Interview: Tracy Fullerton

January 15, 2007

What follows is a transcript of eToychest’s interview with Tracy Fullerton regarding the recent removal of Super Columbine Massacre RPG from the upcoming Slamdance independent game festival. Tracy Fullerton is a assistant professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Interactive Media Division, and is co-director at the Electronic Arts Game Innovation Lab.

Snackbar Games: To start off, I’d like to play devil’s advocate – Doesn’t Slamdance have the right to change its mind if it deems the content of Super Columbine Massacre RPG inappropriate?

Tracy Fullerton: We don’t dispute their legal right to make this decision, but we do object to the decision in principle and are invoking our right to rescind our support.

SBG: There has been some buzz in the blogosphere that pressures from ‘backers’ led to SCMRPG‘s removal. Is it true that, as one of those backers, this issue was not discussed with you? Is Slamdance’s inability to keep an open dialogue with its sponsors more or less damning than the poor timing of their decision?

TF: The decision was not discussed with us at all — we found out after the fact. I think the decision should have been discussed with sponsors, as it changes the nature of the contest. In effect, it communicates that Slamdance will honor the best independent games that are not too controversial.

SBG: When I first heard the news about this incident, my first thought was that banning Elephant or Bowling For Columbine from consideration at any film festival would have dramatic repercussions, and yet the Directors of Slamdance found this course of action acceptable. What do you think prompts this kind of double standard? What needs to happen for interactive media, such as video games, to be afforded the same respect as, say, film, another medium which is still relatively young?

TF: I think that games are emerging as an important and expressive art that have the potential to be as important to the coming century as film was to the previous century. It is crucial that we recognize the right to free expression in this emerging form even while we are still learning to use it to communicate effectively. It’s clear that game makers are just now beginning to thing about how they use the form to express complex ideas. If we’re going to get better at it, we need support from artistic venues in this process.

SBG: Do you think this action on Slamdance’s part constitute some kind of sea change or, to try and be hip, a ‘selling out’? Given their inclusion of Waco Resurrection just a few years ago, it seems that their views on controversial subject matter are drastically different.

TF: I think it was a decision specific to this game, but it sets a dangerous precedent. Waco is a good example of a controversial game that they screened in the past, and supported in the same way they’ve supported countless controversial films. It’s an argument for the fact that there should not be a double standard between films and games.

SBG: All things considered, is there any chance of the Interactive Media Division sponsoring the festival again? If so, what would it take on Slamdance’s part to make it happen?

TF: I don’t know what will happen in the future. I certainly hope that Slamdance survives this experience and is able to grow from it.

SBG: Slamdance isn’t the only event of its type, though it may be the most high profile. As the spearhead of this protest, has your department considered attempting to host a similar competition in the future to fill the resulting void?

TF: No, we’re not thinking of that right now.

SBG: Have you played SCMRPG? If so, what are your thoughts on it?

TF: Yes, I have. It is a difficult game in terms of its subject matter. I found it deeply disturbing, but it made me think about the events in a way that no other media has done. I’ve seen countless TV reports, films, etc. on the tragedy, but this game took me through that day and implicated me personally in the events that took place. I won’t say I enjoyed the game, but it was certainly thought-provoking.

SBG: I appreciate you taking the time out to speak with me. Is there anything we haven’t discussed that you’d like to comment on?

TF: Just that this was an incredibly difficult decision, not only for us, but for the finalists who pulled their games from the contest, and that I only hope that out of that sacrifice will come a serious discussion of games and freedom of expression that helps the medium achieve a level of legitimacy as an art form.