Recently, there’s been a medium (I won’t say ‘big’ since quite a few people who read my blog won’t know what I’m talking about) hoo-ha about the removal of a game at this year’s Slamdance festival, a part of which is dedicated to the making of independent games, called the Guerrilla Gamemaker Competition.

A few responses to the issue have been floated around and about the blogosphere, including of course the makers main supporters hosting (thanks, AndrewK!) the game, Manifesto, who made their thoughts known very eloquently on their site.

The ‘ripple effect’ of their removal is now being felt as other game makers have begun pulling out their titles as well, Boing2 reports, perhaps in protest or simply as an indignant ‘kinship reaction, common in the indie game-making community united by the menace of big business.

Firstly, for the reasons put forth by Manifesto itself and its supporters, I do not think the removal is justified.

As Jonathan Blow of Braid has so articulately put it, games should no longer be treated as mere entertainment and

“… be taken seriously as an art form that can expand the boundaries of human experience.

as they

…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.”

I come from a country that bans for far less. Sanitary napkin advertisements. Walking into government departments in mini-skirts. Children’s books (see numbers 15 and 16). So I know something about oppression, where a discussion of one’s civil liberties (or lack thereof) may be tantamount to treason, so don’t even talk to me about the lack of freedom of expression.

But I will say this, as a parent and a gamer: Super Columbine Massacre should never have been made at all.

Firstly, what kind of deeper understanding can the gamer hope to gain from playing an RPG based on such a tragedy? What boundaries of human experience can be broadened, and what kind of shift in perspective or heightened wisdom can we hope to acquire from playing a game about, say, the holocaust, as Hitler, or as the terrorists who piloted the planes into the World Trade Center? If there are, they escape me and I would love to learn just how I could find entertainment in or become a more learned individual with a larger horizon of understanding from putting myself in the imagined shoes of the perpetrators of such tragedies in a straight up shooter, much less a roleplaying game.

Games like Postal or Grand Theft Auto, while imitating the darker slates of life, have invited criticism, both fair and unjustified. However, these are not interactive portrayals of actual events that deliver entertainment at the expense of those who are STILL suffering from the tragedy.No matter how you spin it, Manifesto, even a cartoon about the massacre will undermine it. Perhaps to some, it may simply leave a bad taste. To others, it is bitter realisation that there are people out there who are willing to turn your pain into their pleasure, and in some cases, profit.

As a parent, it is a challenge guiding our children through the labyrinth of mass media. What games or TV shoes, movies or videos, should our children watch? How long is too long? How violent is too violent? This is a task that is especially difficult for my husband and I, for the fact that we have spent the last 25-30 years of our lives playing computer games. While accepting that it is our responsibility to filter all content our children may come into contact with on a daily basis, it is a slippery slope. One wrong judgment call and the jig is up. Do what we say, not do what we do, or we’ll just have to throw away the XBOX and the TVs to be fair.

We want our children to enjoy what we enjoy, to develop a love for an art form that brought my husband and I together for one, and one that has given me the best eight years of my career as a journalist. Even with the violence and the sex and the gore, we will tolerate it all if we can tell our kids that “this is just pretend.”

And that, Super Columbine Massacre is not.

Perhaps this is the curse of the industry. In the chase for more shock value, more excitement, more controversy to fuel our increasingly jaded,  and yet insatiable appetite for entertainment that pushes the limits, we have forgotten that these games are created in an age where the distance between real violence and our children are simply a few keystrokes and clicks away. This assault happens in our homes, right under our noses, so quickly that we just cannot keep up without completely turning off our TV sets and cable modems.

Need it come to this? I, for one, simply cannot imagine a world without video games. Not for me, nor for my children.

I would’ve expected the bigger game companies to take such a distasteful risk. We all understand that real ingenuity in games is hard to come by but tell me: What do independents have if they do not have integrity?

What do you have if not even dignity?

Let the big boys resort to such tactics. You have the freedom to come up with so much more.

For so much less.