A Meditation on Super Columbine Massacre RPG!
When I discovered a program called RPG Maker, I knew I had to achieve my childhood ambition of designing a video game. The question of what the game’s subject would be came almost instantly; a striking event from my own formative years tugged at my instincts to make the “unthinkable” game. Little did I know as I began to research the Columbine shooting on April 20th, 1999 that the subject never went away in the minds of many others, either. From Germany to Australia and all across the United States, thousands of websites devoted to providing information/criticism/critique of the incident came to my attention. The question at the center of the storm was an elusive one: “why did they do it?”
Thus far, video games have been relegated to escapist entertainment—an industry known best for little blue hedgehogs and plucky mustached plumbers bouncing about in fantasy worlds. There is little in the realm of socially conscious gaming—software that does more than merely amuse for a few idle hours. Yet while some low-selling games offer pedagogical education (in geography, math, etc.), games that genuinely challenge social taboos or confront real cultural issues are nearly non-existent. I wanted to make something that mattered; I wasn’t willing to put months of my scant free time into an easily forgotten adventure set in a mythical realm of dragons or spaceships.
I knew I had to be true to the events of the Columbine school shooting—as true as I could be while maintaining respect for the tragically deceased; it was a more delicate balance of personal morality than many of my detractors imagine I took. Since 1999 so many mistruths have been spoken and political postures have been struck in the wake of the shooting that I didn’t want to fall into the speculative pitfalls of much of the media’s coverage. The game had to be told from the perspective of the shooting’s greatest enigmas of all: Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. They left behind many of their thoughts—some frightening, some deplorable, some comical, and some deeply enraged. I collected all of them and assembled them into a role-playing game aesthetically reminiscent of those I would play in my own youth. It only made sense, I thought, to make this game feel like a combination of reading, playing, and thinking.
The end result—now swarming the Internet from one download mirror to another, via personal file transfers on instant messengers and peer-to-peer programs—is a game that has been called nearly every hyperbole in the English language. Its creator, known for over a year only as the alias “Columbin,” has been described as a “genius,” a “sick human being,” a “real philosopher,” and even “the Antichrist.” The game’s success comes not from its technical accomplishments or engaging gameplay but rather the provocative polarization it elicits from audiences. One thing can be certain, though: ‘Super Columbine Massacre RPG!’ is a bit unlike anything already in the cultural canon and pushes the envelope as to what a video game can be.
The lingering question—that grand burning query so many have tried to answer—is one I believe this game allows us to at least access in a more honest way. Beyond the simple platitudes and panaceas of gun control, media ratings/censorship, bully prevention programs, and parental supervision remains a glaring possibility: that the society we have created is deeply moribund. This game asks more of its audience than rudimentary button-pushing and map navigation; it implores introspection. This is why the game’s forum was equally important to the SCMRPG project. Through it, people from six continents and all walks of life discussed the game itself and the incident it is based on. Some of them confessed childhood pain or share personal feelings on the shooting. Some of them sustained vulgar diatribes or accused the creator of wrongdoing. Some of them discussed the game’s social implications in a broader context. At the end of the day, the understanding of the Columbine school shooting is deepened and redefined. That is the real object of the game.
Somewhere between April 20th, 1999 and September 11th, 2001, America entered into a new, terrifying, and desperate era. Citizens can no longer afford to believe the necessary illusions of modern society. In an age when hastily-formed scapegoats and false dichotomies of “good” and “evil” run rampant, SCMRPG dares us into a realm of grey morality with nuanced perspectives of suffering, vengeance, horror, and reflection. In the words of Harris’ friend Brooks Brown, there are “no easy answers” to such a socially indicting tragedy. As humanity teeters precariously on the threshold of collapse—politically, ideologically, and environmentally, the days of comatose media coverage and a subservient populace cannot remain. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, through their furious words and malevolent actions, can be understood as the canaries in the mine—foretelling of an “apocalypse soon” for those remaining to ponder their deeds. With ‘Super Columbine Massacre RPG!,’ I present to you one of the darkest days in modern history and ask, “Are we willing to look in the mirror?”