Super Columbine Massacre RPG! asks an interesting question (of many) – can games be considered documentaries? Even if you’d say SCMRPG is not a documentary, it leads you to wonder what would a documentary in game form be like?
SCMRPG would fall squarely in the camp of modern documentary movies – filmmakers like Michael Moore that very selectively decide what to show you to support their argument. As I thought about this topic I realized most of problems looking at SCMRPG as documentary was more my problem with this school of documentary thought. Ok, all documentaries may necessarily have to include the perspective of the author, but many of these films trade on their supposed objectivity – Look at this, it is TRUE! They try to use that objectivity to further convince the audience of their argument. Their dishonesty about their own subjectivity tarnishes that message, at least a little bit.
As you play the game, it’s often not clear whether your actions or story scenes actually took place, or how much Ledonne is extrapolating. Your setting the bombs in the cafeteria and them failing to go off is straightforward. What about the flashbacks to their younger childhood? Or Harris’ breaking up with his older girlfriend? These are things based in fact (we know they were picked on by jocks, we know about the girlfriend), but Ledonne obviously has to take some leeway in constructing the dialogue for the scenes. The cartoony game characters add to the effect of questioning how much actually took place. The furthest stretch seems to be the conversations Klebold & Harris have togther about their motivations while preparing for the shooting.
There’s no way to know very clearly, by playing the game (obviously you can you your own research) as to the truth of certain events. But even modern documenatary films have “dramatic re-enactments”, which have to solve the many of the same problems Ledonne did in coming up with those scenes.
In a way, it frees the game from the cloak of objectivity that modern documentary films sell themself with. SCMRPG! is clear with you that it’s not gonna tell you what’s 100% true, and it’s ok with that. But it’s going to put you in that situation and make you think about the feelings and events of that day, which is perhaps more emotional truth than anything else.
Is there something future games can do to frame events based on the real world with more objectivity? Is this something they want to do? It seems like the basic mechanic (which Ledonne uses with the photograph montage after the boys kill themselves) of juxtaposing newspaper clippings, photos, tv clips, etc. with gameplay after those events have taken place goes a long way. Narration, even, in standard documentary style, would be interesting to see, but maybe a little campy. Then they’d have to deal with the same issue of potentially falsifying their objectivity.
Is it SCMPRG a documentary? I wouldn’t call it that, but then I would have problems calling Moore’s movies strictly that, too. But I think I prefer it that way.