Playing Columbine (2008) Poster

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Despite The Computer Game-like Pacing, This Film Still Has Important Idea To Share.
Michael McGonigle4 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
A psychologist friend of mine once said to me, "How do I know why people do the crazy things they do?" I try to remember that whenever something like Columbine goes down, because there is an immediate need in the media to find out what caused this to happen.

But remember, the list of causatives can't be a long or complex one. If you can list two or three things like say, Goth culture, Marilyn Manson's music or computer games, the chances are, especially if the killers are kids themselves that they have a familiarity with at least one of these things, so ergo, ipso facto, that must be what made the killers do it.

It is amazing, but I still find myself reminding people of the simple principle that correlation is not causation. Consider this, I bet the Columbine killers had coffee in the twenty-four hour period preceding the shootings. Did coffee make them do it? If they ate Pop Tarts, shouldn't we just ban Pop Tarts; you know, to be on the safe side?

I found myself thinking about this and many other things after watching the new documentary Playing Columbine which looks at the controversy surrounding a free Internet computer game called Super Columbine Massacre RPG! (henceforth Massacre) which was designed by a Colorado computer game enthusiast named Danny Ledonne.

Massacre was designed anonymously and put out for free on the web (which indicates to me that Mr. Ledonne was not looking for fame or money) and the only reason Danny Ledonne has come out into the spotlight to defend himself is because he was pushed there by many unsavory people trying to use the fake outrage surrounding his computer game to advance their own agendas.

It is possible that Danny Ledonne was naïve and did not realize how much anger his game would cause and he didn't do himself any favors by saying his only intention was to raise awareness about issues surrounding the 1999 Columbine shootings because while that may have been true, it sounds like a hack justification.

The film Playing Columbine was directed by Danny Ledonne and while he doesn't show any especial talent as a filmmaker, he does present a more balanced view of this controversy than any of his critics would have if they had made a similar film.

I can tell that Danny Ledonne comes from the world of computer games and not from cinema because his sense of filmic pacing is non-existent. Playing Columbine moves with all the subtlety of a computer game. It is a relentless assault of talking head clips, rarely held for more than a few seconds intermixed with shots from newsreels, feature films, comedy shows and other pieces of found media and you are barely able to process what you have heard before you are off on another tangent. Take it from me Danny; a film made entirely from quickly paced sections does not yield a quickly paced film.

We hear a lot from people who design, play or study computer games and naturally, they don't think that a mass murder on the level of Columbine is reducible to a single cause and we hear their various theories and thoughts and they are an impressive array of commentators.

On the negative side of the question, we have the usual suspects whose only concern is "saving the children" like Tim Winter, a spokesman from the Parents Television Council and from Jack Thompson, a Florida lawyer (recently disbarred) who has been fighting a pitched battle against the computer game industry for a very long time.

I have no doubt that Jack Thompson feels slighted by the film Playing Columbine, but take it from me Jack, if your arguments come across as stupid and untenable, it's because they are.

Thompson's arguments consist of loaded questions like (I'm paraphrasing) "Would you rather have your kids play violent video games for hours, or spend that time studying the Bible?" This is like the question, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" No matter how you answer it, you are wrong.

Typical of a bone-head like Thompson that he doesn't even consider that there are more things a parent can do with their children than either reading the Bible or playing computer games. I don't want to say Jack Thompson has delusions of grandeur, but at one point he does say that he is only trying to save Western Civilization.

At one point, Jack Thompson says the computer game companies have posted death threats against him on various websites, yet he can't show us a single example of one. Then, Mr. Thompson fervently denies ever saying that several post-Columbine school shooters "were trained on Super Columbine Massacre RPG!", but director Danny Ledonne then shows us actual clips from Fox News among other sources where Thompson says those exact words, yet he still denies it.

Jack Thompson says he just wants to hold the computer game industry accountable for the psychological damage they cause and he compares his efforts to early activists who pressed the cigarette manufacturers to own up to their responsibilities.

OK Jack Thompson, how about this, you claim to be a born again Christian and that you are doing all this because it is your Biblical duty. The weekend before the Columbine shooting, one of the killers, Dylan Klebold, went to the prom with one Robyn Anderson who has been described as a sweet and pretty girl who was like you, a solid, Jesus saved me Christian.

She also helped the Columbine killers acquire three of the four guns they used. This is all on public record, if you don't believe me, look it up yourself.

Are you willing to share responsibility for that?
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An important film for those who believe in artistic expression
sleepyeyedsolutions23 November 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Playing Columbine focuses on the the video game "Super Colombine Massacre RPG!" which has been reviewed as a sick and demented portrayal of the upsetting Columbine High School shooting which took place on Tuesday, April 20th, 1999. The video game touched a nerve with many people who considered it as a slap in the face to the victims and the families of the victims who endured the reprehensible events that occurred that day.

