Schindler’s List – Would You Play the Video Game?

GamePolitics notes yesterday’s thoughtful commentary by David Edery, Worldwide Games Portfolio Planner for Xbox Live Arcade.

Writing in his Game Tycoon blog, Edery asks whether games with serious themes could enjoy commercial success. By way of example, Edery cites the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement:

Would these games reach enough people? Would they be profitable? And how would you make them fun without blurring the social message?

Movies like Schindler’s List seem to be evidence of a possible market for this kind of game. However, there’s a big difference between asking consumers to commit to a passive two to three-hour experience and a longer, much more interactive experience…

A Holocaust game could take place in the Warsaw Ghetto. Starting activities might be as simple as obtaining food… but might quickly graduate to… establishment of the Jewish resistance… Player activity could even end on a “high note” (i.e. a major victory during the uprising), though the closing sequences of the game should clearly reflect that in the end, the uprising was crushed. I imagine this game playing like a stealth-centric FPS.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on RedditEmail this to someone


  1. 0
    Henry Gale says:

    KingJames, the three films you mention remain important because of their artistry, not their subjects. Battleship Potemkin and Birth of a Nation did tremendously influential things with the editing process, the latter essentially establishing a basic grammar for the medium in use to this day. From what I understand, BoaN was not controversial at all upon its release; it has, more than likely, suffered because of its subject matter in the present day. Of course, one can’t hear about Kane without hearing about Hearst, but I hold that all that stuff is periphery. The film stands because Welles was an innovator and a genius, and every frame reflects it. How many films tackling the “big subjects” have been made over the years, and how many are remembered? Video games will not become accepted as art by wantonly paying lip service to hot issues, controversies and “serious themes,” but by treating their subject matter, whatever it may be, with intelligence and sensitivity.

    A game based on the Holocaust or the Civil Rights Movement would probably have the opposite intended effect – it would be seen as crass and exploitative, and we’d have set ourselves back significantly. That is not to say that games shouldn’t tackle complex and serious issues. As I see it, videogames are especially adept at portraying choice and moral ambiguity. A true artist wielding the power of the medium could do great things.

  2. 0
    KingJames says:

    @ Truman

    The films that changed public opinion about the artistic merit of film aren’t mundane, though. They tackle big, controversial events and are themselves controversial. Birth of a Nation tells the story of the Civil War from a Southern point of view, Potempkin is about a munity written with a very clear pro-Soviet bias, Citizen Kane is about (among other things) the corruptive power of wealth. Imagine where film as an art form would be if people had stuck to filming the perfect ship coming into harbor, or just fantasy. I’d say that being able to talk about real human emotions and themes in an engaging and new way will be a major breakthrough for video games becoming recognized as artistic endeavors.

    That’s not to say that sci-fi and fantasy can’t be great art that speaks to the human condition. I’m talking about mainstream acceptance of games as interactive art here. Personally I think that games like the Final Fantasy series are going to be important texts when they study early video games in collegiate courses fifty years from now.

  3. 0
    ZippyDSMlee says:

    Can they make it yes will they no,why?
    it requires artful tact and the industry simply dose not have it,mostly becuse the gray death(suits) wont back such a project..

  4. 0
    Truman says:

    I don’t think the way to get accepted as a serious medium is to jump right in to a controversial topic. Give the world a deeply affecting, well-written RPG that uses gameplay mechanics to illustrate a point, to characterize. Do mundane well, prove that it is possible to make a game that’s tasteful and smart, and then do controversial.
    Basically, walk before you run.

  5. 0
    Brendan says:

    I see too much of an FPS mindset here. There is no reason this couldn’t be a good, well designed game. Why not play as Schindler himself? Your objective is to send as many concentration camp detainees (mostly Jews, but don’t forget homosexuals, disabled people, and political prisoners) to safety as possible without alerting the Nazi authorities of your actions. The game could be very engaging. The problem is whether it would sell. I’m going to go against the popular grain and say that it WOULD sell, initially. Games that generate enough pre-release controversy tend to get an early boost. I’d play it.

