Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Be Men, Not Destroyers

Kieron Gillen | 27 Feb 2007 07:00
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Seriously. You have a game where you're wiping out an entire school of kids. How can this not glorify violence?
Because it's no fun.

This is where the "bad craft" arguments fall apart. They imply that the game may have actually been OK if they'd made wiping out the kids more entertaining, as if SCMRPG could have been Medal of Honor, if only Ledonne tried harder. Nothing could be further than the truth. A designer chooses the mechanics required to create the desired emotional response. If you want to make a game about a massacre and capture the core disgust, the last thing you want to do is make it fun. Starting with the RPG Maker's limited combat, its mechanics are tweaked appropriately.

In the actual fights, you're loaded with weaponry and find increasingly devastating firearms as you progress. You can return to your car to replenish ammunition whenever you want. The vast majority of the students and teachers don't even fight back. Maybe you'll take a couple of hits from jocks to begin with, but soon it's all just embarrassingly perfunctory. You can kill as many as you want and be hailed ironically as "brave boys" every time you do it. All of this conspires to underline the meaninglessness of their slaughter. And fundamentally, while it's not much fun, the one bit of craft it gets right is the basic Final Fantasy-esque compulsiveness of improving statistics. The grind is the key mechanic which addicts people to RPGs. There's only vestigial pleasure in it, per se, but you can't stop doing it. Here, it's harnessed for more existential reasons. You're not enjoying it, but you go from one pointless fight to another, the alienation mounting along with the experience points.

It's cold. It's really cold. As cold as what the pair of them did to the people in that school, and you're struck at a profound level of how sad it is. Not just that people would die like that, but more because the horror of the mindset you'd have to enter to treat real human beings as nothing more import than two-dimensional sprites. Why would someone go and do something so pointless?

While videogames didn't make them do it, it's clear the repetitive brutality of a videogame is a good metaphor for how they viewed the world. By showing the absolutely hollow, tedious nature of the pair's fantasies, it can't help but critique them. Even for Harris and Klebold, living out their fantasy wasn't all they hoped it'd be. Not that it can be found in the game, but the pair are reported to have talked about how, near the end, shooting got too boring, and they thought about switching to knives.

As the death toll of "Preppy Girl" or "Nerd Girl" is inching into the hundreds, you feel likewise. This is the game at its formalist best, in how it subverts classical mechanics to make its point.

OK. I get it. But if you had to say one thing about Super Columbine Massacre RPG! what would you say?
In 1995, in the 10th anniversary book of Calvin and Hobbes, creator Bill Watterson inserted little pieces of commentary onto some of his favorite strips. In a Sunday one, Calvin attacks his school in an F-16 "loaded with tons of every conceivable missile," reducing it to "smoldering crater." "I got some nasty mail about this strip," he noted. "Some readers thought it was inexcusable to show a kid fantasize about bombing his school off the face of the Earth. Apparently, some of my readers were never kids themselves." Five years later, such opinions were conspicuously absent, but the truth remains. Lots of people didn't like school. Lots of people fantasize one way or another about doing something about it. Lots of people would love a game where they'd be able to annihilate it from the face of the Earth.

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