Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Drug Against War?

I've been writing about Columbine, on and off, for almost a decade now, more than a third of my total lifespan. It's consistently depressing, but strangely compelling as a topic. I finished an article on Bully a while back, a text in which it's difficult to avoid comparisons to Columbine if only in terms of the pre-release controversy (the text itself has a lot more to do with Lord of the Flies than any "factual" youth violence narratives), and in the interest of expanding on that, it seemed high time to take a look at the (briefly) infamous Super Columbine Massacre RPG. I haven't finished it, and in fact seem to have developed a rather pronounced mental block against playing it that can't be explained purely in terms of my utter addiction to HoMM5. All I can say with any degree of certainty is that it's rather not what I was expecting.

As the game opens, you (and your avatar, Eric Harris) run through the morning of April 20, 1999, moving through contemporary pop-culture references (Doom! Luvox! KMFDM! ...Marilyn Manson?) and hitting the occasional flashback. While I haven't checked into the specifics, the game appears to be built from a kit derived from Final Fantasy IV, or II for the yabanjin among us, and the engine goes a long way towards contextualizing the gameplay. I have to wonder if maybe the game has nothing to do with Columbine at all, and only uses the sensational real-world shooting as a device to parody the tropes of Final Fantasy and JRPGs in general. The long, trauma=drama cut-scenes, the emo whining, the easy, pointless battles...

...which brings us to the actual shooting. The battles are set up like in an RPG, a genre we don't think of as violent despite the fact that most RPGs produce body counts pure action games couldn't match. What other genre actually encourages players to wander aimlessly and kill everything they come across for hours and hours with no overt narrative motivation for doing so? That the "fights" against the unarmed students and teachers are so easy is, perhaps, part of the point, and I found myself habitually trying to maximize efficiency with the weapons and "armor" for the two characters, minimizing the expenditure of ammunition (which here functions as MP generally does in RPGs) and health items. In killing my way to character level 12--counting the two flashbacks that gave three levels to one kid each--I killed far more people than the actual Harris and Klebold. Having sufficiently explored the map (since I wasn't really planning on playing this thing more than once), I headed back to the point in the library where I'd earlier received the suicide prompt, and my two characters shot themselves.

I rather expected this to be the end of the game, but after a long and maudlin memorial sequence, a quotation from Dante's Inferno came up, and I found myself controlling Klebold in Hell. Now armed with only a pistol, he walked around long enough to be attacked by former humans and former human sergeants before an imp--yes, the furry, spikey, fireball-happy kind--killed him.

I'm not sure there's another strategy to be used here. It seems unlikely I can avoid that many of them. And building to level 12 wasn't nearly enough for this kind of fight. So the best I can guess is that I'm going to need to grind like hell during the actual, historical rampage shooting portion of the game so I'll be adequately prepared for the fighting I'm going to have to do in hell.

For me, the fact that it prompted me to write that last sentence is the most remarkable thing about the game. If I get nothing else out of the game, that's a sort of accomplishment in and of itself.

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