Monday, January 29, 2007

Slamdance Guerrilla Gamemaking Competition finished with a whimper, after over half the entrants pulled their games in solidarity with Super Columbine Massacre RPG!, after the controversial game was pulled from competition. In contrast, Elephant received the Palme d'Or at Cannes. I would not say that films and video games are equivalent, but if you're going to go to the trouble to hold a game festival as an adjunct to a film festival, you should at the very least extend the same creative freedom to those on both sides. I can guarantee you if it was a film in question, it would have screened at the festival. But apparently there are special rules for video games, because video games are for kids.

Those who succeeded in getting the film pulled, of course, only undermined their objectives, giving the video game a fresh wave of publicity, and new players. I never bothered to play the game, until last week, when, in light of the controversy, I decided to give it a try. I didn't enjoy the game, but then, that's not the point. But I didn't find anything like what the critics of the game describe. Eventually, yes, you start killing students using an NES-era Final Fantasy-esque interface, but I really don't know how even a true sociopath could enjoy that part of the game. Basically, you enter your command, target the student, and they die, within a round or two. No challenge, because the students are completely outgunned. Which really makes it hard to claim that the murderers are somehow made to look heroic.

Overall, I'd say the game is an interesting attempt to tackle very serious issues in a video game format. I don't know if the primitive graphics and dull game play, compared to the first-person shooters the actual killers preferred, was a conscious choice on the game designer's part, or if it was dictated by the medium (the designer used preexisting RPG design software to create his game). But the creator of the game uses the medium to present a cogent point of view regarding a major cultural touchstone, and encourages reflection in his audience. And that's what art is supposed to do.

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