Game talkBraid ditches Slamdance in protest

 Posted by (Visited 18021 times)  Game talk
Jan 062007
 

“Braid won’t be at Slamdance because of SCMRPG getting dropped,” is the short form. Read on for the details…

As many of you probably know, there’s this game called Super Columbine Massacre RPG!, an oldschool-style RPG about taking the roles of Klebold and Harris, killing kids in school, then dying, going to hell, and coming to some awareness of what they’ve done. The game is pretty divisive — the creator seems serious in his intent to create an artistic response and commentary about the Columbine shootings, but of course many simply find it to be in poor taste.

It’s reminiscent in some ways of the controversy over the “game” that recreated the Kennedy assassination; had it been presented as a “simulation” then likely it wouldn’t have caused nearly as much outrage as it did. Here, a large part of the concern over SCMRPG is that it may trivialize the occurrence, allow people to fantasize about playing the same roles that Klebold and Harris did, and so on. In other words, whether it is in good taste.

The result of this controversy, as has been widely reported, is that the Slamdance competition, whose jury had selected SCMRPG as a finalist, decided to drop the game from the show. N’Gai Croal at Newsweek has pointed out the irony of this game getting dropped when Sundance shows things like Gus van Sant’s film Elephant, which mines much the same territory, though probably more artistically. The conference organizer has stated that he didn’t drop the game due to sponsor pressure, but rather as a moral choice of his own — something which Ian Bogost covers in more detail on Watercooler Games.

Now comes the news that the intensely interesting indie game Braid, a “game fan’s game” about manipulating time to solve puzzles in a platformer context, has chosen not to appear at Slamdance as a gesture of solidarity, even though Jonathan Blow (the game’s creator, and a very opinionated guy) happens to not think very much of SCMRPG as a game.

The game lacks compassion, and I find the Artist’s Statement disingenuous. But despite this, the game does have redeeming value. It does provoke important thoughts, and it does push the boundaries of what games are about. It is composed with more of an eye toward art than most games. Clearly, it belongs at the festival.

Good for Jon.

I found SCMRPG to attempting to seriously engage with the subject – whether it actually accomplished doing so is a wholly separate subject. (Some argue that Van Sant’s film didn’t wholly accomplish it either, after all). I’ve said in the past that the issue with serious games may be that they trivialize — and that this may also be their great strength. Here we see that very issue front and center. Dismissing the game “on moral grounds” essentially argues that it is exploitative; yet we do not necessarily consider clearly issue-driven films or books as exploitative. Rather, the sensitivity of the subject seems to be what is pushing the needle here. Can games, which some allege caused Columbine, then comment on Columbine without being regarded as exploitative?

SCMRPG is no great shakes as a game in its own right. It doesn’t even try to do something new on that front. Instead, it’s incurring controversy based on artwork, content, and most importantly, the medium that it happens to be in. Were its RPG plot excised and written out as a book, would anyone raise an eyebrow? Probably not.

Jon puts in well in his post:

…games should be taken seriously as an art form that can expand the boundaries of human experience. Games can help us to understand situations in a fully-engaged fashion, as participants and co-creators, which the passive media cannot do. As an art form they contain a tremendous power to shift perspective and to heighten wisdom. For the art form to achieve these potentials, game developers need to explore the space of possibilities in earnest. But if games are denied their appropriate level of societal recognition, growth of the form will be very difficult, and human culture will be the lesser for it.

If left unchallenged, the expulsion of the Columbine game sets a precedent in the wrong direction.

Exactly. And while there may be discomfort as we get the games that seriously tackle uncomfortable issues and fail at it, hopefully we will also see those games that do so and succeed, and thereby open new horizons and justify all the discomfort. Discomfort’s just a daily fact of life; new ways to make art and get more insight into ourselves, those come along but rarely.

