Playing Columbine @ Fantasia

For a change of pace I decided to take in a documentary at the Fantasia Film Festival. I also have to admit I had an ulterior motive in seeing director Danny Ledonne's film. Playing Columbine is about a video game that Ledonne developed after the high school shooting in Columbine and was reputedly one of the favourite video games of Dawson College shooter Kimveer Gill. With its local slant I watched it with great interest.

I think it should not surprise anyone that there is plenty of controversy surrounding the video game Super Columbine Massacre RPG!. Go figure! The game is a reenactment of that horrible school shooting in Columbine, Colorado. Many criticized it as insensitive and the product of a deranged mind. After hearing all this criticism game developer Danny Ledonne decided to answer back and this documentary is his reply to the critics.

Ledonne uses the documentary as his way of telling those who missed the purpose behind his game. He did not make it simply as a shoot 'em up game rather he offered it up as therapy and fodder for conversation for those who played it. It was meant to be a starting off point for discussion complete with a forum for just that attached to the game. He wanted his games to actually get discussion started about teen violence. We are asked to look beyond the game to see what it could teach us about behaviour and violence. Video games can become teaching or communication tools rather than just forms of entertainment.

The freedom of speech and the slanting of stories by the media also take up a portion of the documentary. It is shown how the media often latches on to an aspect of a story and blows it out of proportion in order to gain viewership. Attached to this argument is the local element of the documentary. It is when Ledonne interviews one of the survivors of the Dawson College shooting as well as a Dawson student, Melissa Fuller, who worked for the student newspaper. They both speak of the misinformation about the Dawson College shooter and his attachment to Super Columbine Massacre RPG!. The media played it up like it was his favourite game and that he had practically trained himself for what he did on the game. Fuller points out that it was merely on his website as one of the many games he played. She goes on to say that she was at first shocked and disgusted when she found out that the game existed, but when she played it and talked to Danny about it her opinion changed.

It also goes on to present how video gaming should be seen as an art form. Though he does admit that his own game should be rated very low on the art scale. It is argued that video games should be allowed to reflect, criticize and help society.

The one criticism I have about the documentary is that Ledonne is a bit childish when it comes to his presentation of his critics. The person who suffers the most (though it is not as if he doesn't deserve to be made fun of) is Jack Thompson. He is portrayed as a real jerk and not helped at all by the editing.

After having said all that in regards to the documentary itself, it is rather simplistic and choppy (editing), but an interesting watch for those whose minds are open enough to hear about both sides of an issue. Yes, he does put much more weight behind his own point of view (because that is what it is in the end, isn't it?), but you can't really blame him as he has been forced to accept tons of criticism previously without having a mean for rebuttal. A documentary that should be must watch material for gamers and those interested in the media.

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