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January 14th, 2007, 07:32 AM

By Jonathan Mummolo
Updated: 1:17 p.m. ET Jan. 11, 2007

Jan. 11, 2007 - For independent videogame makers like Jonathan Blow, getting noticed in a market dominated by giants like Sony and Nintendo isn’t easy. So when he was chosen as a finalist in Utah’s Slamdance Guerrilla Gamemaker Competition for his game, Braid—which took nearly two years to develop—he was thrilled. It was a chance for his work to be seen and to enjoy the company of other indie gamemakers, and he promptly laid out about $1,400 in hotel and plane reservations for the festival, set to begin Jan. 18.

Last week, however, he withdrew his game from consideration after a fellow finalist’s game was axed for its subject matter. Since then, five other finalists have followed suit, one sponsor has dropped out and now, with half of the 14 finalists out of consideration, the festival appears imperiled.

At its heart, this is a dispute over the limits of artistic expression and the boundaries of good taste. The protests are a reaction to a decision last week by festival president Peter Baxter, who pulled the game Super Columbine Massacre RPG! from the list of finalists. The game is just what it sounds like: players traverse a 2-D world taking on the roles of Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold as they shoot up their high school. After committing suicide, the characters then journey to hell, where they battles demons. The free PC game has been downloaded more than 250,000 times since its release in April 2005, according to game creator Danny Ledonne, and has sparked outrage from victims’ families and media watchdog groups, as well as mixed reviews from gamemakers. It has also been accused of inspiring a September 2006 college shooting in Montreal, after which it was discovered that the perpetrator mentioned playing SCMRPG! on his blog.

But that’s not the point, Slamdance finalists say. "If this was a film instead of a game, it wouldn't even really be a question," Blow says, noting that movies relating to Columbine—such as Gus Van Sant's "Elephant"—have been featured at indie festivals. "As long as we persist in believing that games are just for kids ... we're not going to get where we need to go." Baxter disputes that. "There's only a certain point you go into role-playing with [films],” he says. “Obviously when you sit down in a game, you're actively involved."

Tuesday, seven finalist teams sent a letter to Slamdance officials calling for the game’s reinstatement. In response to the dropouts and complaints, officials have added a forum on the expulsion of SCMRPG!, and Baxter says he expects a successful festival. “We’ve got some great games,” he says. For now, at least.

We had a thread debating this issue previously here is now a case example. I wonder if it changes opinions one way or the other.

January 14th, 2007, 12:27 PM
I possess a lot of explicitly violent video games such as Manhunt and the Hitman series and don't have a problem with violence in video games as such, but when a game links itself to something tragic, that actually happened and is done purely for gratuitous controversial effect, it can hardly be considered art.

I remember after 911 there were some very poor taste jokes and mocked up covers for a flight sim game, with a picture of Osama you know who and a jumbo jet heading towards the World Trade Centre which said "The ride of your life" or something similar.
I wasn't amused, but then some idiot is always going to mock these things.

It doesn't particularly show any creative talent and is undoubtably hugely offensive to the people affected by those tragedies.

January 14th, 2007, 12:51 PM
I think in this case the president got it right. The situation requires some common sense, the content isn't being banned for general use of violence, nudity or obscenity it's being banned for using a horrific real life incident merely to draw attention to the game. I don't consider computer games art, I consider them entertainment and I believe that now computer games designers have a responsibility to think about the content of their game in relation to events in the real world. I will defend to the hilt companies like Rockstar for making games like GTA and Manhunt, but when the content becomes about specific real life events then it's a very narrow margin of error.

January 14th, 2007, 07:37 PM
I have a hard time imagining that it would be anything but a mediocre game, so it would hardly be considered an artistic achievement anyhow.

January 14th, 2007, 08:00 PM
This is painful stuff, but I think as games become more and more of a mainstream medium it will only become a more pivotal issue.

January 15th, 2007, 06:22 AM
My friend thiks that it is art but me...
I'm feeling a bit uncertain. Smashing someones head in :confused: ?

But if that is art is war art to?

March 5th, 2007, 08:48 PM
The title of the thread is a far easier question to answer than what the post reveals.

Are violent video games art? I don't know...are violent movies art? Are violent books? Of course.

Now. Is someone basically producing shock value in commercial form art? Heck no. I see no danger to freedom of expression when you shun people who clearly have no problem with profiting from the suffering of others, such as the developer of a game about Columbine.

July 6th, 2007, 10:01 PM
Video games are an art form, yes. The merit of any game is best dealt with on a case to case basis. 'Violent video games' might mean God of War, or Mortal Kombat, or Band of Brothers, or Silent Hill.

July 21st, 2007, 05:26 PM
I would say that videogames are art, therefore violent videogames are also art, but not necessary good art. Any art might be of inferior or superior quality, thus also videogames.

July 22nd, 2007, 11:24 AM
Reading over this thread again, I see I missed Konrad's question a while back pertaining to whether or not war can be a form of art too.

Considering some of the oldest artistic pursuits man has ever engaged in are martial in nature- Our species-long obsession with wrestling and boxing, which spans continents and cultures, I think the answer to that question has to be yes. This is an interesting issue in that it is possibly the most immediately obvious incidence where good art can be directly harmful to someone's health. Jack Dempsey could hit people so hard that he sent them home with ribs broken to shards. I think you could describe his boxing as artful, but you couldn't exactly say that no-one was harmed in the process of his demonstrating it- Even if the other guy did get in there voluntarily.

A fundamental confusion exists, I think, in that there is a perception that art must be fundamentally benevolent or life-affirming in nature. I'm inclined to argue that in absolute terms, art is as value-free as the application of violence. A lot depends on the context. Jack Dempsey hammering the crap out of someone working as a debt collector is a different story from Jack Dempsey fighting under lights for the championship belt and entertaining millions... Equally, I would argue that what is acceptable adult computer entertainment when viewed by an adult audience is a much riskier proposition if accessed by a younger, more impressionable audience.

The most grotesque of video games may indeed be art.... But that doesn't mean that it gains some unimpeachable status. We can still legislate for it, and determine who can possess it, or even whether or not it should be created and distributed in the first place.

We actively prevent and censure film-makers who would produce snuff movies or child porn. The same rough standards and countermeasures should be applied in the realm of video games, I suppose.