Game has players reenact Columbine shooting
December 27, 2006
Danny Ledonne grew up in Colorado, attending high school in the late 1990’s. His life changed, as did many others’, on April 20, 1999, the day of the Columbine High School shooting.
Ledonne said the shooting was a wake-up call, not only for the world, but specifically for him. He was headed down a similar road, he said, but rather than use murder as an outlet, Ledonne said he turned to film and theater.
On the sixth anniversary of the school shooting, April 20, 2005, Ledonne released his first and only video game to the public Super Columbine Massacre RPG (Role Playing Game), which the Guerrilla Gamemakers Competition of the Slamdance Film Festival named as one of it’s 14 finalists for the 2007 event starting Jan. 18.
"I don’t want to sound cocky, but I thought I would be a finalist, in part because they’re the ones who asked me to submit it," Ledonne said. "For me, the real question was how much flack are they going to take for putting their name behind this game that has generated a lot of controversy."
The game, which features crude mechanics, mirroring graphics of early 1990’s games from Super Nintendo, places the player in the shoes of the two perpetrators of the killings, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold on the day of the attacks. The game, which was originally a free download from http://www.columbinegame.com, remained underground for its first year of life, not receiving attention from gamers or the press until 2006.
"I created the game for a couple of reasons," he said. "One, I felt there was a different perspective to be explored to the Columbine shooting, having gone through the high school in Colorado experience during the time of the shooting. I’m just a guy who found this software that I could make my own game with."
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"Another reason I made the game," he continued," is that I spent a lot of my childhood playing video games. In my opinion, video games aren’t really at the point where they can make fun of themselves yet. I wanted make a game that was a satirical statement about our society and gaming, and about how our society reacts to tragedy. I wanted to wind all these things together."
In making the game, Ledonne said he nearly spent a year researching the Littleton, Colo., shooting, which culminated in the game’s creation. The game contains dialogue between the two boys taken from their own journals, as well as a detailed down-to-the-minute portrayal of the events of the massacre, including the types of weapons the boys used.
"A lot of people are surprised that the game contains so much information, and that may be in part because people aren’t used to video games providing information," Ledonne said. "I owed it to myself and anyone that plays the game to put myself into it and research it. But I wasn’t alone in it there are a lot of people who take a keen interest in the shooting.
Despite the fact that Ledonne said some speculation was necessary to create the game, he stayed away from conjecture as much as possible in an attempt to "stick to the facts."
Ledonne said he would rate the game "M for Mature" by current video game rating standards, although he said he put it on the Internet so it would be accessible to all.
"By putting on the Internet and having it as a free download I’m ostensibly saying it’s for anyone with an Internet connection," he said. "But the game is not intended for anyone, I’d say, younger than the age of 16."
The game is no longer available for download from the original host site because the server was overloading with more than 8,000 downloads per day. The game is now only available through P2P file sharing programs such as Limewire and Napster.
Ledonne said the Gamemakers’ competition at Slamdance is a step forward for the video gaming world, giving the chance for "up-and-coming game designers to get their work seen."
"I’m really there because this game represents something," he said. "When given the opportunity I want to discuss and explore what this means for gaming and where gaming can go from here. Our culture is still trying to understand what video games are and because of that they are often put under a harsher lens than other forms of expression. Through time, hopefully, video games will be viewed as an artistic medium alongside films, books, theater and music."
Ledonne has begun work on a documentary called Columbinegame.com about the game and the people who have played it. The film will include responses from media about the game, including PC World Magazine naming it to the "10 Worst Games of All Time" list in October.
"Do violent video games inspire horrific, violent acts in the real world?" Emru Townsend, author of the PC World Magazine article asked. "No one really knows for sure. Do horrific, violent acts in the real world inspire violent video games? Absolutely.
As a game, Super Columbine Massacre RPG is appalling."
Other media have responded similarly, but not Sam Roberts and the Slamdance staff, who invited Ledonne to submit the game for the competition.
"A lot of people were talking about the game so I was aware of it," said Roberts, who serves as the director of the video game portion of the festival. "Part of my job is to be on the lookout for what games are out there and get them into the competition."
"If somebody had shot a documentary about Columbine and used all the same materials that Danny did and tried to do the same thing to get people inside the shooters’ mind before the tragedy happened, no one would be saying that it’s wrong," Roberts said, comparing the video game to a theoretical counterpart in film. "If I thought something was making a strong stream of independent thought and discussion, I would probably run it."
A committee of experts, each of which plays each game and votes, selects games for the competition. Roberts said he voted to include the game because of the impact it could have on gamemaking in the future, as well as its social implications.
"The reason I was interested in it from the beginning is to continue to push and support interactive entertainment and gaming as an artistic medium," he said. "Columbine immediately appealed to me in that way; the game is there to provoke thought and to make a statement. The reason Danny made that game is to get people to think about Columbine and to talk about it. We’re here to support independent, edgy thoughts and films, and even games."
Roberts said there will be areas and times set up for free play of the games featured at the festival, but supervisors will monitor the room and make sure those playing the game are of the age for which it was intended.
"Last year we didn’t admit any children who weren’t accompanied by adults, but there will always be one or two staff members monitoring what’s going on in the room," Roberts said. "I will do my utmost to make sure that Columbine is not played by people who are too young for the content, but if a child comes in with his father and they want to play the Columbine game, I will not stop that."
Kim Carson, vice president on the Park City Board of Education, said she is not pleased the game will be headlining in a visit to Park City. Referencing the frequency of copycat crimes from video games and movies, she said parents would be wise to keep their children far away from the game.
"My initial reaction to the game is that is very unfortunate that someone is trying to capitalize on that type of incident," she said. "Having kids play a simulated version of those events could give kids the idea to act it out rather than, as the creator states, ‘be used as a tool to increase discussion on the serious issue of school violence.’ I think it tends to blur the line between reality and make believe."
She said parents should be aware of the game’s presence at the festival, but also said she was disappointed that festival executives gave their approval on the game.
"The Slamdance people are fully responsible for the content if they’re going to bring it here," she said. "They have to be a little more judicious as far as what they put out to the public. I think a lot of time they want controversy so they pick something like this. Parents should just be aware it’s there and talk to their children about it."