Recently, a game about the Columbine High School shooting — in which the player takes the role of the killers and wanders through the school shooting students — was kicked out of the Slamdance Guerilla Gamemaker Competition, due to pressure from sponsors.
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.
So, in protest of game’s expulsion, I have dropped Braid out of the competition as well.
This decision has been difficult. Festivals like Slamdance are important to the continued deepening of the independent games movement, and the competition organizers are very hard-working people who understand games. I don’t want to hurt the festival or undermine the efforts of the organizers.
But 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. Dropping Braid out of the competition, while not a huge act, is the strongest protest I have the power to make.
This may seem paradoxical, but I do respect the sponsors’ decision to pressure Slamdance into dropping the Columbine game. They are just preventing their money from supporting something they consider morally reprehensible. So, good for them.
In the unlikely event that Slamdance re-admits the Columbine game, Braid will consent to rejoin the festival as well, assuming they still want it.