  39 Responses to “Braid ditches Slamdance in protest”

  1. Braid ditches Slamdance in protest

  2. Sidebar: updates on this story (as of 1/6): Jonathan Blow, creator of Slamdance finalist and 2006 IGF winner Braid, has withdrawn his game from the competition in protest Raph Koster comments on the above, and the situation in general Greg Costikyan of Slamdance sponsor Manifesto Games responds in detail to the decision and the game, and makes it available on Manifesto’s site. … Continue reading “Slamdance: SCMRPG removal was personal, not business”

  3. it does push the boundaries of what games are about. It is composed with more of an eye toward art than most games. Clearly, it belongs at the festival. So, in protest of game’s expulsion, I have dropped Braid out of the competition as well. Raph Koster has spoken up on the subject. Dismissing the game “on moral grounds” essentially argues that it is exploitative; yet we do not necessarily consider clearly issue-driven films or books as exploitative. Rather, the sensitivity of the subject seems to be what is pushing the

  4. Slamdance has not. All the nuances of this controvery are being talked about everywhere else, but for me it says as much about the future as the present. Super Columbine Massacre RPG is disturbing video game, but being banned from Slamdance would have never

  5. Slamdance celebrates independent games only so far as they do not make us uncomfortable”. The center’s withdrawal is only the latest action of what is quickly becoming an exodus.  First to go was Braid– not an easy decision in the early uncertain days after SCMRPG’s ejection.  Soon after, however, Everyday Shooter, Toblo, Once Upon a Time, and fl0w all voluntarily withdrew.  Now the sponsors are leaving.  Will there be anything left of

  6. was among many to point out the double standard applied when films addressing the same or even more risquee subject matter are never pulled from such festivals. Greg Costikyan’s post on the subject does so as well, and is worth reading. Raph has also posted a lengthy piece on the subject here, in which I learned the latest twist: That Jon Blow has pulled Braid from the competition in protest. Braid, a game I blogged about briefly in my GDC post (which I really liked plain, despite the fact that it made my brain hurt!),

  7. the legitimacy of our medium is continuously questioned. I felt the need to make this post because it seems few people put this into practice. For example, Raph italicizes book titles on his blog, butnot game names. I’m putting this tidbit here not so much to make fun of him, but because he might come back to this post while checking referrers. ;) Seriously, though, I think it’s an important step in showing people the importance of our medium. And, please pardon

  8. was among many to point out the double standard applied when films addressing the same or even more risquee subject matter are never pulled from such festivals. Greg Costikyan’s post on the subject does so as well, and is worth reading. Raph has alsoposted a lengthy pieceon the subject here, in which I learned the latest twist: That Jon Blow has pulled Braid from the competition in protest. Braid, a game I blogged about briefly in my GDC post (which I really liked plain, despite the fact that it made my brain hurt!),

  9. For what it’ worth, I’ve written a response to Slamdance’s decision that both (a) includes a bit more detail than the Kotaku posts listed here about the actual motivations that led to Slamdance’s decision and (b) covers my perspective as a two-time Slamdance games exhibitor.

  10. [...] The story is that festival organizers whoring the festival out and not taking responsibility for their actions. They wanted SCM RPG! in the festival, SCM RPG! was promoted to a finalist, and they, and they alone made the choice to kick SCM RPG! out. I understand they were under enormous pressure. That doesn’t excuse it. Life’s hard. You have to make choices, and sometimes living up to your responsibilities comes with a cost. A festival that’s supposed to promote independent movies and games comes across as pretty laughable when sponsors can simply have something removed that they don’t care for. Today, Jonathan Blow, creator of another Slamdance finalist called Braid, announced that he’s pulling his game out in protest. I want to applaud Jonathan, as Raph has just done (you write too damn fast and well, Raph). I know Jonathan was looking forward to Slamdance and agonized a bit over the decision to pull out, and that he did so for the sake of principle, as he isn’t a big fan of SCM RPG! Three cheers for him! It’d be great to see other finalists follow suit, though I don’t think there’s any ethical imperative to do so. [...]

