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I am a child of the 90s. As such, the halcyon days of my youth were focused on pogs, pokemon and the extermination of six million Jewish people by the National Socialist Party of Germany in the 1940s.
Blame the latter on the by-then enormous cultural influence of one Steven Spielberg. His determination to never let the world forget the horrors of World War II led to the modern film classics Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List, the creation of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation (which sought to record as many of the recollections of Holocaust survivors as possible before they were lost to old age and death), and even the Medal of Honor series which kicked off a boom of realistic WW2 FPS games that eventually led to the Modern Warfare franchise; which is now so dominant in its medium as to require no further explanation here.
Unfortunately, this was then inevitably followed by a series of also-ran, wannabe blockbusters seeking the same over-sized box office appeal of Spielberg’s twin titans of terror and tragedy. Over time, the tropes of the genre became solidified, worn down, reheated, worn down some more, and finally passed into the realm of dull and exhausted melodramas.
“Ugh. I hate remakes.”
And that’s a real shame, because I value strongly the lessons that were drilled into my head from a young age about the horrors of demagoguery and persecution and the bottomless depths of unchecked human cruelty. It feels like a real loss that there may be a generation growing up right now that doesn’t have access to any work that is as impactful and teaches these same lessons. And no, throwing on a VHS copy of Schindler’s List in every history class from now until the end of time doesn’t cut it. The importance of Spielberg’s effort was in generating projects that engaged with contemporary audiences in a way that was finely crafted to be both compelling to them and accurate to the nature of historical events. What we need is something that hits the same buttons but for Millenials. And since film is a dying star and video games are poised to take its place, it seems like a no-brainer that we should already have a really great, haunting masterpiece of interactive fiction on the subject. So why don’t we?
Well, a big part of the issue lies at a crossroads of competing representations. On the one hand, the majority of Jewish advocacy groups are likely being led by people whose only experience with the art of video games began and ended with Pac-Man. And on the other hand, there are very few individual voices on the creative side of the medium. Spielberg got to make his films because he could act as an ambassador for his own work. If anyone had any concerns, he could always point to a long list of critical and commercial hits with his name stamped on them. Not only do video games not have that but they don’t have the expectation within the industry of the importance of such a thing. Even if Ken Levine, for example, can point to Bioshock there still isn’t any hope that the publisher of whatever he’s working on won’t have the ultimate say on what is and isn’t made and, much worse, how it’s made.
“Multiplayer! Microtransactions! Mooooneeeeey!”
The only groups that really have the freedom to step up to the challenge are indie designers that also function as publishers themselves: Telltale, Double Fine, etc. And every time a game has been announced that would deal with the topic, it’s eventually been scrapped after the controversy has gotten too big to deal with.
And while that’s sad for all of the reasons stated above, it’s also sad for the people applying the most pressure. It does no good for the aforementioned Jewish advocacy groups to hide away this part of their history. And if they don’t get with the times then eventually that’s exactly what they’ll be doing. Because despite one great American director’s best efforts, people won’t remember this forever. They need to be taught, again and again, in every generation and in a different way each time.
Because people are forgetful if you let them be. Please don’t let them be with this.
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