UK game designer Luc Bernard is developing “Imagination is the Only Escape,” a controversial game in which the protagonist is a young Jewish boy in Nazi-occupied France. The character imagines a fantasy world that is the setting for the platforming gameplay, while facts about the Holocaust are revealed on the DS’s lower screen. Nintendo has issued a statement that they have no plans to publish the game, although it appears that they have yet to actually play the game, either.
Using such a deplorable moment in our history as fodder for a cutesy videogame is rocky ground, but it appears to me that Bernard is attempting to present the story tactfully. And profits, should the game get commercial release, are to be donated to a charity for Darfur.
I have personally seen a few instances of late where discussion of the Holocaust has been discouraged, the implication being that an event so despicable should be alluded to only in the most oblique way. This is wrong-headed, if understandable. Genocide continues to plague our planet to this day. The more we internalize the reality of humanity’s terrible potential while speaking frankly and openly of it, the less likely we are to repeat the mistakes of the recent past.
That said, chthonic cartoon Nazis may veer too far toward caricature, dehumanizing the all-too-human people who chose to treat their fellow man as beasts. The most important lesson to be learned from the Holocaust is that the Nazis were not monsters, but human beings who made terrible, irredeemable mistakes.
That said, I believe that all art should be free to be itself and to take risks. I don’t particularly desire to conflate the pleasurable experience of platform gaming with memories of our species failures, but that discordance may end up making Imagination is the Only Escape‘s message all that more resonant.