Answering frequently asked questions.

Written by matthias on Monday July 6, 2015
Category: other

What is Our Humanity?

This is actually quite a tough question for me to answer.

The reason this question is tough to answer is because the very purpose of this blog is to cover the design and development of this game. At this very instant I only have a vague inkling of how this game will function or what its main focus will be. After all, game development is an iterative process and the notions I may have now are bound to change over time. At present, this is what Our Humanity is about.

It's a game (or interactive experience, if you prefer) about surviving the Holocaust. The goal of this project is not to making something that's unecessarily hurtful, provocative, or shocking. Rather, part of the goal is to push the limits of games. If 'pushing the limits' sounds aloof or pretentious, you'll have to forgive me. I do not claim to have achieved or ever being capable of achieving that goal, but I do claim to try.

Another part of the goal is to ask the following questions: how far we will go to ensure our own survival? What is it about war that makes one person infinitely cruel and the other infinitely kind? In short: how does war affect our humanity?

Who are you?

You can read more about me here.

Why would you want to make a video-game about such a tragic event?

Allow me to answer with questions. Why do we have a Titanic movie? Why do we have countless books, documentaries, and films about the 2nd World War and the Holocaust?

Various art forms have covered the great human tragedies because they're part of us. Humankind has achieved a great deal. Many modern comforts stem from the brilliance of scientists, explorers, adventurers, and pioneers. But for all the good that has carried humanity forward, there is also darkness that is equally part of our shared history. In my view, games are as valid and art-form as film, theathre, dance, writing, music, and countless other forms of human creativity and expression. Games shouldn't remain silent on the topics that these other art-forms (often extensively) cover.

Isn't a video-game supposed to be fun?

Depends on your definition of fun. If fun is being equated to being entertaining, then no, Our Humanity is not (supposed to be) fun. But I adhere to Sid Meier's definition of what a game is:

"A game is a series of interesting choices."
~Sid Meier.

Certainly, games have traditionally been fun in the sense of being entertaining, that doesn't mean they shouldn't venture out and be something else. I can understand that combining the words Holocaust and Game might upset people, but truthfully that has more to do with what we perceive games to be. Our perception has been changing, but generally speaking people are quick to dismiss games as toys for children.

Our Humanity isn't a toy and certainly isn't for children.

Shouldn't The Holocaust should be off-limits to video-games?

When Kotaku asked the Anti-defamation defense league about the video-game Sonderkommando Revolt, the ADL was quoted as saying:

The Holocaust should be off-limits for video games. We hope the developers will reconsider and abandon the game.

(Note: this was the ADL's response to Sonderkommando Revolt, not to this game).

I do not see why The Holocaust should be off-limits to video-games. It seems to have a lot more to do with how games are commonly perceived than with the medium's ability to deal with difficult subject matter. In truth, Sonderkommando Revolt most likely confirmed whatever pre-conceived notions the ADL may have about video-games. In light of that, I can sympathize with the ADL's response, but I disagree with the breadth of their statement. To say that an entire medium is not only incapable of dealing with, but also disallowed to deal with historical human tragedy is a very strange statement indeed and borders on censorship.

Certainly, the Holocaust must be treated with the utmost care, respect, and consideration, but it shouldn't be exluded from the most powerful and transformative creative medium we have. Games, in my view, are as valid an art-form as any other, and potentially they are the most powerful art-form available to us. Rather than trivialize the Holocaust, I firmly believe an interactive experience can potentially capture and re-tell the tragedy with greater or equivalent power of books or films.

Extra-credits, a YouTube-ran pool of game designing gems perhaps sums it up most aptly:

[..] the sad truth is that game makers aren’t weighed on the merits of their work. They are judged by the name of their medium. When controversy arises, our opposers don’t look at a game studio and see a team of artists. They see a team of toy makers that have gone too far.

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