Unspeakable tragedy, unjustifiable game

Leonard Pitts Jr. Syndicated Columnist

So now you, too, can shoot up Columbine.

Like Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris seven years ago, you can roam the hallways with explosives and guns, bring a bloodbath to a high school in the suburbs. All from the comfort of your desk, all just by booting up your computer. Point, click, shoot.

Super Columbine Massacre RPG is the name of the game, available for free online. It was created last year, but first came to media attention in mid-May. The game is the creation of a 24-year-old Colorado filmmaker, Danny Ledonne.

And if you want to know what in the world would possess him to make such a monstrosity, well, he says he can identify with Harris and Klebold, though he doesn’t justify their actions. He says that at the time of the Columbine massacre, he was a 5-foot-2-inch high school kid, an outsider, constantly picked on. He says he had many of the same dark fantasies of revenge that drove the two Columbine students to kill 13 people. He says he created the game in order to foster discussion of why these tragedies occur.

He says a lot of things.

Indeed, in a long, sometimes thoughtful, always self-justifying essay on his Web site, Ledonne assures us that his goal is commentary and critique of a “deeply moribund” society that embraces simplistic answers to complex questions. It’s a criticism many observers would echo. Where they would part company with Ledonne is in his claim that putting you and me behind the trigger at Columbine will cause our understanding of that tragedy to be “deepened” and “redefined.”

Bull.

I should say here that I tried to take a look at Super Columbine Massacre, but it would not initialize on my computer. Perhaps the machine has better taste than I. However, we know from news reports that the game features photographs of Klebold and Harris, excerpts from their written rantings and primitive graphics. We also know the game is unwinnable: No matter how many people Klebold and Harris manage to gun down, the ending is always the same, meaning the police close in and they commit suicide.

Evidently, this is meant as the moral of the story. But the real moral, it seems to me, lies in the very fact of turning a slaughter into a video game.

I say this as someone who likes video games. Video games can be challenging and fun. But they also have a way of depersonalizing violence, of creating a false disconnect between the act and its effects.
That’s bad enough when you break someone’s arm in Tekken, the martial arts game, and he or she gets right back up, ready to rumble. It’s worse when the “victim” is real.

Consider JFK Reloaded, a game that, for a $9.99 download, allows you to be Lee Harvey Oswald and try your luck at assassinating John Kennedy. The creator of that game, like the creator of this one, professes a high-minded objective: To interest young people in history and prove that Oswald was the lone gunman.

Both creators either don’t know or, more likely, don’t care, that they trivialize murders whose effects are still extant, create emotional distance where none should exist.

Bang. Kill John F. Kennedy.

Bang. Kill a Columbine kid.

Bang. Feel nothing.

That’s scurrilous. It is indecent. Not simply because of the disrespect it shows the dead, but also because there’s more than enough emotional distance, more than enough feeling nothing, in our lives already without encouraging more.

Other people are not objects. Other lives are not abstract. Other feelings are not trivial. These are truths that should be self-evident, but they seem less so all the time.

Remember the exchange between Klebold and Harris as they committed mass murder?

“How many did you get?”

“I got three.”

Keeping score. Like it was a video game, even then.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him at:
lpitts@herald.com