May 16th, 2006

Erstwhile Concept Art

Massacring Discussion

Source article.

My first thought was, "oh great, more bad press for videogamers."

"Super Columbine Massacre RPG" was released over a year ago. I don't know why it took this long to come to the public's attention. Maybe it's the difficulty factor; I couldn't beat it on my first try. The game opens with a concession of power to the player: "You play as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold on that fateful day in the Denver suburb of Littleton. How many people they kill is ultimately up to you." Well, if it were up to me, they wouldn't kill anybody; I somehow managed to survive my high school years without committing murder, and I wasn't about to start with it in this particular situation. So when the assault on the school began, I carefully threaded my way between students and teachers, trying to avoid fights. (Once you enter a fight, you can't run from it.) And it turns out it's entirely possible to make it to the library, where Harris and Klebold trade shots with cops before blowing their own brains out, without attacking a single victim.

I was awed for a moment. Did the creator of this game, who goes only by the screenname "columbin," actually design it so you could turn the protagonists into pacifists? Was he actually going to succeed in making a statement about violence in schools and videogames? About how the majority of players are actually in control of their lives and aren't filled with thoughts of destruction?

Sadly, it wasn't meant to be. After a montage of photos from both the shooting and the gunmen's lives, I was dumped into Hell, where various spriterips from Doom beat a lesson in poor game design into me. It turns out that killing innocent victims in the school halls earns you experience points, raising your levels and giving you the power you need to survive. I guess I misread the instructions. "How many you kill" evidently doesn't mean you don't have to if you don't want to.

The interview with columbin reinforces the idea that "you must CHOOSE to kill" and also mentions the choice of playing as the killers: "Who would want to play as a girl that got shot in the head?" Well, if it was entertaining or thought-provoking, I would. People play games where you turn household objects into stars. People put falling bricks together to try to form rows. People make video games about killing everyone involved in the video game industry based on zany plots concocted by lawyers. People do a lot of weird things in videogames. Why not a game about a girl who has a life until she goes to school one day and gets shot in the head? Or about one of the crisis counselors who had to find some way to comfort the shocked students?

At any rate, columbin tries to come off as intelligent, but the kind of discussion he's fostered is mostly the "videogamers are bad" crap that we've had to put up with since the first time some angry objector got their hands on a copy of Deathrace. The "going to Hell" scenario serves no purpose other than vague speculation on what may have happened beyond the grave. It offers no solace that Harris and Klebold would have ever felt any of the supposed remorse that columbin tries to imbue within us. It's just fantasy-based destruction for the sake of destruction, tied in with a dose of misinterpreted Nietzsche philosophy - the exact opposite of what I thought the game was trying to express at first glance. (Nietzsche also plays a role in the difficulty factor: if you forget to bring him his copy of "Ecce Homo," you can't beat the game and have to restart.) Every time you die, the game announces that "the trenchcoat mafia has failed." At the end of the game, you get a big red "Mission Accomplished!" message. I appreciate the desire to get people to think about other causes for violence, but this game isn't a talking point. It's propaganda for the other side, one more person with an unfortunate high school experience who chose to express himself by attacking the people he pretends he wants to talk to. You're not going to change someone's mind by just telling them they're wrong again and again.

It's true, the next time someone shoots up a school, I'm not going to be able to blame columbin for "causing" it. Nor can we blame Rockstar Games, Marilyn Manson, or the mass media. But I think it's okay to blame the people who pulled the trigger and fired the bullets. And I think it's okay to condemn the idea that they would end up in an afterlife that was exactly to their liking and eventually become equals with Satan, because the next time someone gets that idea, they might actually remember to set the timers on the bombs correctly.

One last thing: columbin appeals to visitors for donations, stating that "...even $1 pays for TWENTY people to download this game." I asked the nearest professional web designer, my good friend Reid Young, if that sounded right. "If he's paying $150/month for 69 gigs of transfer, then yes." But he agreed with me that something was off. "We get 1,400 gigs of transfer/month for that price," he said of EarthBound fansite Starmen.Net. Maybe columbin's host is scamming him? Anything's possible.