What follows is a transcript of eToychest’s interview with Danny Ledonne, the developer of Super Columbine Massacre RPG, regarding the game’s recent removal from the upcoming Slamdance independent game festival.
Snackbar Games: To start off, tell me how you came to enter Super Columbine Massacre RPG into this year’s Slamdance competition. Thanks to the magic of the internet, I’ve seen a few differing anecdotal accounts in my research.
Danny Ledonne: Slamdance GGC director Sam Roberts contacted me last October and encouraged me to submit the game. I expressed hesitation based mostly on licensing issues but over the next few days he assured me that this wasn’t a concern and I then submitted my game to Slamdance. SCMRPG was named a finalist. Months later it was pulled. The rest is still unfolding.
SBG: When you were notified that your game was removed from consideration, what was your initial reaction? Conversely, what are your thoughts now?
DL: I was notified only after the game was removed (Thursday the 4th of January). I was led to believe that this was due to loss of sponsorship so I was quite understanding. Now this appears not to be the case at all and so I’m less certain what to think other than that this would’ve never happened to a film in the same circumstances (and the same subject matter).
SBG: Again, addressing the internSBG: there are plenty of people out there who are dismissive of the game’s removal from the finalist’s list because they believe the judges only intended to include the game for its controversial value. How do you respond?
DL: I can’t speak for the judges and I don’t know why they chose this game… but I really want people to see past the fact that it is simply controversial. It is also heavily researched. It is also a commentary on gaming. It is pushing what games are and what they can be. I believe it was on those merits that the game was chosen, not merely controversy alone (which, in my best estimation, is why the game was pulled out of the festival).
SBG: Slamdance has screened controversial games in the past. What is it that makes yours so different?
DL: Perhaps my game deals with a more uncomfortable subject matter. Perhaps placing the player in the role of a school shooter is too confrontational and discomforting for people. I’m not really sure since I still don’t really know why the game was pulled to begin with. Slamdance certainly knew what they were getting into by selecting the game, however; SCMRPG has a virtual paper trail of controversy already and if they weren’t prepared to deal with it they’d be better off not having courted it.
SBG: In an Artist’s Statement on SCMRPG‘s Web site, you talk about the need for more socially conscious games. What do you think needs to happen for games to become more widely accepted as literature?
DL: That’s something I’ve thought about quite a bit and have discussed with contemporaries of mine inside and outside the game industry. The first step is probably acknowledging that a game about 9/11 or Columbine or some other divisive topic can be valuable and moreover shouldn’t be “off limits” for videogames. This is a medium that isn’t for kids anymore. It has the potential to challenge mature audiences. It has the potential to reach people in a way currently impossible by other mediums.
Perhaps game developers need to consider making more literate work to begin with. SCMRPG includes passages from TS Elliot, Dante’s Inferno, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Why can’t more games engage players in a cerebral way? There’s no reason for games to be equivocated to toys when they can be crafted more like a documentary film or a political cartoon… or even something that doesn’t really exist yet because games are still “coming into their own” as a form of communication and art.
SBG: Do you think Slamdance has damaged the legitimacy of video games as a medium with this decision? For instance, no film or novel would be given this treatment.
DL: This has absolutely damaged Slamdance in this way; half the game developers have pulled their games out and USC Interactive Media has pulled sponsorship. Who would honestly submit an edgy game to Slamdance next year after this has happened? Only time will tell, of course, but the outlook for the GGC isn’t so good right now.
SBG: Is there anything else we haven’t discussed that you’d like to comment on?
DL: This is just something I’d like to throw out there: SCMRPG is one amateur game but has come to represent the beginnings of a movement in gaming: one toward games being truly artful objects that confront our world instead of simply distracting us from it. This idea isn’t going to go away; there will be more games about controversial issues and our culture is going to be faced with some very real choices as to how it deals with agenda gaming in the future.