  6. 0
    joystickgenie ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Yes I do think that a game along the lines of “Schindler’s list can exist. But like everyone said it would have to be designed well and handled with some tact. The message in the game would have to be glaringly obvious.

    I think that games that tackle controversial topics like this are completely necessary for growth in the industry and to allow game to be taken more seriously my the mass media..

  7. 0
    vellocet says:

    I was thinking about this a long time ago. The climate is not ready for a game about the holocaust yet.

    However, that does not mean that a game that deals with similar serious themes would not succeed. For instance, think about science fiction (on television, in books, etc). Under the guise of being sci fi, many political/sensitive issues were dealt with on television in the 50’s and 60’s.

    I remember distinctly, an interview with Rod Serling (creator of the Twilight Zone and IMO one of the greatest television writers of all time) where he was asked whether or not the Twilight Zone was going to have a lot of social commentary or politics in it (Serling was known for writing very controversial material and he received much negative press at the time for it). His reply was that it was going to be purely science fiction. Anyone who is familiar with The Twilight Zone knows that it was full of controversial material… but since it was labelled science fiction he got away with it. The same can be said of Star Trek. But eventually, television go to the point it is today… where a lot of politically/socially sensitive topics can be handled on television shows (although outright political criticism still has to be shrouded as “comedy”).

    My point is that video games are currently held in the same regard as those early days of television. The public is looking to scapegoat the industry for everything. Making a “Schindler’s List” game is just inviting people to judge it at face value. However, set it on an alien planet and call it “Schindler’s… Spreadsheet” (whatever) and handle the same themes – everything is hunky dory.

  8. 0
    Matthew ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Sorry for extending the post here, but I’ve had a thought. It’s a matter of conscience.

    Suppose you give a group of people a game. These people are entirely oblivious to world events. The game is to escape a burning building. Chances are they’ll have fun playing it. You could even put in a multiplayer mode where the last person to reach the exit of a floor is trapped. They’ll play.

    Now tell them the building they’re playing in is modelled on a real one. You’ll get less favourable responses.

    Now tell them the event is based on a real one in which a building was attacked and thousands of people lost their lives trying to escape. By now conscience will have taken over and most mature people will not want to play it. The game hasn’t changed, nor has the way you play it or even the core idea behind it. The difference is in the player’s perception.

    To go back to the Normandy landings, the reason this is slightly less controversial is because the people involved were soldiers and not innocent civilians. War may be hell and may destroy people entirely, but generally surviving soldiers are proud of their actions and are proud of their war stories. Playing a beach landing game may trivialise the events to some degree, but the players are sharing in that pride and hopefully gaining a new respect for those who were really there.

  9. 0
    MaskedPixelante ( User Karma: -1 ) says:

    I dont see them making a holocaust game because a. It would probably be bad the way they describe it, and b. Jewish groups across North America would blast the game for teaching anti-semetism.

    Hey, if the Catholics can blast away at Left Behind, imagine the fallout when they make a game based on one of the bloodiest parts of WW2.

  10. 0
    Matthew ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I think games based on serious and solemn events in history can work. How many games in the past decade have had some variation on the Normandy beach landings? Anyone who survived through or fought in WWII, Vietnam, or any other conflict will probably feel a different emotional attachment to a game based on the events than a 14 year old CS player would.

    However, most games rely on some sort of action. Or rather, reaction. Playing a game is different to watching a movie because you are expected to react to the events and they in turn react to your choices. Getting shot at and shooting people back is a classic example of game design. If you reduce the amount of reaction present in a game, it drops down through “interactive movie” and eventually to just “movie.”

