Slamdance finalist Super Columbine Massacre RPG has been officially kicked from the festival due to mounting pressure from protesters and the loss of sponsorship, the game's creator told Kotaku Thursday night.
This is the first time in the Slamdance Festival's 13-year history that a game or film has been removed from the festival due to criticism or outside pressure.
In a last minute phone call Thursday evening, Slamdance president and co-founder Peter Baxter, told game developer Danny Ledonne that he regards his decision to remove the game from the festival as "deeply flawed," but necessary to the festival's survival. He went on to say, according to Ledonne, that the festival's initial decision to select the game was "consistent with Slamdance's philosophy but somewhat naive," and apologized profusely for pulling the entry.
Ledonne said that he bears no ill will toward the festival, but that the decision to pull the game does raise concerns about freedom of speech and video game development.
While comparisons between film and games are tenuous at the best of times, it's hard not to ask whether a fictional film about Columbine should be any more or less acceptable in a film festival like Sundance or say.. Cannes. It is also worth asking: should the same censorship apply if the player can explore being both the victim and the perpetrator in a tragic historical event? Does censorship of this kind rule out distribution of games that genuinely use the medium to better understand the conditions that produce events of this kind?
Even if it were possible (or interesting) for the developer to handle such subject matter with neutrality - in the sense of a 'documentary game' - the populist fear of games quickly drives to the conclusion that the player is always morally implicated as a result of their actions; that to make a choice in a game is to act with intention and, by corollary, the choices he/she's presented with directly transpire as a kind of ludic instruction. Various extreme Judeo-Christian groups in America configure this process as a spiritual corruption of some sort.. and so this metaphysical, expensive and very boring witch-hunt goes on.
Perhaps someone should make a game whereby the player constructs a little voodoo-doll of Jack Thompson under candle-light while Dark Throne chugs away in the background. When he gets upset, ask him if it's because the game makes him feel weird..