Slamdance expels juried game selection from festival
January 10, 2007
A sense of moral obligation led Slamdance Film Festival Executive Director and co-founder Peter Baxter to pull the game Super Columbine Massacre RPG! from its 2007 Guerilla Gamemaker’s Competition lineup.
Ejecting a game from the festival was extremely difficult, he admits, and has polarized both Slamdance staff members and gamemakers chosen for the festival. So far Baxter reports the makers of two games, Braid and Flow will boycott his festival in protest, narrowing the field to 11 games.
This is the first time in the 13-year history of Slamdance that any jury-selected film or game entry has been expelled from competition, he says.
"I hope a decision like this never has to be made again, but I think it is important. You have to be responsible for the program as a whole," he explained, adding that contrary to rumors, he was not under pressure from sponsors.
"Have I been unfair to the jury? Yes. Have I been unfair to the gamemaker? Yes. There are some things that are more important in life than the festival or game," he continued. "In this instance, it was really important to consider the families [of victims of the 1999 Columbine shooting], and the fact that is hurtful because of the role playing you are asked to take in this game."
Unlike films, there is a more direct integration with what happens in a game, he says.
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Super Columbine Massacre is a role playing game that challenges players to walk in the shoes of the two high school perpetrators, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who opened fire and killed classmates and then themselves at Littleton, Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1999. The game’s graphics resemble the vintage hard-edged quality of videogames in the 1990s.
According to Ledonne the game’s narrative is based on the "frightening, deplorable and comical" entries from the killers’ journals, as well as the documented chronology of events collected by investigators in the case. He spent the better part of a year researching Littleton, Colo. and the shootings, he says.
"I wanted to 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," he told The Park Record after being recognized this November as a finalist at Slamdance.
Ledonne writes in his artist’s statement posted on his Web site, http://www.columbinegame.com, that he created the game in order to challenge social taboos and confront real cultural issues. To "[push] the envelope to what a video game can be."
The game has been available as a free download online for a year via Ledonne’s site, and has generated as much as 8,000 downloads per day, according to Ledonne.
It has also received scathing reviews from parents of the victims of the Columbine shootings and some game reviewers. In its October, 2006 issue, PC World magazine included Super Columbine Massacre in its list of the "10 Worst Games of All Time."
The hype surrounding the game caught the attention of Slamdance programmers who encouraged Ledonne to submit his game to their festival, Ledonne told The Park Record. "They’re the ones who asked me to submit it," he said.
From January 18 through January 27th, the Slamdance Film Festival showcases games created by independent gamemakers in the entrance of its headquarters at Park City’s Treasure Mountain Inn. The public is invited to play the games on display throughout the festival and adults must accompany children who wish to play the games. Supervisors monitor the lobby.
Had Ledonne’s game been included next week, it would have been stamped with a warning label for players 16 years and younger.
Baxter hopes that in addition to the competition, programmers will be able to organize a forum for discussing censorship, and the ethics involving controversial themes in games and films.
"I appreciate why [some games] have pulled out in support of Danny. They’re artists and they make their own decisions," Baxter reflects. "But I think it’s unfortunate because I think it would be a stronger environment for them if they were at Slamdance One of the reasons why it is a festival is because it is a gathering of artists. There could be a learning experience from this."