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    May 29th, 2012 at 14:22:55     -    Super Columbine Massacre RPG (PC)

    Session 3

    So apparantly I'm in hell now, as Dylan, fighting Doom monsters. Can't say that I saw this coming. I'm not sure what the author is going for here. Maybe he's trying to reinforce the idea that the preceeding section, where the players blast students, is just as abstracted from reality as going to the gates of hell and fighting the damned? I thought he had already made that point well through the audio-visual design. Is this sequence an attempt at comic relief? Not necessary or appropriate for this game.

    In keeping with (relative) historical accuracy, Harris and Klebold end their spree--and their lives--in the library after trading fire with police. The "ending," such as it is, consists of more still images taken from CCTV footage and media coverage of the day. We see victims, the police, and finally, a montage of Dylan and Eric growing up. They change from cute kids to the killers whose faces were immortalized in broadcasts following the shootings. Again, the theme here is that in many respects, these two teens weren't different from the rest of us.

    ...and then Doom level out of nowhere. I'm having a hard time getting exactly what this game is trying to achieve (and I'm avoiding reading any interviews with the author, remember). Intent is critical to judging this game as a whole: it's the difference between art and accident. I think the exploitive nature of the game, its dealing with a sensitive, serious subject in an ironic way, could be forgiven if it SCMRPG was a good faith attempt to start a dialogue. To be honest, that's where I thought the game was coming from; it certainly got me thinking about Columbine critically for the first time in ten years or so.

    But now, with the Doom sequence, it comes across as really drawn out joke, with the shootings themselves the setup, and Dylan Klebold living out videogame fantasies for eternity as the punchline. Maybe there's redemption for SCMPRG ahead, but it doesn't look that way for now.

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    May 28th, 2012 at 20:25:36     -    Super Columbine Massacre RPG (PC)

    Session 2

    So I've just finished the cafeteria. There are a couple of cutscenes here. The first displays a frame from the now-infamous CCTV recording, and the second is a flashback sequence in which Dylan recounts sitting alone at lunch time. "Green Plastic Trees" by Radiohead plays in the background.

    I know I've mentioned the music previously (how it reinforces the "teen angst" that defines Dylan and Eric), but I wanted to talk about it a bit more. I've been able to recognize every single song in the game so far; it's practically the soundtrack of my high school years. I guess what's troubling me is that it's also the personal soundtrack of the shooters.

    I'm only two years younger than Harris and Klebold. We grew up in the same times, listened to the same music, and knew the same kind of "outsiders." I remember being lonely, and really depressed (and I take SSRI antidepressants, though thankfully not the Luvox that Harris was prescribed--it has a much higher rate of adverse effects). I played plenty of violent first person videogames. How did I end up living a completely normal life, and those two wound up becoming mass murderers?

    If we accept the conventional wisdom of the effects of media on young people, then the answer is not clear. In the aftermath of Columbine, there was a lot of finger pointing, but the lion's share fell on Doom and Marilyn Manson. To their critics, Doom and Manson were brainwashing young men like Harris and Klebold into blindly acting out on violent and nihilistic impulses. Those critics would have us see young media consumers as mere automata, passively responding to stimuli.

    I think the conventional wisdom is misguided, and SCMRPG helps illustrate that point. I can't possibly be the only one who sees parallels between the media I consumed as a teen and what Harris and Klebold listened to, watched and played. I'm willing to bet good money a lot of people my age would recognize the same songs, and remember being an angsty teen listening to headphones in their bedroom. Few of us would be considered violent, or dangerous, or disturbed. SCMRPG points this out, and even goes the further step of recreating a shooting blamed on violent media within the context of a violent video game.

    During this session I asked myself, "Does playing this game make me a bad person?" I think the answer that arises from the game so far is that no, it doesn't, and moreover, no, it can't.

