Let’s play a video game where you’re the shooters at the Columbine High School Massacre!
Directed by the creator of the video game Super Columbine Massacre RPG!, “Playing Columbine” explores the video game’s many critics and champions. Director Ledonne, a Colorado native who was in high school at the time of the shootings, used RPG software to create the game in reaction to what he saw and felt at the time, and the game has the lo-fi look and interplay of The Legend of Zelda on the old Nintendo.
Points of view presented on the game are fairly balanced given the director’s obvious bias. Different angles on what video games can do—in a larger historical context, perhaps—would be desirable. For example, “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?,” “Space Invaders” typing tutor, and the old flight simulator also had more in mind than mindless entertainment. Even “Leisure Suit Larry” illustrates content outside the norm from the industry’s past.
Free Speech issues abound, and most interviews focus on this. The cyclic nature of how the same arguments arise with each new technological and social movement is evident. There’s irony in how each “new thing” will totally corrupt the youth of the nation, yet they grow up to be relatively normal nonetheless. It might be advisable to have more moderate speakers present dissent against the game.
The biggest controversy covered, beyond the game’s premise itself, is the game’s initial acceptance into the Slamdance game design competition and ultimate removal. Slamdance’s festival director, jury judges, and others are interviewed as to what backstage politics occurred.
The documentary is very engaging and thought provoking though repetitive at times. Ledonne is a talented filmmaker, and I’m curious to see him tackle subjects not as personally close. “Playing Columbine” is an asset to the ongoing dialogue on protected speech and questions of art in the 21st century.