Slamdance takes the right stand
For the organizers of an independent film festival bent on shattering conventions and on saying ‘yes’ to projects no one else will support, removing a controversial entrant from its video game competition lineup must have been a very difficult decision.
But it was the right one.
This week, Slamdance co-founder and executive director Peter Baxter overruled the festival jury’s decision to accept Super Columbine Massacre RPG (Role Playing Game) even though a list of the 14 games accepted into Slamdance’s Guerilla Gamemakers Competition was widely publicized a month ago. And, in the wake of Baxter’s recent announcement, some of the others on the list have reportedly pulled out in a show of solidarity for Danny Ledonne, the creator of Super Columbine.
As could be expected, Ledonne equates his exclusion from Slamdance as an act of censorship. In his own defense, Ledonne claims on his Web site that his game "asks more of its audience than rudimentary button-pushing and map navigation; it implores introspection."
It is doubtful, though, that the thousands of people who Ledonne claims downloaded Super Columbine, use it with such high-minded purpose. To play, gamers take on the persona of the young killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in a carefully researched recreation of the events leading up to and following the shootings at Littleton, Colorado’s high school in 1999.
Since its release on the Web, the game has raised the ire of many, including the victims’ families. And, out of respect for their feelings Baxter says he felt ‘morally obligated’ to pull the game. According to the "official statement" on the Slamdance Web site, in addition to their goal of cultivating freedom of expression, organizers had to consider the "interests and welfare of the Slamdance organization and its community."
To that end, and rightfully so, Baxter and his colleagues decided to withdraw the game from the competition.
Regardless of the Columbine controversy, Slamdance should be congratulated for recognizing and cultivating the exploding art of computer gaming. In past years, the Guerilla competition has presented fascinating new work featuring emerging research in artificial intelligence and sophisticated digital artwork. However, like many exploratory art forms, the video game industry is still in the process of setting its own standards of excellence and integrity.
In having the courage to say ‘No’ to Super Columbine Massacre, Slamdance is helping to raise the entire playing field.
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“We would also agree that the way Hideout is going about its business is not creating harmony within our community,” writes Jeff Sterling in a guest editorial. “There must be a better way. Hideout, the choice is yours.”