Monday :: May 22, 2006

Bang! Bang! You're Dead! Reset - NOT!

by pessimist

Just as there is a serious disconnect between Bu$hCo supporters and reality, there is also a similar separation between violent games and the real-life consequences of the actions they employ in the name of 'fun'. As we have seen in the comments to my previous posts which touch on this subject [ and ], I am supposed to understand that it's only a game, and that the players know that it is such.

To that I respond: Oderiferous Male Bovine Excrement!

In Frank Herbert's Dune series, violent death is a common fact of that fictional life just as it is in the real world, but death is not to be treated as an enjoyable experience. When the hero kills for the first time, his own mother immediately stimulates his conscience to implant the idea that there are serious consequences to killing, and that killing is to be reserved for when no other option is open, and is not to be resorted to lightly.

Death isn't - and shouldn't - be a game. Those who play these games should know that the actions they emulate are barbaric and should ideally have no place in a modern world. Sure - I know that the world remains a violent place, but should we be promoting the concept that violence IS fun? Just what does that tell the world about our society?

It reveals us to be violence junkies:

New York Post, NY
May 21, 2006

An underground video game that emulates the shocking Columbine HS massacre is attracting a loyal following of lurid thrill-seekers - and outraging victims' families. "There's a video game? On what happened?" asked a shocked Linda Sanders, widow of William "Dave" Sanders, before she broke down in tears.
The attention has only made the sick game more popular.

It must be really funny to make a still-grieving widow cry.

Linda Sanders isn't the only survivor who is outraged:

Outrage over massacre game
By Jeff Kass
22 May 2006

"I want people to see what happened" at Columbine, says Joe Kechter, whose son Matt was killed in the deadliest school shooting in US history, "but not acting it out in a video game."

'Wrong': Parents of Columbine victims attack 'shooter' game
Winston-Salem Journal, NC
Monday, May 22, 2006

"It's wrong," said Kechter.

"We live in a culture of death," said Brian Rohrbough, whose son, Dan, was killed on a sidewalk outside the school, "so it doesn't surprise me that this stuff has become so commonplace.

"It disgusts me. You trivialize the actions of two murderers and the lives of the innocent."
A player who begins the game is met with directions and the following statement: "Welcome to Super Columbine Massacre RPG! You play as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold on that fateful day in the Denver suburb of Littleton. How many people they kill is ultimately up to you."

What power! Does it give you a major rush? Does it make you feel like a man? Or does the sight of blood and misery and death stimulate you in a pleasurable way?

Or is there something else? We'll let the game's creator explain himself:

The game's creator, who goes by the name Columbin on his Web site, said he was inspired to make the game because he was in another Colorado high school when the shooting occurred. "Columbine marked me deeply," he wrote in the e-mail interview with the News. "I was in a Colorado high school then.
"I was a bullied kid. I didn't fit in,
and I was surrounded by a culture of elitism
as espoused by our school's athletes."
"I think the ultimate purpose of the game is to promote real dialogue on the subjects of school shootings, violence, retribution, media coverage and many others," he told the Rocky Mountain News in Denver.
"It was empowering to see two oppressed, marginalised kids rise up."

So it's revenge you're after? There IS a lot of that desire in our culture - it begins at the top ("He tried to kill my dad.").

Dr. Michael Atkinson, Department of Sociology, McMaster University, teaches a course on sports violence. He has this to say about that desire [PDF]:

This course is designed to get students critically thinking about what constitutes acceptable, negotiated, or even criminal violence in sport. [W]e investigate how issues and practices of violence do not simply occur on the proverbial playing fields.

[W]e critically expect typical manifestations of aggression and violence in sports cultures, embodied experiences with sport violence, ideological/institutional systems which tend to support the performance of violence in sport, and representations of a full gamut of ‘violent’ behaviors surrounding sport.

Case examples of violence covered in the course include, but are not limited to, player and fan violence, sexual assault in sport, the abuse of animals in sports spheres, crimes against the environment committed through sport practices, and hazing rituals.

Sport plays a role in the ongoing socialization of people (i.e., sport has a social role in bringing people together, and teaching people about cultural norms, values, and beliefs). Sport is interconnected with many other social institutions such as the family, the school, the church, the State/government, and the media. Sport both produces, and is produced by, ‘cultural logics’ that influence our every day thoughts about such things as gender, health, ethnicity, social class, the economy, politics, nationalism, and globalization.

While sport brings some people together in a harmonious way,
it is an institution (like any other)
rife with discrimination, exploitation, and corruption
--- essentially, sport is replete with power imbalances.

Such power imbalances have traditionally been equalized with weaponry, and that returns us to the vile game which celebrates such equalization:

"Super Columbine Massacre RPG" allows players to become the bullied misfits Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold - the pair responsible for the deadliest school violence in U.S. history - and prowl school hallways looking for prey. Armed with Tec-9 semiautomatics and dressed as the two "Trenchcoat Mafia" loners, gamers lurk through the cafeteria and library, deciding which of their classmates will live or die. Footage of terrified students fleeing Columbine High School and gruesome pictures of Harris and Klebold lying in pools of their own blood in the school's library round out the ill-conceived "entertainment."

