Super Columbine Massacre and Slamdance: Pretty Damed Ironic

by Darius Kazemi on January 9, 2007

in Uncategorized

Looking at all the controversy surrounding Slamdance pulling Super Columbine Massacre from their competition, I’ve felt a need to go back and re-evaluate my experience with the game. I finished the game a few months ago, and I wanted to write up something for this blog but I couldn’t quite figure out what to say. At the time, it seemed like a pretty thoughtful, albeit gruesome, look into the psyches of the Columbine killers.

But looking back on the game, something strikes me as odd. Like most RPGs, the game consists of two types of segments: gameplay and cut scenes. The odd part is that the thoughtful and thought-provoking parts all occur during the cut scenes. The most touching moments are the flashbacks to Eric and Dylan messing around with fireworks or having conversations about how screwed up the world is. These moments are all non-interactive. Meanwhile, the gameplay consists entirely of a highly stylized re-enactment of the day of the shootings (and in hell afterwards)–basically, you do some sneaking, but you’re mostly running around killing things.

In some ways, this makes sense. Video games are demonstrably good at simulating combat, and the tool that was used to create the game (RPG Maker) is tweaked for that kind of interaction. And I’m not sure how you’d make gameplay out of philosophical conversations between two characters.

In other ways, this is either an indictment of video games as a form of expression or an indictment of the skills of the creators of Super Columbine Massacre. It’s as though the design approach was, “Let’s save the experimental stuff for the movie-like cutscenes, and completely cop out on the gameplay.” There is certainly nothing innovative about gameplay where you kill people. To put it another way, framing it using MDA: the mechanics and dynamics of the game contain no innovation, only the aesthetics do.

I find it ironic that what the game itself seems to be saying is, “Movies can innovate, games cannot,” while Slamdance (which has respected the artistic rights of far more gruesome films) seems to be saying the exact same thing by pulling the game from their competition!


Patrick January 10, 2007 at 12:21 am

Super Columbine was the work of a sole creator who is a filmaker by trade, so he came at it with no knowledge of design theory or any commercial ambitions. That the game is so wildly creative in aesthetic terms is a side-effect of this, and that he had to make use of a tool available (RPG Maker) which inherently has limitations on mechanical and dynamical innovation. I think he pushed his tool well to the max, though he had to resort of a post-modern subversion of the medium itself to achieve, that, as the hell part of the game demonstrates.

I don’t think the game is implying that films are better than games in terms of evoking emotion, and Ledonne has been fervent that games are full of potential, and that his game is in part an attempt to point at at this potential. Whats most significant about SCMRPG is an innovation in the dynamics, yes the dynamics, but not any innovation that can be quanitified with feedback loops or systemic patterns. Its in the player’s psychological dynamic, infused with alternating dissociations, that make the game a potent glimpse of the medium’s true power.

I would argue thats a dynamic instead of an aesthetic because it affects how the game is played.

Also, I think this issue could be treated with much bolder interactivity if a drama engine were applied to it. I wonder what Craig would have to say about that.

Ian Schreiber January 11, 2007 at 10:15 pm

Actually, for a true re-enactment, wouldn’t the game have to be an FPS?

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