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'Games that portray the war as fun... that's more of an issue.'
'Games that portray the war as fun... that's more of an issue.'
September 4, 2013 | By Kris Ligman

September 4, 2013 | By Kris Ligman
More: Indie, Design

Luc Bernard's Imagination is the Only Escape first made waves in 2008, when the New York Times ran a profile on the game implying (erroneously) that its subject matter -- the Holocaust -- had caused it to be rejected from Nintendo's then-contemporary DS platform.

Recently, the title has reemerged, thanks to a crowdfunding campaign and renewed interest in the press. But are concerns once voiced about its subject matter at all valid?

"To be honest with you I find a title like the new Wolfenstein with robot Nazis to be more [offensive] than this title," Bernard tells Gamasutra. "If people accept games that portray the war as fun I think that's more of an issue."

Imagination is the Only Escape takes the perspective of a young Jewish boy, who -- in a manner similar to Papo & Yo or Life is Beautiful -- escapes into his imagination to rationalize the horrors around him.

About his subject matter, Bernard is grimly pragmatic and direct. "I can already spoil the ending for you in a way: it ends realistically, which means it's not a happy one."

In light of the current funding campaign, the game's subject matter, as in 2008, has become a productive hook for garnering interest.

"I think it [just shows] that maybe people are ready for a change," Bernard offers, when asked what he thought of the press coverage's tendency to focus on the controversial subject matter. "I don't think it's gotten that much attention. But it seems the reaction people have gotten so far is that they support such a title."

Nevertheless, Bernard recognizes the importance of treating a subject like the Holocaust with a deft touch. "This title shows history, facts, things that actually happened... I am making sure with each part of it, that it's done the right way, and that people who were there during that period also agree with it. I never was scared to tackle such a subject, because I believe it's something that should be shown."

Bernard isn't alone, as he is all too aware. He notes he's seen other games tackle weighty subjects, although most felt like "smaller experiments, not full blown games" to him. He says he's looking forward to Ryan Green and Josh Larson's That Dragon, Cancer, which we also covered recently, to see how that handles its subject matter.

In all, Bernard says he'd prefer it if some games -- or interactive experiences, in his words -- were a little more serious.

"If our medium shows Nazis as robots and other ridiculous things but doesn't show really what they did -- the mass genocide of all kinds of people -- then I think it's those developers who are mocking the Holocaust," Bernard added. "That is really what offends me the most now."

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Mike Higbee
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Someone needs to learn the difference between fiction and non-fiction.
Getting mad at fiction because it's not true to non-fiction just cries first world problem and makes an issue out of a non issue as much as violence in games leading to real world violence.
Pretty sure people still learn about the Holocaust in school and playing a fictionalized, "What if the Nazis had won and you were in the 60s" setting to the new Wolfenstein isn't mocking the reality of what happened.
Hell I'm an Iraq war vet, should I be offended at the mockery Call of Duty, Battlefield, and generic brown and bloom warshooter is to actual military service? No, because it's easy to detach fiction from non-fiction and creative/artistic liberties to create an environment people want to play in to be entertained.
Even games loosely based on history you can say the same. I play Crusader Kings 2 to have fun and what if roleplay situations, not to recreate an accurate history of what happened.
I don't want to come home from a day at work sit down to play a game of Wolfenstein only to be confronted with horrific images of the Holocaust and informed of all the historic atrocities of the Nazis. I know the Nazis in reality were horrible.
I want to sit down, kill the baddies and have fun doing it, not get a history lesson.
It would be like coming home from work, sitting down and watching the news for fun. The world is a horrible place and I'd like to be able to escape from it for a bit without being reminded of all this crap.
There are some super serious titles out there and they are pretty niche (and often don't lend themselves to having the best gameplay), this is the reason why.

Ron Dippold
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Mike, if he does a stridently didactic game it will be a failure, both as a game and as an educational tool.

But I don't think it's a game that wallows in bathos and angst. Sure, it won't be happy fun times all around, but if he can make the Escapes enjoyable and engaging (they'd better be, they're Samuel's only refuge) then you can have a game with serious themes and an 'unhappy' ending that's not just tedious moralizing. At some level, the player needs to enjoy him/herself even in an educational game about the Holocaust.

Indie games have gotten much better at this tragicomedy recently ('That Dragon, Cancer,' 'Papers, Please'), and if you think about 'Limbo' it's pretty darn bleak. Perhaps these games aren't your cup of tea either, but we are at least past the point where educational has to equal preachy. You can make a point better by taking a light touch.

On the other hand I've got no problem with shooting up Castle Wolfenstein either.

Mike Higbee
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It's hard to take a light touch with bait lines like this meant to draw a reaction, "If our medium shows Nazis as robots and other ridiculous things but doesn't show really what they did -- the mass genocide of all kinds of people -- then I think it's those developers who are mocking the Holocaust," Bernard added. "That is really what offends me the most now."

Ron Dippold
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Hmmm, okay. In a less roundabout fashion what I was trying to say is he can make a good game about the Holocaust that's not preachy and does not make you feel bad for existing, and you do not have to feel threatened that this very personal little game will somehow cause people to stop making the big dumb over the top America F@$# Yeah spectacles we enjoy (Like Saint's Row IV which I'm playing now). He's no threat to the holy FPS trinity of Nazis, Zombies, and Foreign Cannonfodder of the Month /and/ I want to play his game, so as far as I'm concerned it's win win.

Mike Higbee
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I'm not threatened at all, just pointing out how loaded his words were in the first place. I'll also probably end up playing it at some point.

Michael Pianta
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If done properly this could be amazing. Like Pan's Labyrinth... but a game.

Alex Boccia
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I have problems with neither.

heath willmann
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I don't care about games that generate sales via controversy.

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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Luis Guimaraes
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Wait, war is not fun?! Video games were wrong? :(