At first glance and with an uneducated opinion I too was a bit shocked at the audacity of the programmer, but without actually playing the game itself I found myself in the position of "judging a book by its cover" so I decided to try to be impartial, play the game and watch the documentary about it.

I came to the realization that I prejudged and wrongly so. In the information age we all live in it's easy to get wrapped up in media over-saturation and condemn something in which we have no first-hand knowledge of. To do so is irresponsible, and is such in this case.

Playing Columbine serves as a historical autobiography of Danny Ledonne and his accidental notoriety of creating his controversial game and its effects. It's autobiographical because it is directed by Danny himself and is, in my opinion, executed quite well. The film takes a look at mainstream media as a whole and how his game is considered to be part of that media, but also treated separately, as video games haven't yet crossed the threshold of simple entertainment to true artwork. Making that argument is a difficult one and is illustrated within the film.

Films which have depicted identical situations to the Colombine Shootings in complete graphic detail, such as Elephant and Zero Day, are critically acclaimed and hailed for their artistic achievement, while video games which depict the same scenarios are condemned and shunned by, not only audiences, but festival events which claim to be an outlet for such expressive works.

The film describes, convincingly, that there is artistic integrity in video games and this is where the film truly delivers its message. At this point the viewer realizes that the game itself isn't necessarily the focus as much as the intent the game and games like it try to convey. That intent? Emotion. Every great work of art makes the viewer feel something profound and to create something that will misdirect the emotions and bring them to a place they never thought possible through a "simple video game" is truly a work of art.

The film also fairly represents the opinions opposite of the artistic side. Notable interviews are present with Jack Thompson, a noted attorney and video game industry critic, and Tim Winter, the Parents Television Council President. Both have thought provoking insight to what the impact of video games have and the film shows this in a balanced manner. Their interviews come off as an intellectual opposing viewpoints rather than vilified zealotry. Quite a difficult task, especially for a director who is so tangled within the story itself. Does this give the film no point of view? of course not, the film is heavily weighted towards the artistic viewpoint, but to put one's ego aside and fairly represent the opposition is what is truly at the heart of journalism. Michael Moore could take a lesson or two from Danny Ledonne.

As far as criticisms go I have to say that the technical aspects of the film are rather lackluster, but that's to be expected for a rather low-budget film and especially for a feature directorial debut. Lighting and art direction are kind of put on the back burner to give way to the excellent storytelling which is as compelling as it gets.

This film is truly a work which is to not be ignored. Super Columbine Massacre RPG!, love it or hate it, has caused an uproar and opened the door for discussion on both sides of the argument of artistic expression and the extent of our first amendment rights.
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Games can be something greater
Dylan Fields4 January 2016
This movie asks the legitimate question of "Why are games treated so differently, compared to movies?" "Why is it that a game like 'Super Columbine Massacre RPG' get pulled from a game competition while movies like 'Django Unchained' are hailed as art-pieces that should be allowed to do whatever they want?" And the movie offers one simple, very obvious answer, "They shouldn't."

Playing Columbine really shows how gaming can really evolve into something better. If developers are brave enough games can do anything a movie can do, if not better. While I don't like "Super Columbine Massacre RPG," I do admire the provocative nature of it, and of games like it. Most of the games featured in this movie could probably start a new genre of "documentary-style" games, set to inform people, through gameplay.

I also feel the movie did a good job of presenting both parties of "People who are more avid in video game culture" and "People who don't really know much about video games other than their kids play them." The film even had the balls to get a certain former attorney from Florida who shall not be named. I really didn't get very much bias from this film, even when it was talking about Danny Ledonne, the filmmaker and creator of "Super Columbine Massacre RPG," and how his game was pulled from the Slamdance festival.

I feel like this is a game that everyone should see, if not play, whether you consider yourself a "gamer" or not. As we've seen over the years games are changing. The past few years we've seen things like "Papers, Please" and "This War of Mine" come up on Steam and GOG. These are games that address important issues facing the world today, and they do it in a very respectable way. While I may not like SCMRPG, I do want it to be influential in the evolution of gaming. And hopefully games can continue to evolve to a point where they are held up equal to television and film.
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The Game Creator's Flashback
Irishmoviereviewer16 May 2014
Warning: Spoilers
If you think of it, this creator must had a lot on his mind when the time Columbine happened and he probably felt that he wanted to dig in the killers lives and do something about it.

I have seen the game on Youtube and it makes you so sad plus heartbroken that this happened years ago even if I was a toddler then and not from America!

I also found that this creator was very creative with the 8-bit style in the game but I do have to say the font wasn't the best because the characters were separating plus confusing. Anyways I think people that have played the game or never heard of it before should check it out.
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