Films: Playing Columbine

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Playing Columbine

Playing Columbine

USA, 2008, 94 Minute Running Time
Genre/Subjects: Documentary, Educational, Family Issues, Social Issues
Program: Documentary Films
Language: English

DIRECTOR: Danny Ledonne
Producer: Danny Ledonne
Editor: Danny Ledonne
Cinematographer: Danny Ledonne
Principal Cast: Peter Baxter, Brian Flemming, Jack Thompson

In 2005, using a low-resolution format, Danny Ledonne created a role-playing video game (RPG) based on the shooting at Columbine High School, which claimed the lives of twelve students and a teacher as well as the two perpetrators. This highly provocative documentary, which Ledonne himself directed, explores how the controversial game he named Super Columbine Massacre RPG!—and interactive media in general—may help people to confront the gravest of issues.

While critics condemn the very idea of turning the incident into a form of entertainment, a phalanx of college professors and game developers—and even a couple of shooting survivors—bring unexpected insight to the debate surrounding the reenactment of the tragedy. As Ledonne juxtaposes onscreen replays of other violent video games with footage of the Columbine killers—causing real squeamishness in the process—he raises the question: Why do fictional RPGs proliferate unchecked, while the interactive portrayal of a real-life event goes decried?

The cultural battle is played out partly in clips from the news media and from Columbine-inspired films like Gus Van Sant’s drama Elephant and Michael Moore’s documentary Bowling for Columbine. To those who find the game “sick” and “exploitative,” Ledonne responds that he created it in an attempt to find some answers to the phenomenon of school shootings like the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. And the game actually “makes you feel terrible,” according to one commentator; rather than glorifying a culture of violence, it makes the player complicit in the killings and “makes you understand something about yourself.” Playing Columbine may well do the same for audiences, whatever their views on the RPG itself.

Related Events...

  • Deadly Games: Echoes of Columbine

    Deadly Games: Echoes of Columbine

    Danny Ledonne—creator of the controversial Super Columbine Massacre RPG! and director of Playing Columbine, a documentary about the game’s impact—will be on hand to discuss the relationship between video games and real-world violence with other experts.... more
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