  11. Argh, actually, I meant to link to your post as well as N’Gai Croal’s. Dammit. Editing now.

  12. [...] Arthouse Games News: SCMRPG Yanked from Slamdance by jcr13Friday, January 5, 2007 [5:39 pm]On the heels of my review of Super Columbine Massacre RPG! comes some disturbing news: the game has been pulled from the Slamdance game festival.I heard the story first from Grand Text Auto. I’ll collect links to other coverage here as the story unfolds: Original coverage at KotakuN’Gai Croal’s scathing critique of Slamdance’s decisionA discussion clocking 30+ comments over at GamePoliticsThe game Braid withdraws from Slamdance in protest.More at Kotaku about why SCMRPG was pulled and the twin story at Rocky Mountain News.Ian Bogost has posted some interesting analysis (with a nice graphic of Slamdance’s tombstone) on Water Cooler Games.The venerable Raph Koster joins the fray[Link][Submit Comment] [Home] [Account] RSS 2.0 General Info: –Mission–The Images–Game Submissions Older Stories: –News: IGF Finalists–Review: The Blob–Review: Book and Volume–Review: Base Invaders–News: Slamdance Finalists[1 in Archive] Other Sites: –A Theory of Fun–Lost Garden–Indy Gamer Blog–TIG Source–Game Tunnel All content on this site is placed in the Public Domain. [...]

  13. “I found SCMRPG to attempting to seriously engage with the subject”

    I haven’t played the game and only read bits of its past press coverage, but nothing suggested that it was a serious attempt at anything. The name alone would probably be seen as unacceptable by most media editors. The controversy is important for the debate and public awareness that it is creating, but I fear that the next time, when a game actually deserves this kind of defense (not because of what it achieves, but because of what it TRIES to achieve), people are not going to take our arguments seriously.

    Why oh why couldn’t the game be called simply “Columbine”?

  14. Actually–I think it has considerable merit. As I argue here:
    http://www.manifestogames.com/node/3048

    And while we’ll continue to support the Slamdance competition, in response we’ve put up a permanent page for the game, and will host it, here:
    http://www.manifestogames.com/node/3040

  15. Columbine RPG dropped from competition…

    I just saw an article, “Exclusive: Columbine Game Kicked From Competition” (http://www.kotaku.com/gaming/top/exclusive-columbine-game-kicked-from-competition-226272.php) over at Kotaku. In short, the game Super Columbine Massacre RPG (http://www.col

  16. “I haven’t played the game…but”

    If I had a quarter for EVERY time I saw this. Jesus.

    And if I had a hundred, a thousand, a million dollars for every comment I’ve seen from every person who has actually played the game to the end — including a survivor shot repeatedly by Harris and Klebold — and still think it lacks redeeming value, I’d be broke.

    But no. “It was made with RPGMaker. It’s valueless. It’s got that title. It’s valueless. I know.”

    You don’t know.

  17. Austin, I made it very explicit that I haven’t played the game, that I’m expressing how the whole issue feels from the outside, and that I ultimately don’t know. I’m not afraid of being wrong due to my incomplete knowledge of the game.

    I guess I’m just particularly sensitive (and naive) in my lack of appreciation when it’s a controversy that ignites the elevation of a piece of work into the realm of “art”.

  18. [...] Since the annoucement of this dicission, Slamdance co-creator has changed his story and now states that he did not pull the game due to sponsers threats (yeah right) but he pulled it because of his own "moral" choice.(WHAT!!!) Take a look at most of the films your "moral" choice has allowed, Im not believing this BS for an instant. AND even if this is true, This doesnt make it right, What does HIS moral choice have to do with the rest of the world? I’ll be my own Moral guide thank you very much. (Source: GamePolitics.com) Below are some other interesting discussions on this if you are interested. Raph Koster’s Website Grand Text Auot website RockyMountainNews.com [...]

  19. What is the difference between a Columbine RPG and a Vienam FPS or a WWII FPS or a “Kill Them Evil Terrorists” FPS. The “cause.” In wars innocent people get killed, yet when people make a FPS that glorifies a war, nothing is said.

    Over 4 million Vietnamese were killed in the Vietnam conflict, is it moral to make a video game that glamorizes it?

    In WWII, tens of millions of people were killed, is it right to glamorize that?

    Personally, I am an anarchist: if people want to make a videogame about what ever subject, then they can do so. But, morally, I will never buy a game that glamorizes WWII, the Vietnam War, nor any incident where lives have been lost.

    It is morally wrong to make a game that glamorizes an event in which people lost their lives.

