Just after 11am on April 20th, 1999, juniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked through the doors of Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado armed with a pistol, a rifle and two sawed-off shotguns hidden beneath long black trench coats, carrying a pair of duffel bags filled with propane tank bombs. In the span of about 45 minutes, they went on a shooting rampage that killed 12 students and one teacher, and injured another 24 students, all before turning their guns on themselves. Had it not been for their poor skills in bomb-making, they would have killed hundreds.
The nation stood shocked as it grappled to figure out how two seemingly normal young men could have committed such an act of violence. Columbine became something of a national Rorschach test as the community – and the nation at large – did not hesitate to point the blame on anything they could: violent video games and rock ‘n’ roll culture, bullying in schools, insufficient school security and gun control.
Video Games and Rock n’ Roll Culture
Playing video games for hours at a time was one of Harris’s and Klebold’s favorite pastimes. They were fond of “Doom,” a game licensed by the U.S. military to train soldiers to kill. What makes it so uniquely chilling is that the player does not control the character doing the killing as in most violent video games; instead, rather than having the player see the digitalized “protagonist” on screen, the player is the killer. In a class project they completed only months prior to April 20th, Harris and Klebold made up their own version of “Doom” in which they wore trench coats, carried guns, and killed school athletes. Harris named his shotgun “Arlene” after his favorite character in the game.
Still, video game advocates insisted that video game culture could not be blamed for Harris and Klebold’s actions. They argued that 85 percent of video games are rated “E for everyone,” “E10 plus” or “T for Teen” and that video games have no correlation to violent behavior.
In 2005, independent video game developer Danny Ledonne released “Super Columbine Massacre RPG!” in which players simulate the events of April 20th, 1999 through the perspective of the killers. It caused a national outrage, but Ledonne insisted that it was not meant to encourage mass shootings at high schools, but rather to look at the psychology of the tragedy using video game language. It was discovered, a year later in 2006, that a school shooter in Quebec had played and and favored the game.
Harris and Klebold’s obsession with dark and violent entertainment did not stop at video games. They also were fans of the movie Natural Born Killers (they used the acronym “NBK” to describe the massacre in their journals) and dark, rageful music. Although they weren’t known to particularly love the music of Marilyn Manson, he came under attack after his music was accused in having a hand in influencing the boys. He addressed the accusations in a 1999 Rolling Stone article, saying: “When it comes down to who’s to blame for the high school murders in Littleton, Colorado, throw a rock and you’ll hit someone who’s guilty.” Shortly after the interview he released an album called Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) that contained songs alluding to the massacre. Michael Moore interviewed him for his film, Bowling for Columbine: