While some journalists are focusing on a traditional Sundance/Slamdance rivalry, between dueling video game docs Chasing Ghosts vs. The King of Kong, the real video game story in Park City was what happened (or more appropriately what didn't happen) to the Slamdance Guerrilla Gamemaking Competition.
Heather Chaplin's insightful article in the New York Times chronicles the story of how Slamdance Festival Director Peter Baxter decided to pull the game, "Super Columbine Massacre Role Playing Game" from the competition "because of outraged phone calls and e-mail messages he’d been receiving from Utah residents and family members associated with the Columbine shooting."
In reaction to the decision, other gamemakers in competition did something unexpected--they withdrew: "When word of Mr. Baxter’s decision found its way to the Internet, it set off a hailstorm of pent-up anger and indignation among independent game designers...One by one over a period of about a week, 7 out of the remaining 13 finalists withdrew their games in protest, an act of solidarity almost unheard of among a group of people known more for working long hours in isolation than participating in group action."
The decision also led sponsors like Tracy Fullerton, a professor of game design at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts to withdraw sponsorship from the festival who wrote: “We became sponsors because we wanted to be part of a contest that stood for certain values having to do with freedom of expression and creativity. And when it didn’t anymore, we had to pull our support.”
How ironic is it that the so called "Guerrilla" Competition caved to the pressure of "lawyers who warned... of the threat of civil suits?"
In an act of self-censorship, Slamdance squandered a fantastic opportunity to support the voice of an independent artist.
(From the game maker's own site:"This game is intended to deepen the understanding of the shooting and its possible causes. What the player takes out of it is ultimately dependant upon what the player puts into it.)
The thought of a so-called independent festival pulling content because of threatened reprisals should strike fear in the heart of every (independent) media artist working today. This is why issues like Net Neutrality ARE especially important.
Baxter's assertion that, "games should be judged by a different criteria than film" just doesn't hold water.
Games ARE the new media frontier.
There are legitimate reasons to pull a content from a line-up--just as Sundance did a few years back with Nick Broomfield's Kurt & Courtney (because of music clearances) or as Slamdance did with Factor 8 (because of a court-imposed injunction).
Pulling a video game about Columbine is hardly a guerrilla tactic.
Cowardly pulling this game is the epitome of "establishment."
Ms. Chapman describes the mood in the gaming room, "what had been a ring of more than a dozen humming computer terminals was now a handful of monitors. The rows of folding chairs set up for presentations were half empty, and where last year there was excited chatter on all sides, this year an uncomfortable quiet permeated the room."
That silence you hear might just be the sound of irrelevance.
"Danny Ledonne showed up here with his game Super Columbine Massacre RPG. This is the game that was booted out of the Slamdance game competition amid much controversy. So Danny showed up and is showing his game around himself, and also interviewing people for a doc he is making about the experience. It's a provocative game and a fascinating controversy. Not much time to find and code hyperlinks right now, but check out the first few links at this Google search."