Eric Harris liked to compare himself to Zeus. In one of his high school assignments he wrote ‘We both get angry and like to punish people in unusual ways’. Later, on the 20th April 1999, just weeks before his high school graduation, Harris entered Columbine High School, Colorado, wielding a Hi-Point 955 Carbine rifle. Accompanied by Dylan Klebold (armed with a Tech-9), he began a shooting spree which lasted just over one hour, left thirteen people dead and twenty one severely wounded – several of whom would be paralysed for life.
Perhaps, as Eric traversed those Columbine corridors, he really thought of himself like some wrathful Jupiter. Those 9mm bullets he had painstakingly accumulated from the local Wall Mart raining down on fellow classmates and faculty members (against whom he harboured all kinds of petty grievances) like vengeful thunderbolts hurled from the sky. Dylan, who was not as confident, charismatic or good looking as Harris, and who many described as a ‘follower’, even had a T-Shirt with the word WRATH printed across the front in big red letters. Eric could well have been the one who picked it out for him.
However, vindictiveness, pettiness and the desire to dish out extreme retribution against anyone who slighted or disrespected him was not the only similarity which, in his mind anyway, Eric shared with the king of the gods. He was someone who ’enjoyed the act of creation’, and one particular way he liked to express this was by designing levels for the first person shooter game Doom. Looking over his AOL profile - where he went under the name ‘Rebldomakr’ – Harris described himself as a ‘professional Doom and Doom2 creator', and clearly took a great deal of pride in this past time, which - in the hobbies section - was seconded only by his pursuit of ‘beautiful women.’
Quite predictably, Harris and Klebold’s obsession with games like Doom and Quake became, for a large proportion of the American public, the easiest, and perhaps the least terrifying way to try and comprehend the worst high school massacre in history. The boys’ unhealthy obsession with various forms of media, all of which preached violence in one way or another - from video games like Doom to death metal music like Marilyn Manson – had brutalized them to such an extent they became incapable of distinguishing fantasy from reality.
This argument gained a great deal of popularity with certain right wing Christian extremists, who saw Columbine as irrefutable proof that Satan was infiltrating the minds of the young via performers like Marilyn Manson. It also provided a smoke screen which pro-gun lobbies and firearm manufacturers would have no doubt found very convenient given that their livelihoods depended entirely upon the integrity of the second amendment. It is also comforting however to dehumanize Eric and Dylan, and take the line that certain outside influences somehow overwhelmed their empathy, their compassion, and, eventually, their grip on reality. After all, who wants to consider the possibility that these boys knew exactly what they were doing?
Speculation concerning the precise nature of the ‘Harris Doom Levels’ was, unsurprisingly, rife during the aftermath of the tragedy. Journalists logged onto Eric’s various sites in a frantic attempt to download everything possible before all trace of his online activity was removed by the FBI. Even though none of the Harris levels which survived had any resemblance to Columbine, some insisted he had recreated the layout of his high school, complete with the infamous library, on one of his WADS. This myth not only fuelled the idea that violent video games had somehow contributed to the massacre; it also led some to believe that Doom had provided Eric with a means of rehearsing his plan ‘over and over again’.
The media began to obsess over minor details. Phases like ‘It’s up to you marine, KILL THEM ALL!’ which Eric wrote when describing one of his WADS, were presented to the traumatized American public - craving for someone to blame - as confirmation of how video games could foster the murderous intentions of a psychopath. But overall, more can probably be gleaned about Harris’ mentality from that term paper he wrote on similarities to Zeus than from his juvenile, online bravado. When he walked into that school on the 20th April 1999, no doubt straining under the weight of those rucksacks filled with ammunition and propane bombs, Harris was not looking to indulge some puerile fantasy.
He was only too aware of the significance he would attain after the massacre. It would be a moment of god-like power in a world where he felt meaningless. Sixty minutes in which he would end the lives of thirteen people, and define his own forever.