home > editorial > Super Columbine Massacre RPG: Art or Atrocious?
GamesFirst! Online since 1995

View Image Gallery || Get Prices

Super Columbine Massacre RPG: Art or Atrocious?
game: Super Columbine Massacre RPG
posted by: Shawn Rider
publisher: Danny Ledonne
developer: Danny Ledonne
view related website
date posted: 07:33 PM Sat May 20th, 2006
last revision: 07:32 PM Sat May 20th, 2006

Click to read.I\'ve seen a lot of RPG Maker games. The RPG Maker software has been available since the late 1990s on PCs and PlayStation (1 and 2) platforms. The software allows a decent amount of flexibility to create simple, sprite-based 2D role-playing games in the style of SNES titles like Final Fantasy or Secret of Evermore. There were dozens of these games created in the 1980s and 1990s by professional designers, leading to one of the most heavily conventionalized genres of gaming, the traditional Japanese console-based RPG.

Really, little has changed in this genre but the graphics, so those retro games have maintained a decent fanbase through emulators and re-issues. (Anyone who has not tracked down Earthbound, Secret of Evermore, and Chrono Trigger for their fave SNES emulator has not really enjoyed an RPG.) So a package like RPG Maker, even given all of its limitations, works because it actually helps users stay within the genre boundaries and conventions.

Did I mention there are a lot of these RPG Maker games out there? I imagine pretty much everyone who has bought a copy of the software has made something, and probably half of those folks have uploaded them online. It\'s not unusual to find quirky titles that work really hard to be offensive or transgressive, but it\'s very rare to find anything that actually succeeds. Typically the \"shock\" doesn\'t go beyond a couple of nudie sprites and some beer bong jokes.

However, every once in awhile, somebody creates something using a singularly mundane medium (detritis on a beach, an Etch-a-Sketch, traditional Japanese console-based RPGs, etc.) that causes many folks who would be otherwise uninterested to pause. Such is the case with Super Columbine Massacre RPG.

SCM is a short role-playing game created in RPG Maker 2000. Thus, it looks a lot like those classic Super Nintendo titles many people remember from the early 1990s. Created by Danny Ledonne, a 24-year-old fillmmaker, SCM puts players in the role of first Eric Harris, then Dylan Klebold. Traditional sprite-based game graphics are mixed with pixelated photos taken from broadcasts and articles about the Columbine shooting, midi versions of music contemporary to the event, and audio files taken from the media coverage.

Players begin playing as Eric Harris. A quote from Andre Breton begins the game: \"The purest surrealist act would be to go into a crowd and fire at random.\" From the outset it\'s clear that Ledonne is set to frame Klebold and Harris\' actions within a larger context, although the game overall comes far too close to lauding their assault for many players to feel comfortable playing.

The game begins as so many RPGs do: It is morning and Eric Harris wakes late for his bowling class. The events of the game parallel closely the actual events of the Columbine shooting. It is clear that a lot of research has gone into the creation of the game. Elements of dialog are clearly pulled from news reports, released footage, and the two shooters\' websites, all of which was widely covered in the mainstream media.

As Eric Harris, you must gather your arsenal from the house and meet with Dylan to record the infamous final video before heading to Columbine High School. There are two problems with this opening: First, in the traditional RPG genre, we would almost certainly be forced to engage in some tedious item-collection, which would likely involve doing some favors for NPCs, and then arduous levelling to get buff enough to handle the massacre. However, SCM is a compressed RPG, clocking in at around 5 hours. The two quickly head to the school, plant bombs in the cafeteria and parking lot, then wait as their devices fail to explode. Not willing to give up, you lead Eric and Dylan, or \"Reb\" and \"Vodka\" as they\'re referred to in the game, into an all-out assault on the school.

The other problem with the accelerated opening is that the whole thing feels like a rehashing of what we already know about Klebold and Harris\' backgrounds, except with a much more pro-shooter stance. According to statements made by Ledonne on the game\'s forums and in interviews with media outlets, he intends the game to be an illustration of how awful it would have been to be one of the troubled shooters and also how futile their actions really are. He cites the final image of the two shooters dead in the school library: These images were never shown on prime time television, and they are quite shocking.

But the compressed opening and the writing (especially the somewhat misguided contextualization of the shooters with prominent thinkers like Breton) leads to a very Pump Up the Volume feeling, for those who are old enough to remember the movies that were popular back when this kind of game was popular. Eric and Dylan feel very much like Christian Slater\'s protagonist in Pump Up the Volume or Heathers. The problem is that the Columbine shooting wasn\'t a movie, and Klebold and Harris were guilty of more than running a pirate radio station. (In fact, I would put pirate radio stations high on the list of \"cool things to do when you\'re feeling young and disenfranchised.\")

Once the school assault is finished, the game switches to Dylan Klebold\'s perspective and players can help guide Klebold through Hell. Hell is populated with all sorts of characters, including Imps taken from the original Doom, which was a center of controversy at the time of the events. Eventually, players can challenge Satan himself for power over the underworld, presumably hammering home the message that being bad and shooting up your high school is a bad idea (unless, that is, you want to become the eternal lord of the underworld, in which case it\'s apparently just the thing to do).

The problem with this ending is clear: It\'s a lot like 50 Cent telling kids that they shouldn\'t sell drugs and get in gunfights because look at where it got him (in the back of a limo with a bottle of champagne and a dozen scantily-clad women). A perusal of the game\'s discussion forums reveals the full spectrum of reactions, from the completely outraged to the completely aroused. It\'s clear that most gamers will get from this game what they bring to it. It is not the game that will shape or change your feelings about Columbine; rather, your pre-existing feelings will shape how you interpret the ambivalent messages inside the game.

Ledonne\'s creation is provocative and interesting. It\'s worth checking out, if only to see what the concern is. Where it succeeds is in proving that even mundane game systems are capable of supporting complex content. It is not the RPG conventions that make SCM fail (if you feel it fails, that is). In fact, SCM proves the power of the RPG genre conventions. If Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris can be represented as such suitable protagonists, then what does that mean about the many other protagonists we\'ve taken for granted over the years? Could it be that Cloud is actually a terrorist? (Set FFVIIin Iraq and rename Shinra Corp. to Haliburton and the analogy might make sense...) And isn\'t World of Warcraft overtly about racial warfare? Or am I just imagining that?

Super Columbine Massacre RPG is not a great game. But it is an important game. It is a game created by a filmmaker, not a game developer. In fact, Ledonne told the Washington Post that he would not make another game. It was created specifically with the intent of generating discussion and presenting a unique perspective on the events of the Columbine shooting. This may not be the future of gaming, but it is a step towards the future of how games will be treated and viewed in our culture--as artful, meaningful objects which represent the thoughts, ideas, dreams and nightmares of a unique creator.

Please note: This article was also published on our new sister site, Alternative Games (www.alt-games.com ). Click over and check it out.

Click images for larger version

Click for larger. Click for larger. Click for larger. Click for larger. Click for larger. Click for larger.