    A Schindler’s List game could be an emotionally harrowing history lesson that could actually work in part. I’m thinking in particular of the opening scenes with the Nazi raid; a life or death chase where you are hunted down by a relentless army. I got pretty attached to my character in Call of Cthulhu during the panicky hotel raid. Games can make you appreciate the emotions involved in a scene more than reading from a history book can simply by *making* you the victim rather than encouraging you just to *feel* for them.

    That said, it would be in bad taste. Watching a movie like Schindler’s List or the ones about the WTC is a draining experience designed to make you appreciate the gravity of the event that is still a huge part in some people’s lives. Releasing a game about that sort of thing, implicitly encouraging people to play it more than once for entertainment value, is questionable. And yes, I do find the Normandy landing scenes in games questionable too. Things that push the boundaries of taste (like the movies mentioned) have to be done very well for them to break through and be held in high regard.

    To change topic a little, has anyone played Defcon? That’s another approach to the serious history thing. For a long time the world really was on the edge of total annihilation. By tackling it with a little offbeat humour and over-the-top emphasis (as Defcon and its spiritual ancestor Strangelove did) you can make a game that is fun while also carrying a serious undertone.

  11. 0 says:

    Terminology Reset: “Interactive Experience” – A good term for games covering serious topics….

    I saw an article on called Schindler’s List – Would You Play the Video Game?. One of the responses to the article suggested that it was an insult to make a 'game' about the Holocaust or other serious, heavy topics and that it…

  12. 0
    Marshie says:

    I’m thinking that Shindler’s List isn’t “game” enough material. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic movie but it just doesn’t have much opportunity for play. If one were to do something like this they’d have to use different source material… perhaps An Island on Bird Street would be better?

    For those who haven’t read it, the book centres on a young man who’s essentially left by himself in an abandoned area of the ghetto, forced to survive on his own and endure other families struggling to survive as well as the occasional raid back into the ghetto to look for survivors and looters.

  13. 0
    Arion ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hey if a comic about the Holocaust starring talking mice can make it through AND WIN A PULITIZER PRIZE (Maus) than surely a game on that subject matter, if given enough serious thought can work.

    However, I was thinking something more of a “escape from Auschwitz” would be a main focus. Make it stealth FPS but with almost no weapons and you control a small group of escapees instead of one. You dictate commands and maintain moral through items and food.

    And don’t base off of Schindler’s List.. too Hollywood.

  14. 0
    me says:

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a game like this needs to be made for people to start taking the industry seriuosly. It would be contraversial, but if movies can do it, why can’t games?

  15. 0
    Benji says:

    My thoughts: I also haven’t seen the movie, but think such a game could exist. But if you’re wanting to not offend people with such a concept, forget it. The Holocaust is too established as a monumental tragedy, and games are not established enough as a legitimate art form, for such a thing to not be controversial to at least a few people. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen anytime soon – but don’t think that tastefulness and good gameplay alone will make such a game accepted today.
    I agree with Garrett – give the profits after expenses and taxes as charitable contributions. Otherwise it’ll look like the game industry turning a profit off genocide.
    And there’d likely need to be light on violence, lest the project be accused of glorifying violence. If it happens, violence should perhaps be realistic, quick, decisive, and brutal when appropriate. It needs to be dangerous for the player to be confrontational and not give out many rewards – otherwise it becomes practical to rely too much on force and not enough on subtlety and planning.

  16. 0
    Garrett ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    It will work, as long as the game suits know that it won’t be a commercial success. A great move would be if they forward most of the proceeds as a charitable contribution.

    Done tactfully, with good game play, I would play it. But it would take a great team of developers willing to take a chance to make a good game.

  17. 0
    Warren Lewis says:

    Edit – Holocaust? Forget it. Nevermind. Dont want to play it. I mean unless you get to shoot your way out somehow and tale out a few Nazis along the way.

    As you can tell, I have not seen the movie.

