Persuasive Games: Designing For Tragedy
June 13, 2007 Page 1 of 3
A month after the Virginia Tech massacre, 21 year-old Australian hobbyist animator and game developer Ryan Lambourn created V-Tech Rampage, a web game that recreates the massacre’s events. He released the game on his personal website and popular Flash portal Newgrounds.
The game was universally reviled on websites and blogs. Some cited the very idea of a game about the massacre as an offense (“We just find such a game to be in extremely poor taste”).
Others noted a lack of sensitivity in the timing of the game (“[Lambourn] waited less than a month. Which suggests that [he] is motivated primarily by getting his name in the limelight”).
Elsewhere, still others cited the game’s structural coherence and other design merits (“If you don't follow the plan accordingly, the cops capture you early. If you walk into a classroom, the game engine makes the walls transparent. When you fire shots near pedestrians, they'll freak out and start screaming and running”).
And most highlighted Lambourn’s demand for payment in exchange for removing the game from Newgrounds and his own site, including the apparently thoughtless offer to apologize if donations reached $3,000 (Lambourn later retracted the offer, claiming it was a joke).
The game has been compared to another controversial and highly-publicized videogame about a school shooting, Danny LeDonne’s Super Columbine Massacre RPG (SCMRPG), but the two games share little in common.
While SCMRPG portrayed Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold’s lives in researched detail, depicting the events of the Columbine massacre as the tragic outcome of two complex and misunderstood lives, V-Tech Rampage focuses on the acts of killing over the killer’s motives. While SCMRPG defamiliarizes murder by rendering it in RPG form, V-Tech Rampage encourages fast-fingered triggering.
While LeDonne has thoughtfully and convincingly connected his game with the personal effects Columbine on his life, Lambourn’s game makes him appear unstable at best, deeply troubled at worst.
One might even wonder if authoring the game was actually more a signal of his own disquiet than the offhand gag he claims it to be. For example, in V-Tech Rampage, the victims utter revealing secrets before the player mows them down. These range from the cynical (“Please just not my face! I want to stay pretty!”) to the disturbed (“I cut myself sometimes”) to the homophobic (“Bring the pain, faggot!”) to the melancholy (“I’m lonely”).
Several deal with sexual molestation, including one final lament, “I wanted to have sex with a preteen before I died,” and another rejoinder accusing a professor of having sex with an underage student.
The world probably didn’t need V-Tech Rampage. But what if Ryan Lambourn did? Are these just tasteless jokes, or are they calls for help?
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