  20. An Open Letter to Organizers of the Slamdance Film and Game Festival, from Last Year’s Grand Jury Prize Winners

    http://grandtextauto.gatech.edu/2007/01/07/an-open-letter-to-slamdance/

  21. Ok, I played it so I have an opinion on the game in addition to my opinion on the phenomenon. I think the game is crap, both as a game and as a reflection of the events. What’s worse, it fully embraces the idea that meaningful content in a game has to be conveyed through non-interactive means. It’s the gaming equivalent of a badly written, misspell-ridden article that includes some facts about the shooting but is mostly filled with philosophical leftovers and plain garbage. Just because it has created controversy doesn’t mean that it’s meaningful, in the same way that me punching you in the face wouldn’t be a worthy contribution to a debate about violence.

    Before playing the game, I thought the author just wanted to make a debatable piece of work but somehow managed to hit some interesting strings. After experiencing it myself, I’m leaning more towards the opposite view: the author wanted to make an insightful piece on the events (and put a lot of work into it), and despite failing to achieve that goal, he’s jumped on the controversy and exposure bandwagon. Kudos to him for trying, and let’s pray that the controversy doesn’t end up with more people convinced that games are intellectually irrelevant after seeing this supposedly insightful game themselves.

  22. What is the difference between a Columbine RPG and a Vienam FPS or a WWII FPS or a “Kill Them Evil Terrorists” FPS. The “cause.” In wars innocent people get killed, yet when people make a FPS that glorifies a war, nothing is said.

    Are you familiar with the quotation by Stalin? Paraphrasing: One death is at tragedy; a thousand is a statistic. I’m not saying I agree with it, but it’s an explanation.

  23. [...] Previously: Braid ditches Slamdance. [...]

  24. @Jare: Not everyone who plays it likes it, but I’ve noticed in reading comments that most people who dis it haven’t played it and most people who’ve played it think its got something. Some who won’t play it stand behind it, and some, like you, have played it and still think its rubbish. That sort of dynamic is what free speech in the public sphere is all about.

    Almost everyone concedes its only a baby step toward addressing social dynamics with interactivity, but whats at stake here is the funding and/or distributed acceptance of a title that tackles similarly taboo issues with higher production values and more robust play.

  25. It really doesnt matter whether the game is crap or not. The real issue (at least in my mind) is the discrimination and backhanded censorship. I haven’t played the game, and have no intention of doing so, even with all the controversy, but I do think it deserves the right to be judged with its peers. Censorship is a crutch for those who want to hide from things that make them uncomfortable or that they simply dont understand.

  26. That sort of dynamic is what free speech in the public sphere is all about.

    Free speech? I thought there were sponsors footing the bill.

  27. [...] Raph Koster has spoken up on the subject. Dismissing the game “on moral grounds” essentially argues that it is exploitative; yet we do not necessarily consider clearly issue-driven films or books as exploitative. Rather, the sensitivity of the subject seems to be what is pushing the needle here. Can games, which some allege caused Columbine, then comment on Columbine without being regarded as exploitative? [...]

  28. Free speech? I thought there were sponsors footing the bill.

    I think you meant: “Public sphere? I thought there were sponsors footing the bill.”

  29. [...] can be found as usual from Raph and Greg Bookmark: « Second Life goes Open Source trackback Leave aReply [...]

  30. >> It really doesnt matter whether the game is crap or not

    It matters when this is the game that created the controversy, and therefore the game that many people will evaluate when they dive for the first time into the question: “Can games be a meaningful vehicle for artistic and intellectual expression?”

    Patrick, I think if you look closely you will find that most people who played it and didn’t like it, don’t bother commenting much on it. Add to this the fact that condemning Slamdance’s decision gets easily confused with defending the game itself. This lends credibility to the idea that “the industry” thinks this is a good example of art in games, and reinforces my concern about what they will think of said “industry” when they see it for what little (I think) it is.

    I guess I’m in the minority when I consider games like GTA (Hot Coffee included) or Shadow of the Colossus more meaningful and interesting pieces of work.

  31. [...] Before I get into my own tirade, there’s some recommended reading for you. Don’t worry, I’ll wait: Braid won’t be at Slamdance after all. flOw won’t be at Slamdance after all. Braid Ditches Slamdance in Protest Slamdance Pulled SCMRPG On Moral Grounds (Referenced from a Rocky Mountain News article.) Slamdance: SCMRPG removal was personal, not business Super Columbine Massacre: Artwork or Menace? [...]

