Written by Shelley Plett Monday, 26 February 2007 18:00"I don't have a lot of respect for talent. Talent is genetic. It's what you do with it that counts."
What is art? Who can be called an "artist"? The questions aren't easy to answer because art is obscure. And apparently, so is morality.
A self-proclaimed artist named Danny Ledonne, who originally referred to himself anonymously as "Columbin," poured his creativity into his first creation, which he says helped him reach his goal of producing "something that mattered."
That something is a video game called Super Columbine Massacre RPG.
No one will forget the 1999 school shootings at Columbine High School, where students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 classmates, one teacher and themselves in Littleton, Colo.
This was Ledonne's inspiration.
Can playing a crude 2-D video game played from the killer's point of view help someone understand why Harris and Klebold did it? Ledonne thinks so.
Here's the gist of the game. It starts in Harris's basement, where the two finalize their plan to plant bombs at the school, then moves on to the school cafeteria and the library, where the shootings took place.
The player can choose to be either Harris or Klebold and is told that how many people die is ultimately up to them. They can select their weapon of choice and throughout the game, can eliminate "enemies" with generic titles like "preppy girl" and "math teacher."
As a bonus, they are congratulated on "another victory for the trench coat mafia" after each kill.
At the end of this part of the game, actual photos of Harris and Klebold's bodies appear, along with more real crime scene photos of students crying and huddling together. The intended moral: nobody wins.
Except for Satan, who in the second part of the game, rewards them each with a flying dragon for their stay in Hell. Once they find and return the two halves of the satanic bible to Satan, the game is over.
In a recent opinion column, Kansas City Star contributor John Peery offered support for both Ledonne's art form and his Columbine game.
"Video games, he wrote, are seizing on their ability to tell us stories about ourselves in a way that other art forms can't. They can...immediately reflect back the consequences of choices."
I understand that censorship can be dangerous. Ledonne had every right to create the game, even if it is disturbing. But being controversial doesn't make it art.
Stifling creativity is also dangerous, but beyond politics and legal repercussions lies the real danger: disregard for respect.
Not respect for artistic freedom, but respect for the 15 who died and for their friends and families who will live with the reality of the shootings forever.
Artists, whether they create paintings, films, music, or games, have vision. They're able see things that others can't. They provide an image and we can try to find something meaningful in between its pieces.
Is this what Ledonne was trying to do? Is he a visionary?
Or was it made for shock value?
Maybe it was a kind of personal therapy. In an interview, he said he had been bullied throughout his entire childhood. He could relate to the intimidation and isolation that the two murderer's had felt.
When he heard about the shootings from his own Colorado classroom four hours away from Littleton on that day, he admitted that his first thought was, "It's about time."
Henry Ward Beecher said, "Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures."
Maybe those are the lines we should read between.