Is it possible to get young players interested in Holocaust History through a game?

The Light in the Darkness was co-written by a Holocaust survivor and researcher. It aims to inspire a new generation to study more.

“Video Game” and “Holocaust” don’t sound like they belong together. Yet, Luc Bernard has been actively working to bring Holocaust education to the world. Bernard took up an old project he’d put aside almost 10 years ago in order to address the rising number of anti-Jewish hatred incidents worldwide. He confides that it was completely different back then and that he didn’t complete it. What is the key difference in now and back then? Joan Salter (83 years old), a researcher was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of her services to Holocaust education and as the game’s author.

Bernard also has a long career in gaming. He worked on Mecho Wars 2009 and Pocket God, and directed Kitten Squad, PETA’s first console-based video game. In addition, Paraiso Island was created as a Puerto Rico hurricane relief game. His efforts also have a personal side. Bernard’s grandmother was responsible for Kindertransport kids, Jewish refugees who fled Nazi Germany and arrived in Great Britain during the 1930s. Bernard learned about his Jewish heritage as a teenager.

The game is called the Light in the Darkness. It was set in Bernard’s hometown of France. This illustrates how an apparently normal society can rapidly turn against Jews. Although the characters, which are from Poland and are Jewish, were fictionalized, the event are true to life, including many that happened to Salter’s relatives. No matter how skilled a writer or artist I might be, they would never feel the Holocaust the same way as someone who has actually been there. Even though she was only a child, her family also experienced the Holocaust. It’s something that I believe has become special because of this.

This game traces the experiences of the family in the days leading up to the Val d’Hiv Roundup in Paris, July 1942. French police made a massive arrest of over 4,000 foreign Jewish families at their request. The children were kept in horrible conditions until being transferred to Auschwitz internment camp, where they were eventually murdered.

Both Salter and Bernard valued accuracy and realness in everything, from uniforms to dates and places. Salter was shocked to learn that Bernard had Nazis rounded up his children when he sent him photos of previous work. And I told her no. It wasn’t Nazis. Salter says it was the French police. This is an important distinction because the Vichy government arrested the Jews long before the Nazis. From there, the conversation developed.

Bernard says, “She is the greatest critic.” She’ll be able to see every detail. The game will not be released until Joan approves.

Salter knew right away that Bernard would be attracted to her being a Vel d’Hiv survivor. She says that she was only a child when the Vel d’Hiv happened, but it is important to her that she has spent over 40 years studying it and collecting testimonies.

Bernard believes that the experience of the story and the character’s stories will make the player more attached and keener to understand the Holocaust and other discrimination against Jews. Salter says, “You are trying to build empathy. It has to be historically accurate without putting it over peoples heads.” You’re showing the complexity of it. You have to sympathize with your characters and you will see how their lives are falling apart.

Bernard noticed a game industry in which the only conversations games had about World War II were from Americans who are killing Nazis and ignoring the terrible events of the Holocaust. This may seem controversial but it is my opinion that Pop Culture has made Nazis cartoon villains like the Wolfenstein zombie Nazis (which I absolutely love). Salter says, “You’re diminishing what Nazis were and did…and you’re profiting from Jewish trauma.”

Some games like Call of Duty or Battlefield often erase all trace of Nazi Germany from history, even though they were set in WWII.

Bernard recollects as a kid watching Schindler’s List and how it impacted him and his classmates. This film was a catalyst for Holocaust representation in movies beyond historical documentaries. The reason [the film] was so popular is that people got emotionally attached to the characters.

The same applies to telling people 6 million Jews perished, rather than telling them the story of a person or a family. He says that only a handful of states in the US are required to teach Holocaust education. It’s a common belief that it is part of an ancient past.

Bernard and Salter believe that it is crucial to discover innovative methods to teach a new generation, the internet- and gaming-generation. He insists that this not only is the next step in Holocaust education but also shows how serious topics can be tackled by the industry.

Bernard says that many board members of big Holocaust organisations aren’t proficient in video games. They think it’s Super Mario at a concentration camp. These organizations imagine the worst. Many of them are reluctant to use social media. It’s not surprising that videogame scares them. Many older adults don’t know that video games can be viewed as interactive films. “We’ve transcended into something completely different and that’s where the disconnect lies.”

Salter may surprise you, but he isn’t necessarily from the video game-loving generation. When she was three years old, her grandson introduced her to Super Mario. She says, “Well, he is 18 now.” “The idea of a game as a whole, I didn’t really understand. But, as far as me, I have written a script to make an animated movie.”

The Light in the Darkness is a videogame that offers no options, unlike other games. Bernard explains that Jews were forced to choose during the Holocaust. Each scene instead has embedded interactivity. It’s almost like an interactive movie where the player does certain tasks and not makes choices. The game requires that the player declare himself a Jew to the police at one point. Bernard says that you cannot game-ify the Holocaust. There is no way to “win” it.

He said that games about Holocaust are inevitable. We must now do it right, so we can set a precedent for others to follow.

Melissa Mott is the deputy director of Echoes & Reflections in the Anti-Defamation League. She runs a program that focuses primarily on Holocaust education for middle and high schools. Her initial reaction to the game was to be skeptical. However, she soon grew more fond of its research and the emphasis it places on the Holocaust through an interactive first person lens. Mott says that there is a great opportunity for something like this to be shared with a broad audience. Mott says that “In the world Holocaust education, there are new learning modes and we’re witnessing more of an push towards using social media platforms, so there’s definitely space for new energies around things like this game to reach a wide audience.”

Bernard plans to make the game free of charge for Xbox, PlayStation 5, 5 and Xbox consoles on Holocaust Memorial Day 2022. Bernard will also be implementing a pilot program in schools across the UK to determine if they are more interested in learning about the Holocaust following completion of the game. He says that while the game has an educational component, the most important thing about it is its ability to spark curiosity and get people playing and learning more about the Holocaust.

Bernard doesn’t always intend to target Jews. Let’s face it, not all Jews are aware of the Holocaust. You know what I mean. It is for all people.

Salter says there is no magic bullet. “Hope this will attract people who wouldn’t have understood the Holocaust.”

Bernard says, “It’s tough but it’ll be worth it.” “If the project fails, it’s a failure, but I will try again, that’s what matters. It would have been a great opportunity for others to share stories about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. However, I hope that some sort of positive effect will result from it.” He says stories are the most powerful things humans possess. Stories have changed and shaped the world.

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Publiated at Tue 14 Sep 2021, 12:15:13 (+0000).

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