January 7, 2007

An Open Letter to Slamdance

by Andrew Stern · , 11:58 pm

An Open Letter to Organizers of the Slamdance Film and Game Festival, from Last Year’s Grand Jury Prize Winner for Games

January 7, 2007

We recently learned of the decision of the president and founder of the Slamdance Film and Guerrilla Game Festival, Peter Baxter, to pull one of the game festival finalists, “Super Columbine Massacre RPG!”, from this year’s competition. As reported in the Rocky Mountain News on January 5th, Baxter “made a ‘personal decision’ based on moral grounds and concern for the future of the organization.”

As recipients of last year’s Grand Jury Prize at the Slamdance game festival for “Façade”, we wish to express our strong disapproval of Baxter’s decision, and urge him to reconsider allowing “Super Columbine Massacre RPG!” to rejoin this year’s competition.

We recognize that “Super Columbine Massacre RPG!” addresses a highly sensitive and incendiary topic, of the sort that gamemakers, independent or otherwise, are still experimenting with and learning how to address. Also, we recognize that the general public is unaccustomed to games about such subject matter, thereby risking negative publicity for Slamdance by including it in the festival.

We give no judgment here about how successfully “Super Columbine Massacre RPG!” addresses its topic. However we feel it is extremely important that the game community, including high-profile festivals such as Slamdance, support such experimentation. Games, as a medium, are as fully deserving and appropriate as film and other more established media forms, to deal with such subject matter.

Initially accepting “Super Columbine Massacre RPG!” for competition was, we feel, a bold and progressive decision that strengthened Slamdance’s role in nurturing the emerging independent games scene. To then reject the game only serves to seriously undermine this effort.

We were honored to participate and win an award last year at Slamdance, for several reasons: to compete alongside a very talented group of independent gamemakers, to be chosen by a committee and jury passionate about innovation in independent games, and to be associated with the Slamdance festival itself, whose mission is to provide a much-needed venue for unfettered experimentation and expression.

Baxter’s unfortunate decision, one that reportedly overrides the wishes of the other game festival organizers, does not diminish the value of “Super Columbine Massacre RPG!” or the other finalists, nor the integrity of the committee and jury who originally chose the games to compete. But it does damage Slamdance’s mission and reputation, not only in regard to games, but in their role in supporting independent artmaking in general.

Please repair this damage by reinstating “Super Columbine Massacre RPG!” as a finalist in the games festival this year.

Sincerely,

Andrew Stern and Michael Mateas
Procedural Arts