The Political Game: Industry should distance itself from Columbine game

Each week Dennis McCauley contributes The Political Game, a column on the collision of politics and video games:

Super Columbine Massacre creeps me out.

Maybe that's what designer Danny Ledonne had in mind. If so, mission accomplished. Ledonne clearly wanted to use the game medium to explore the motivations of killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Whether you like his methodology or not, there's a famous piece of yellowed paper resting under glass in the National Archives that says he's free to express himself however he pleases. But whatever Ledonne's purpose in creating SCMRPG, the negative mainstream publicity surrounding the controversial game is not good for the video game industry. Game publishers ought to be proactively making it clear that Super Columbine Massacre isn't a product of their tribe.

Why?

Because the idea that a game company might be so craven as to profit from the Columbine massacre is hurting the industry. Because non-gaming types simply don't understand the difference between LeDonne's self-made art project and a multimillion dollar commercial game product like, say, Rockstar's Bully.

That was never more clear than during last week's hearing of the Public Utilities and Technology Committee of the Utah House of Representatives. There, confusion reigned as one legislator asked what Bully, "the Columbine game," was rated. A second legislator, the sponsor of a video game bill before the committee responded, "The Columbine game's rated Teen."

Scary, huh?

What's scarier is that every single elected official on that committee accepted that statement as fact until a sharp-witted ESA attorney named Steve Sabey jumped in and corrected the notion. Sabey explained that "the Columbine game" was Ledonne's home brew creation and not a commercial product. To be honest, despite Sabey's efforts, I'm still not sure the legislators got the message.

Now, as gamers, you and I both understand that Super Columbine Massacre is an indie game created by a one-man design team using readily available tools. It's a freebie download, not a commercial product of the game industry, not published by an ESA member company, not rated by the ESRB. But to the mainstream media and the general public, the distinction is frighteningly unclear, as witnessed by the clueless discussion in the Utah House. How many non-gamers understand the difference between industry and non-industry products? I mean, they're all just video games, right?

Utah's collective legislative confusion was due in large part to anti-game attorney Jack Thompson's oft-repeated mantra that Bully is a "Columbine simulator." Great sound bite, even if it is a load of nonsense. Thompson, of course, authored the Utah legislation, which has now been shelved over constitutional concerns. Good call by the Utah politicians, since the bill was based on Thompson's Louisiana bill which a federal judge hit with the unconstitutional stick last November.

The multiple waves of publicity surrounding Super Columbine Massacre RPG have been serendipitous for Thompson, however. Non-gamers read about Ledonne's Columbine game in the paper and then hear Thompson going on about Bully as a Columbine simulator. Is it any wonder things get mixed up?

For its part, the ESA needs to be far more proactive in, well, in just about everything, but especially in correcting the misinformation spread about commercial video games. It also needs to publicly distance itself from games with the potential to cast the entire sector in a bad light -- games like SCMRPG.


Dennis McCauley is the Political Editor for the Entertainment Consumers Association (www.theeca.com), tracks the political side of video games at GamePolitics.com and writes about games for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Opinions expressed in The Political Game are his own. Reach him at

This article was originally published on Joystiq.