Playing Columbine

Big Smash! presents the premiere film in its new monthly documentary series Outsider Asylum:
Playing Columbine
Thursday, November 26 at 8:00pm
at the Ellice Theatre
587 Ellice Ave.

It’s unlikely we’ll ever forget the fateful day, April 20, 1999, when two students at Columbine High School in Colorado committed the unthinkable. The tragic events sent shockwaves throughout the world, destroying the illusion that our private spaces might be secure. Given the resonant spot the shootings at Littleton, CO hold in our collective memory, numerous artists and thinkers have considered its impact on our society through a variety of media, from a tall stack of books on the topic to a Palme d’or-winning film. One particular interpretation, however, sparked ferocious controversy throughout America’s daily press. It wasn’t so much the content of the work as the medium chosen to deliver it, a medium largely overlooked in its potential for creativity—the video game.

In 2005 Super Columbine Massacre RPG! appeared on the Web, an amateur production every bit as incendiary as its name suggests in its revisiting of the facts and acts of the two Littleton shooters. Dowloaded by millions of Web surfers, it took little time before the media zeroed in on the provocative game and its creator, who’d understandably maintained anonymity up to that point. Danny Ledonne never suspected that this novelty assembled in his spare time would attract so much attention. In addition to having to explain his intentions to scandal-hungry reporters, Ledonne saw his title yanked from the video-game competition at the Slamdance Festival. The game resurfaced in the news when it was revealed that Kimveer Gill, the gunman who attacked Dawson College here in Montreal, was an avid player. After two years of having cameras shoved in his face, Ledonne decided to pick one up himself to share his side of this resolutely modern story.

Like the game Super Columbine Massacre RPG!, Playing Columbine promises to provoke heated debate. Though he primarily addresses his personal experiences, Ledonne’s film branches out to touch on far more than might seem apparent at first blush. Avoiding easy sensationalism, the director ponders the possibilities of video games, be they as a platform for murderous propaganda or as a tool for tackling societal problems. His exploration of counterculture, illustrated by examples of amateur video games both shocking and fascinating, reveals much of our ambiguous feelings towards new media. A gripping documentary on freedom of expression and its limits, Playing Columbine is an important work about the crazy times in which we live.

—Simon Laperrière (translated by Rupert Bottenberg)


From UPTOWN Magazine November 19, 2009:
Video games don’t kill people…
Playing Columbine attempts to explore violent role-playing games and the effect they have on those who enjoy them

Presented by Big Smash! Productions as part of its new monthy documentary series, Outsider Asylum.

Even though it seems that every generation has to defend its own brand of art from its detractors – see: psychiatrist/author Fredric Wertham’s attack on comic books in the 1950s to the various litigations brought against punk and metal music in the 1980s – Playing Columbine stretches the analogy to its utmost.

Now up for criticism is a simplistically rendered video game that dramatizes the actions of the two Columbine High School shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.

Danny Ledonne, the rabble-rousing creator of the controversial role-playing game (RPG) satirically titled Super Columbine Massacre RPG, also directs this feature-length exposé. His film not only charts the development of and online reaction to his own game, it also explores other similarly minded games. Ledonne interviews scholars, game creators, the people who play them, and the major opposing force of such entertainment, activist Jack Thompson.

Thompson, who is apparently hated so much in the industry that he turns up as an optional character in a 2006 Mortal Kombat game, is immediately discredited by way of a roundup of Fox News reports that have him literally declaring what he denies saying to Ledonne in a more recent interview.

Ledonne attempts balance by allowing a fair amount of supporters, dissenters, and the survivors of the Dawson College shooting in Montreal to be heard. It’s since been confirmed that Kimveer Gill, the perpetrator of that incident, was a fan of violent video games, including Ledonne’s RPG.

After the first 20 minutes, the game that inspired the doc is put aside, and the focus shifts to whether such entertainment serves a healthy function or is a training ground for mass murderers. Ledonne is obviously biased towards the former argument, but hears out those that feel the games he programs may be damaging to society.

Although the subject matter is fascinating, first-time director Ledonne doesn’t really instill a forward momentum, and the same material is reiterated repeatedly. A late-in-the-game thread on the controversy caused by the Slamdance Film Fest when his RPG was awarded a Special Documentary Prize also takes up more time than it should.

Playing Columbine mostly works when it distances itself from the debate on whether the games desensitize people to violence and focuses on the boundaries being pushed in the form as a whole. It’s in those moments that the film presents its case clear-eyed and earnestly.

— Aaron Graham


~ by cineflyer on November 8, 2009.

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