question my actions and motivations as a gamer every step of the way, it is an amazing use of the medium. For me SCMRPG sides neither with the shooters nor the victims, but lets the player sympathise with both.

As an avid gamer I vehemently deny that video games are triggers of violence. While it is quite impossible for a normal person to think wasting pixels and wasting humans are the same thing, SCMRPG lets players walk the line of mental imbalance, where game and reality become blurred and a routinized set of behaviours learned in one are transferred to the other.

I’ll never play a video game in quite the same way again.

That's all there is, there isn't any more.
© Desi Quintans, 2002 – 2016.