  32. [...] Když byla kontroverzní freewarovka Super Columbine Massacre RPG! vybrána minulý rok v listopadu mezi 14 finalistů soutěže Slamdance Guerilla Gamemaker Competition, která se bude konat od 18. do 27. ledna souběžně se známým filmovým festivalem Slamdance v Utahu, tak to na tvářích spousty lidí vyvolalo údiv. Byl to vzhledem k kontroverzitě hry od pořadatelů skutečně odvážný, ale rozhodně správný tah, za nějž si vysloužili jednoznačnou pochvalu. Tehdy na konci roku však ještě nikdo netušil, že na začátku roku 2007 bude všechno jinak. Ačkoli to pak bylo popřeno a interpretováno jinak, tak kvůli tlakům sponzorů festivalu byli pořadatelé nuceni Super Columbine Massacre RPG! vyřadit, čehož sami litovali. Spoluzakladatel festivalu Peter Baxter prohlásil, že kontroverzní hru Dannyho Ledonneho vyřadil nerad (prohlásil, že to je špatně), ale musel to prý udělat z morálního hlediska a kvůli přežití festivalu. Danny Ledonne přijal tuto nepříjemnou informaci takříkajíc s klidem, ačkoli mohl působit méně odevzdaně a mohl bojovat.Naštěstí se tvůrci několika, ze zbylých 13 do finále vybraných, titulů rozhodli bojovat namísto Ledonneho, byť se mnoha z nich Super Columbine Massacre RPG! vlastně ani nelíbí (ona ta hra stejně není o tom, aby se někomu líbila). Tak například tvůrce plošinovky Braid Jon Blow na svém blogu prohlásil, že sice v SCMRPG chybí jakýkoli soucit a odkaz hry je tedy neúplný, ale to nic nemění na tom, že hra má i své světlé stránky a rozhodně nutí lidi přemýšlet nad důležitými otázkami. Jinak řečeno, posunuje hranice toho, za co jsou hry považovány, do sféry umění. Hra tedy na festival patří a Blow se proti jejímu vyřazení rozhodl protestovat tím, že z festivalu odhlásil svůj titul Braid.Podobně, tedy stažením své hry z finálové účasti na festivalu (jen abyste věděli, tak jde o budoucí PS3 titul flOw), zareagoval Kelee Santiago. Podle něj se prý názory na kvalitu SCMRPG i téma, kterým se hra zabývá, mohou lišit, ale jedno je jasné – Super Columbine Massacre RPG! na festival patří. Za to, že SCMRPG na festival patří se svým hlasem postavila i celá řada dalších lidí, včetně Rapha Kostera, Iana Bogosta a dvojice vítězů předchozího ročníku Slamdance festivalu (Andrew Stern a Michael Mateas), kteří pořadatelům napsali otevřený dopis, v němž žádají, aby byl titul SCMRPG znovu zařazen mezi finalisty. Uvidíme, jak to celé dopadne, respektive zdali pořadatelé tlaku podlehnout. Ať už to dopadne jakkoli, tak je celý tento humbuk nesmírně prospěšný, protože rozvířil debatu o tom, co jsou to vlastně hry, jakou úlohu plní a mohou plnit v dnešní společnosti a konečně, jestli lze hry označit za umění. [...]

  33. I think you meant: “Public sphere? I thought there were sponsors footing the bill.”

    Since it’s not in the public sphere, I don’t think ‘Free Speech’ applies. If Mr. Koster moderates my comment into the bit bucket, he hasn’t infringed on my right to ‘Free Speech’. It’s his soapbox, not mine.

  34. Free speech applies wherever you want it to. The medley of capitalism and democracy is precisely that you can vote with your dollars to say, “Free speech or bust.” They don’t have to give you free speech; and you don’t have to pay them. In this specific case, that’s not exactly how it works, of course, but it’s close enough that I think my analogy is okay.

    It’s still consent of the governed, in a way.

  35. Free speech applies wherever you want it to.

    I don’t think it works that way, but I’m certainly no human rights maven. ;) I’m a big fan of the medley you point out. If Slamdance did something that people and companies find objectionable then companies can pull their games and individuals can not attend.

