Columbine game furor slams Slamdance

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A key sponsor has withdrawn from an alternative media festival and six video game makers have pulled their entries over organizers' rejection of a game depicting the Columbine High School massacre.

Slamdance Film Festival co-founder and president Peter Baxter said organizers couldn't justify keeping "Super Columbine Massacre RPG!" in the competition.

"I spoke to people who are still suffering very much from Columbine," Baxter said Friday. "Some things are more important than one game or a festival."

The game, which can be downloaded off the Internet, has cartoon graphics and photos of Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and some of their writings. Players take the place of Harris and Klebold, who killed 13 people and themselves in April 1999 at the school near Denver.

The game's creator, Danny Ledonne of Alamosa in southern Colorado, said he was a sophomore in high school when the shootings took place.

"I had the same kinds of issues in high school that the two shooters did and I just dealt with it differently, fortunately," he said Friday.

Ledonne said he believed the game would spark serious discussion about the shootings, which were blamed in part on the teens' exposure to violent games. Baxter said the festival would add a discussion session this year about the game.

Ledonne said Slamdance contacted him about entering his game in the Guerrilla Gamemaker competition.

"They picked up something that they, in the end, didn't have the courage of their convictions to stand behind," he said.

The University of Southern California's Interactive Media Division planned to offer summer fellowships to the winners but withdrew the sponsorship. Assistant Professor Tracy Fullerton said Friday she viewed it as a fundamental issue of freedom of expression.

"They courted very avant-garde, independent gamemakers and if you're going to do that, in the same way you stand by a very avant-garde filmmaker, you need to be prepared to stand by a gamemaker," she said.

Baxter said organizers were reluctant to expose Slamdance to possible legal issues over music in the game.

"We have to preserve the ability to support gamemakers and filmmakers in the future," he said.

The Slamdance festival, Jan. 18-27, is separate from but runs at the same time as the Sundance Film Festival, also in Park City.

Slamdance bills itself as an independent alternative to Sundance. Competition films come from first-time directors working with budgets under $1 million.
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