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    May 27th, 2012 at 23:49:21     -    Super Columbine Massacre RPG (PC)

    Session 1

    I feel like I should preface anything I write about this game by pointing out that I was a sophomore in high school when the Columbine shootings happend. In the days afterward, some of my classmates started to view the "goths" a little more suspiciously. Others (mostly the kids being held suspect) started wearing trench coats and dark sunglasses. One girl I know expressed sympathy for Harris and Klebold, and was immediately villified for it. The point is, we each had our own take on the situation.

    For me, Columbine was a desparate act undertaken by dysfunctional kids who wanted their lives to mean something, and achieved that meaning in the most morally reprehensible way possible. Having deliberately avoided the artist's statement accompanying SCMRPG (I prefer to experience the game on its own merits first), I think he feels more or less the same way.

    There is a LOT of irony hitting the player all at once: the Final Fantasy style sprites, the enthusiastic punctuation in the name, the lo-fi renditions of 90's teen angst anthems, the references to the Doom and Marilyn Manson controversies. The biggest sources of irony by far, however, are Eric and Dylan, the player characters. They identify with song lyrics and movie monologues, they position themselves as rebels against the establishment, and they embrace their status as outsiders. They do these things to set themselves apart from their classmates and community, to create their own unique identities. And the punchline is this: the classmates they gun down--the jocks, the preps, the nerds--all do these things as well. It's just a part of being a teenager.

    And that seems to be the primary characterization of Dylan and Eric. Yes, they will soon be murderers, and yes, they are deeply disturbed, but first and foremost, they are idiot teenagers. As they chat in the local park before starting their spree, we get a glimpse of their motivations. They want to be a revolutionary vanguard, to be heroes, and most of all, to be remembered. The bombs and guns are their ticket to fame.

    So that's what the game seems like, in a nutshell. Help two idiots kill a bunch of their classmates so that people won't forget them. If nothing else, SCMRPG cuts through the politics and second-guessing that Columbine created, and shows us the parties responsible, naked and plain and ridiculous.

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    Apr 19th, 2012 at 13:49:04     -    Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PC)

    Day 3

    Kill count: 5

    I've been talking about my gameplay experiences with my wife, who's a fellow gamer and game scholar. I told her my thesis from yesterday's entry (that the game really has no internal morality, because consequences aren't permanent and logic doesn't always apply). This was her reply (paraphrasing):

    The game *does* have a moral system in it--the police and the wanted level system. It's just that the police only exist as an obstacle to the player.

    In other words, the only entity in the game that provides moral judgement on your actions isn't there to provoke self-reflection in the player. It's there so that the missions become less boring, since you have at least something to chase you. Hence some have compared GTA to Pac-Man,* with the pedestrians as dots and the police as the ghosts (I'm guessing the rocket launcher is the power pellet).

    Maybe that's why GTA seems so amoral to me. For all the window dressing of drive-bys and high-speed chases, it's easy to see through to the abstracted gameplay: navigate a maze, don't get caught. The weird things I noticed before (the amnesiac police department, the NPCs who return to life the same day they die) only reinforce the "gameiness" of San Andreas.

    I remember listening to Diane Rhiem on NPR when the topic of the day was violence in video games. She and her guests seemed outraged that gamers could sit at home and recreate killing sprees without remorse. The reason we don't feel remorse for running over that cop is because we've been constantly reminded by the game that what we're seeing isn't real. The constant reinforcement of "gameiness" is the best thing Rockstar has in defense of its critics.

    That reinforcement is a double-edged sword. If nothing seems consequential to me, and I have no emotional investment in what happens on-screen, then GTA becomes less a game and more a way to waste time. I think it's telling that the entire gameworld is not available at a new game load. It's almost an admission on the part of the developers that the real enjoyment factor is playing in the sandbox, not experiencing a narrative or exploring moral choices; they have to hold the former hostage to the latter.

    For my part, my last play session consisted of toying with the physics engine, modding car handling attributes,** and driving around aimlessly. I actually found the process of breaking the game (try giving police cars negative mass!) more interesting then exploring the game in the context of it's formal rules.

    I really don't see myself spending any more time in San Andreas.

    *http://kotaku.com/5315632/grand-theft-auto-and-pac+man-the-same
    **http://www.thegtaplace.com/downloads/f522

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