  36. [...] Of recent news is the 2007 Slamdance Guerrilla Gamemaker Competition currently suffering from the aftermath of a decision to withdraw controversial game Super Columbine Massacre RPG from the roster of finalists. A number of finalists have seized the opportunity to voluntarily pull out from the competition citing concerns about artistic merit… [...]

  37. [...] Even if what is and is not art is a matter of opinion (and I don’t think it is), it doesn’t follow that a contest should allow anything at all to be a part of it. The phrase “excluded from consideration” is inexact? Do you mean from consideration in any forum whatsoever? As in, if I were running an art contest, and someone submitted something which I’d identify as blasphemous and evil, like Piss Christ, I’d be morally obliged to let it be considered in my contest? I don’t think you mean this, but you would have to be making a claim this strong for your argument to work. Otherwise, why would the head of this contest be obliged to keep the Columbine game in? If the complaint is that it wasn’t kicked out until it was late in the contest, well, that’s fair – but that’s just sloppiness on the part of the people running the contest, or perhaps the head of the contest was not directly aware of the content of the game. Or was he just hoping to not cause a scene because he assumed it would not get very far? My money is on this last one, personally. I think we’re getting mired down in debating the quality of the game which isn’t really the point. The game was fairly entered and well received enough by the judges to make it to the finalist’s round. The game was then outed by a higher-up because he disagreed with all the judges’ decisions and felt he had a moral obligation to step in and banish the game because it dealt with sensitive issues and was afraid of what would happen if it was kept in the contest. This has resulted in aggrevating the judges, the finalists, and game designers at large not because a crappy game was kicked out of a little contest but because of the act removing it based on the the nature of the issues it deals with symbolizes. As a medium we have to stand up for our ability to create games about all issues, even if they’re particularly unsettling ones. Whether this game is “art” or not; whether the game is “good” or not is irrelevant. It was outed from the competition because either it dealt with a subject matter that was perceived to be too sensitive for games to touch properly, or the interactive nature of a game merged with the important subject matter transformed an otherwise interesting subject into a taboo. And if either of these are seen as true, we’re totally hosed as a medium. [...]

  38. [...] I recall being impressed with the jury at the annual Slamdance indie festival late last year when the finalists for their game of the year category were announced. Way down at the bottom, apparently below anyone’s radar, was the hugely controversial title Super Columbine Massacre RPG, a game – to paraphrase the developer’s stated intentions – aimed at sparking debate, engendering understanding in the violence and videogames issue and exploring the boundaries of the interactive art form.Unfortunately, it looks like someone has developed cold feet.Water Cooler Games and Kotaku both report that the game has been removed from the list due to pressure from festival sponsors. However, a follow-up post at WCG suggests that the decision to remove the game was a personal choice on the part of the organiser rather than due to corporate demands.The froth which is unfurling is covered in detail at WCG, including links to intelligent analysis and updated information. Raph points to a Newsweek article which highlights the hypocrisy in the decision, as the festival has previously shown Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, a film which deals with the same subject.As of Monday, at least one other finalist has pulled his game out of the competition in protest. Slamdance begins 18 January. [...]

  39. Update, there is a panel discussion on the controversy set for January 21, @ 5 p.m. at Slamdance. I just confirmed with SCMRPG creator Danny LeDonne via phone that he will be on this panel at Slamdance. At this point, he said he thought that the other panelists (still not named publicly) will include a) an attorney and b)Slamdance’s Peter Baxter and c) another developer — Danny didn’t know if that will be one of the developer’s still in competition or one of the developers that pulled their game in protest. The panel is mentioned in the Slamdance statement on their — it’s actually included in the statement itself. I’ve blogged about this stuff too at http://www.hollywood2020.blogs.com and would like your input about whether you think is is really a slam to freedom of expression etc?

  40. [...] in protest of game’s expulsion, I have dropped Braid out of the competition as well. Raph Koster has spoken up on the subject. Dismissing the game “on moral grounds” essentially argues that it is exploitative; yet we do not [...]

  41. [...] OUT RALPH KOSTER’s piece on this — Raph Koster has spoken up on the subject. it’s a smart, cogent look at what’s happening surrounding this controversy: here is the excerpt from [...]

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