Doom Rules

Much of what we think we know about Columbine is wrong.

You master Doom and its even more violent successor, Doom 2. You engage in "deathmatch" versions of the game involving two or more players, vying on a single computer or over the Internet. It isn't enough.

You spend long hours in your room designing new levels to the game, called wads, and posting them online for other fanatics to play. You alter the noises that the weapons make, the screams of your victims. Eventually you will design fields of combat that resemble your neighborhood--and, it's rumored, your school.

It's still not enough.
You hunger for recognition. You slap a plea on the side of a building in one of the wads, urging players to send comments to your e-mail address. "This one took a damn long time to do," you write in the text file attached to another wad, "so send me some bloody credit man!"

By the middle of your sophomore year, you've completed your most sophisticated wad yet, a tricky, brutal, two-level shootout that's many times the size of your previous efforts. It climaxes in an orgy of killing, the screen flooded with hundreds of demons. The player has only two options: engage in a tedious, mechanical ritual of slaughter, or end things quickly by using a cheat command to go into "God mode," in which the player is invincible. (Later, after you are no longer around to bask in the attention, the wad will be reviewed on several Doom Web sites and ridiculed for its amateurishness, its "insipid gameplay" and "Thing overload." One reviewer will compare the experience to "viewing the clown paintings of serial killer John Wayne Gacy.")

In your America Online profile you call yourself Rebldomakr. You list your hobbies as "professional doom and doom2 creator, meeting beautiful females, being cool." Personal quote: "Shut up and shoot it.--Quit whining, it's just a flesh wound--Kill Em AALLLL!!!!"

There is no question now about who you are. You are no longer Eric Harris, pathetic dweeb. You are the Rebel who makes Doom.

Even before the killings sent reporters careening into hyperbole, Columbine had a reputation as the crown jewel of Jefferson County's high schools. Its mean SAT scores are among the highest in the state. Its motto isn't "Shut up and shoot it" but "Stretch for Excellence." A recent, $13.4 million remodeling job had provided gleaming, ultra-modern facilities to go with what the school's fact sheet unabashedly describes as "our long history of excellence in all areas."

Yet in the wake of the massacre, many parents have come to question administrators' pride in the way Columbine operated. The abysmal failure to provide a safe environment for their kids, they say, demonstrates that the school's priorities were haywire.

"For some reason, the world talks about Columbine like it was something great," says Brian Rohrbough. "We have the evidence to show it's the worst school in the United States. I never thought the school was great, but I never thought my son would be murdered there."

At Columbine, stretching for excellence in certain areas--such as football, basketball, baseball, soccer and track--definitely yielded greater rewards than other endeavors. The school won 32 state sports championships in the 1990s, and the trophies and pictures of star athletes were on display in a glass case in the front hallway. There's no comparable shrine honoring scholars, artists, debaters, or other student achievers.

The trophy case is only the most obvious sign of the pervasive jock culture at Columbine. The school's budget for coaches' salaries alone was more than $138,000 last year, the highest in the district--including a whopping $20,000 for football. For years, critics say, top athletes enjoyed special parking privileges, received special consideration when class schedules or demands conflicted with practice routines, and were only sporadically disciplined for harassing other students.

A hefty amount of the ten-minute daily broadcast of the Rebel News Network, piped into every classroom during second period, was devoted to the exploits of the teams as they marched toward one championship after another. Last spring, one much-aired skit featured the soccer team, their hair dyed white in solidarity, kicking a ball through the halls and into classrooms. Teachers were expected to gamely put up with such disruptions in the name of school spirit and to cut star players slack in other ways.

"When they had assemblies, that was an opportunity to hero-worship the jocks," says Victor Good, whose stepson, Nathan Dykeman, was a friend of Klebold and Harris. "The kids were not permitted to leave. And the assemblies were always for athletes, never for academics. What the hell is school spirit? Worshiping these other kids?"

Good, the chairman of the Colorado Reform Party, would like to see competitive athletics removed from the schools. Other parents aren't as quick to condemn the entire jock culture, but they do claim that a core group of athletes targeted weaker kids for bullying and ridicule.

"The bullying and harassment went on uncontrolled and throughout the school," insists Randy Brown. "This was a group of twenty kids picking on other kids, and at the bottom of the pile were Eric and Dylan. They got spit on and called 'faggots' and pushed around. Nobody did anything about it. What caused this was the school's failure to enforce their zero-tolerance policy toward harassment."

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