Getting off yet? There's more if you aren't:

Each time Harris and Klebold kill someone in the game, a dialogue box pops up on the screen with the words, "Another victory for the Trench Coat Mafia."

The game makes use of Jefferson County Sheriff's Office investigative material, including images of Klebold and Harris after their suicide. The game also uses real photos taken from inside and around the school as a backdrop for some scenes, including images from the cafeteria and the bloody pictures of Harris and Klebold dead on the floor of the school library. None of the photos features victims of the attack.

Of course not! Why should anyone care about the 'losers'? No one ever remembers them, do they?

Someone does:

Roger Kovacs, 22, a Web developer, was so infuriated about the game last week that he sought to figure out who "Columbin" was. Once he learned Ledonne's identity, he posted it on the game's site. "One of the girls who died was a friend of mine," Kovacs said. "Rachel. We were in the same church group. Anyone playing this game can kill Rachel over and over again."

That should get your black heart racing! It does this game blogger, who comes up with a novel excuse to exploit graphic violence in a game:

The world of art has always explored ideas and challenged, confronted and subverted culture. Game creators should be able to do the same.

Games are increasingly used around the world for serious applications other than entertainment. But the stigma that trivialises them as mere toys (usually from an older generation with no game-playing experience) is going to be difficult to shake.

The inevitable (and understandable) outrage over a game based on the Columbine massacre again highlights that it will take a long time before the interactive games industry will be able to tackle the same topics as Hollywood without impunity.

Like another controversial game, JFK Reloaded, there will be no shortage of people who will think the subject matter unsuitable for a game.

But the creator of the "Super Columbine Massacre" role-playing game is clearly an intelligent lad who wants to stir debate on the topic of school violence by using the interactive realm. He argues the game, which has been available on the net for a year, is not a game for entertainment, but rather education, using a common tool of artists around the world - parody.

PARODY??? I DON'T think so:

[P]arody is a form of satire that imitates another work of art in order to ridicule it. It can also be used to poke affectionate fun at the work in question.

So it's OK to use a game to ridicule causing violent death? It's OK to poke 'affectionate fun' at the action? Do we really love killing so much more than the people we kill?

It appears so.

"Columbine deeply touched me," said Ledonne, who says he's also a filmmaker. He watched videos, read newspaper articles and pored over the 11,000 pages of documents released by Jefferson County, Colo., about the day.

"I'm not advocating shooting up your school, and I don't know how many times I can say that and no one will listen. This game does not glorify school shootings. If you make it far enough in the game, you see very graphic photos of Eric and Dylan lying dead," Ledonne said. "I can't think of a more effective way to confront their actions and the consequences those actions had."

You think that this lame presentation of fatal consequence justifies your turning tragedy into a game which makes light of it? Many openly disagree with you:

Columbine game makes us ill
Denver Post, CO

The mere thought of a Columbine High School shoot-'em-up video game seems like a repulsive joke, the sort of thing you might hear between Beavis and Butt-head. The fact that someone created such a game, and that some 10,000 people already have downloaded it and played it, is sad commentary about what passes for humanity these days.

The creator told the News he wants the game to start a "real dialogue on the subject of school shootings." That rationale is beyond ridiculous.

But even if we were to take it at face value, the Columbine community and the state have had plenty of "real dialogue" since April 20, 1999. About guns. About bullying. About school safety. About police tactics. About cover-ups. About anger. About violent video games. About grief. About youth culture. About music. About coming together to heal.

Mocking what happened that unusually gorgeous spring day shows a lack of humanity.
The senseless and brutal killings of 13 innocents wasn't a game; it was reality. And we must never forget that, or those who died that day.

That isn't the end of the outrage. You think that presenting the graphic visual fatal consequence of the aggression of Harris and Klebold justifies your plagiarism?

Some of the photographs included in the game were taken from the Rocky Mountain News and were used without the paper's permission. John Temple, the paper's editor, president and publisher, said that the newspaper is taking steps to prevent their unauthorized use.

Even a sympathetic game reviewer has reservations:

[E]very 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.

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.
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.

[T]he whole thing feels like a rehashing of what we already know about Klebold and Harris' backgrounds, except with a much more pro-shooter stance. 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. 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).

Sometimes wisdom comes from the most unexpected sources. Our game reviewer proves to be one such source:

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.

It's my contention that using violence for fun should never generate ambivalence - no matter how that violence is presented. Whether attending a boxing match or vicariously shooting up a high school and killing classmates, one should be feeling something much more direct and connected.

But if you don't, that will tell us everything about you that we need to know.

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pessimist :: 8:11 PM :: Comments (32) :: TrackBack (0) :: Digg It!