    – Warren Lewis

  18. 0
    Fuji says:

    A game based on Schindler’s List could work if done right. See, everyone automatically assumes a shooter or something like that, but when looked at the context of a resource management sim (like Civ, Sim City, Tycoon et. al) it could be done in very tasteful and thought provoking sense. You have the same moral deliema that Oskar Schindler had in trying to figure out who to save but also keeping yourself alive.

    Let’s play it safe and even make it a metaphor for what was happening. Use a differnt context (i.e. not Germans vs. Jews) and not so blantly obvious. Let’s assume intelligence on the side of the gamer.

  19. 0
    JacksonW says:

    Funny, just recently I’ve thought about this after seeing that the game I Have no Mouth, and I Must Scream was called out for having too serious a subject matter for a game. Part of the game’s story, which was based off a short story, involved the holocaust. I personally think that the same idea would follow in media and the minds of people who aren’t gamers, still thinking games are, and should, be directed at children.

  20. 0
    Jabrwock ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I think it has the potential to be an engaging game, *if* it’s done well. I mean, the story is not that uncommon (overbearing regime, id checks & loss of freedoms everywhere, abuse by authority figures on certain segments of the population, torture, segregation, racial profiling, main character involved in secretly helping out a secret resistance group, etc) Sounds like Half-life 2 crossed with Thief… Only it’s based on historical events rather than sci-fi.

    The player could slowly start to see fellow Jews around him/her being picked up and shipped out, watch the brownshirt riots trashing stores and beating people up, avoid the police as house-to-house roundups are done, sneak through the streets delivering supplies and helping people get out of the country. Later on, perhaps they get captured, and are forced to work in a factory, before they befriend a “Schindler” type who needs their help gathering intel and causing trouble as they attempt to warn the allies of the camps…

  21. 0
    Fojar says:

    I think that such a game can exist. Personally, I find that games are the best medium for conveying emotions, and in turn, getting emotion from a player. I mean, If done right, a Holocaust game can teach people who aren’t aware of the tragedy just how bad it really was, by adding the fact that it affects the player.

  22. 0
    Wolf ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Well, I don’t know about the Holocaust…

    But, if a game had a serious theme, as long as it was designed well, I’d certainly give it a try. I mean, I think there should be more games that are stronger on a grand story, not just “OOOO! PRETTY GRAPHICS!” or so. I mean, sometimes you got to lose a little of something to make another area stronger, if you must. As long as it’s playable to the point where it can be enjoyed.

  23. 0
    Soldatlouis ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    In fact a “Holocaust game” might work, ON CONDITION THAT :

    – The survivors from, and families of vcitims of, the Holocaust, are fully aware of the project and support it
    – There is absolutely no ambiguity about the message and the purpose of the game. Which means : no catchy ads, no double message, no scandal “à la Rockstar”, no attempt to stir up any controversy
    – The word “game” is, in fact avoided. So as the expression of “Holocaust game”. No political correctness here, but although it’s “technically” a video game, the word “game” is associated to fun and entertainment. And as I said, any ambiguity is to avoid in this case.

  24. 0
    yoda ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    And that’s the problem, Schindler’s List and other great movies like it are passive, whereas a video game is inherently not passive. For one, how would you truly bring the emotion of such a situation, and not ruin the game. Not to mention that most of us play a game for escapism, we want to have fun, to play something that will let us do things we can’t and enjoy them. I can’t imagine enjoying a game in which we are in the Holocaust, especially if it ended in failure (the knowledge that my character went on to torture and death would be hard, especially if they made the game so you would get emotionally attached to the characters). However, I can’t really say I enjoyed Schindler’s List, that kind of movie isn’t for enjoyment, maybe they could somehow translate that or something similar into a game that wouldn’t be for fun, but would give you the same feelings as a movie like that.

  25. 0
    cardoso says:

    “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play”

    Seriously, an Holocaust game? That´s SO depressing. Unless it comes from Gibson´s Games, and we can hunt jews while a Borat avatar cheers the player.

    Max Payne was sad enough for me. SimHolocaust? I pass.

Leave a Reply