PlayingColumbinePosterA 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 to raise awareness about issues surrounding the 1999 Columbine shootings because while that may have been true, it sounds like a hack justification. But once he was called to account, he patiently and painstakingly made every attempt to follow up on his intent to get people to talk about issues surrounding Columbine and other tragedies of a similar nature.

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.

PlayingColumbine1I 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 another 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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September 30, 2009 10:38 pm

I actually interviewed Danny Ledonne as part of a big piece I did on the Slamdance controversy back as it was happening. I also played the game to completion during my research for the story, and it’s a disturbing experience, but not a crass one. It’s a lo-fi, interactive version of Elephant, really.