Indie Nintendo DS Game About a Jewish Boy in Nazi France Pushes Buttons

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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.

No Game About Nazis for Nintendo [NYTimes.com via Kotaku (Who also has more follow up with Bernard.)]

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8 Comments

  1. As someone who is super sensitive to how the holocaust is portrayed in the news and in general, from the POV of a Jewish American who has seen the impact it had on his family tree — I can safely say this game does not bother me.

    It sounds like a tasteful and educational interpretation of very real events. It is important we find new ways to educate and impart the cold fact of what happened in a meaningful manner. As genocide continues to be a theme in human interaction and the world is currently trying to resolve atrocities in places like Darfur, we need to keep an open mind.

    Certainly this game feels more appropriate than Castle Wolfenstein or its ancestor Wolfenstein3D and those were a ton of fun!

  2. Same here, Jason. As long as the info is accurate, if the fantasy element gets players interested, I have no qualms about it. Certainly, I don’t recall anyone complaining about the fantasy allegories in Pan’s Labyrinth somehow trivializing the horrors of Franco’s Spain. Given the sort of depraved violence that’s par for the course in videogames, a slight sugar-coating for the sake of delivering the meme is well within the confines of good taste.

  3. I think this game is harmless. Even Schindler’s List, horrifyingly graphic as it was, won Oscars for its constructive look at human depravity vs. human kindness.

    Are we really going to deny the game a chance to be socially impacting and take a sugar-coated look at history in a far, far less gruesome way than Schindler’s List did?

  4. If it helps educate children about the Holocaust, I’m all for it. Doesn’t seem like it’s glorifying or belittling the topic… so where’s Nintendos problem?

  5. Lord preserve us from people who would dictate how anything should be portrayed and those who say that because a view portrayed does not accord with their own, it should be silenced.

    The things the Nazis did have always been up for grabs. If you can have ‘Alo ‘Alo, The Producers, the Wolfenstein games, etc, then what could the problem be with this – even without the educational sop (if that’s what it is) to the various illiberal organisations that try to stamp out anything holocaust-related that doesn’t match their precise world-view?

  6. what makes me sad is there are stronger atrocities from recent years that could have been used to illustrate inhumanity to children with greater effect than something which happened at the start of the previous century.

    genocide is still happening to this day despite the efforts of schindlers list and the like.

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