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The Harris Levels
Claim: One of the boys who murdered his classmates at Columbine High School prepared by designing new computer game levels that resembled his school and peopling them with representations of his classmates.
Example:[Collected on the Internet, 1999]
The news media has not told or released the entire truth of Eric Harris' (Littleton bomber) programming of additional DOOM game levels. They HAVE admitted that he created new levels but they never specified what the design was. He apparently designed them to look like various parts of the high school, including the deadly library. Instead of monsters as the targeted characters, he targeted students in his custom made levels. Word is that these levels are starting to be copied and spread.
Origins: In the wake of the tragedy in Littleton, it's to be expected countless rumors would waft through the air like dust settling after an explosion. In particular, anything to do with the killers' state of mind, clues as to why they did this terrible thing, or hints they gave off in advance about their intentions, are going to spread like wildfire. Because their actions were so unthinkable, we attempt to make sense of them, to somehow find a way to fit this spree of chaos into our understanding of an orderly
In this, we fail. There is no fathoming the heart of the Devil.
According to one rumor afoot on the Internet, one of the killers created custom levels for a popular computer game, designing them to look like the hallways of Columbine High School and peopled them with representations of his classmates. Given that the object of Doom is to gun down whatever gets in the way, and Eric Harris had indeed created additional levels and shared them with others through his web site, it's only reasonable this rumor about those levels representing the hallways of his school would fall on believing ears.
But there's not much to it, really. There were additional levels but they didn't look like the high school.
Like its precursor, Wolfenstein, and in common with Quake, Doom is a violent computer game in which the object is to get your character safely out of a multi-tiered environment. To do this, one picks up weapons and food supplies along the way and at every opportunity blasts through lurking hordes of monsters and bad guys. The graphics are high quality and the gore spectacular. As each floor (or "level" as it is referred to by Doom aficionados) is completed, the character climbs to a higher one, each new level distinguished from those previous by different graphics, layout, and types of bad guys found therein. The game is still the same (shoot everything in sight), but the look of it is different as the character advances ever upwards.
Doom can be played as a single- or multi-user game, and is often played by groups of players who have either networked their computers together in the same house or who through the Internet come together from around the world by accessing the necessary shared files on a common server. Dooming is a popular pastime among players of all ages, and the game has been known to inspire some of its fans to try their hands at writing their own levels through the creation of .wad files. Such a player was Eric Harris.
The levels he designed, however, did not resemble the high school where he and Dylan Klebold laid waste to human life. Contrary to the rumor, at least some members of the media did discover what those levels were about and did report in the pages of their publications a description of them:
[Hartford Courant, 1999]
Harris created customized Doom scenarios, adding his own graphics and sounds, and posted them on the Web page for other players to download and use. Before the page was removed by America Online on Wednesday, The Courant downloaded copies of some of the files.
They included a scenario, called "Deathmatching in Bricks!," in which Harris boasted of adding bloody graphics and thanked his "good friend Dylan Klebold for helping me play-test this." Harris described the scene:
"You are placed in a large, open arena to fight in. There are multiple stair cases and lots of ammo laying around. There are 4 other sections to this level to fight in: a computer lab, a darkened and lightened tunnel with crevices to hide in (hint, hint), and a cave-like room with a river 'o' sludge flowing through. And don't worry about getting cornered — there are plenty places to run and hide if you are in trouble!"
The game scenarios, four in all, appear to have been posted on the Web site in 1996 and 1997.
[Washington Post, 1999]
In one level, called "U.A.C. LABS," he describes an all-out war between humans and demons on the planet Phobos. The goal of the game, he says, is for the player — a lone U.S. Marine — to blast his way to the planet's teleporter.
"The platoon guarding the teleporter out is VERY large, so beware," Harris wrote. "Good luck marine, and don't forget, KILL 'EM AAAAALLLL!!!!!"
It could be argued that the Courant, the Washington Post, and others missed the high school levels when they downloaded the files from Harris' now nonexistent AOL web site. What is clear, however, is that before the FBI took down all the pages of that site, a veritable stream of reporters visited it, downloading everything they could get their hands on to their own computers. If those levels existed, at least one of those reporters would have found them.
More telling, those who play Doom in the online environment don't report anything about the rumored levels. A number of users have not only played the Harris levels but saved them to their hard drives or web sites. The Harris levels do exist and can be found provided one is willing to hunt around a bit for them.
There is no question Harris and Klebold transformed a violent personal fantasy into a shocking reality. What should be doubted, however, is that either of them built a computer simulation that mocked up the school and the kids they were going to gun down.
Yet the myth lives on, even being repeated in a 2002 book on the composition of the human brain and how both nature and culture impel us to be the way we are. "It is chilling to consider that Harris customized the rooms in Doom to simulate the physical layout of Columbine and that he played it over and over again in that mode" says Liars, Lovers and Heroes.
There's no need to look for any more horror in the tragedy of 20 April 1999. The reality was bloodchilling enough.
Barbara "the big chill" Mikkelson
Last updated: 1 January 2005
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- Duggan, Paul, Michael Shear and Marc Fisher. "Killers Fused Violent Fantasy, Reality."
- The Washington Post. 22 April 1999 (p. A1).
- Johnson, Dirk and James Brooke. "Portrait of Outcasts Seeking to Stand Out."
- The New York Times. 22 April 1999.
- Quartz, Steven and Terrence Sejnowski. Liars, Lovers and Heroes.
- New York: Harper-Collins, 2002. IBSN 0-688-16218-5 ; (p. 213).
- The Hartford Courant. "Internet Reveals Dark Entries."
- 22 April 1999 (p. A13).