Have you seen the latest Extra Credits video, that one about “Socially Conscious Game Design”?
I watched their video. I’m not sure that I completely share in the motivations and goals, but I do agree with their overall assessment from a design perspective that they touched on. My view on depicting Nazis in games is similar to my view on depicting [sewer levels in games] – there’s already a whole bunch of context built in to the source material that the users bring in to the game with them. Nazis bring specific historical context with them – their goals, their mannerisms, their weapon selection, their look and feel, their political beliefs, their actions, and so on and so forth. If game designers ignore this context in favor of having the Nazis simply be a reskin of the Allies team, that’s throwing all of that carried context away for no appreciable gain, like having an ice level that doesn’t feel cold or a water temple that doesn’t involve any water.
Instead, a more efficient approach would be to leverage that additional context by building gameplay that takes these differences into account. Since they carry this context with them already, it’s low-hanging fruit. This can mean players playing as Axis forces carry a different set of bonuses and penalties that are apropos for the historical context. It can affect the environment and gameplay design, like having matches take place in a concentration camp with hostages and such. It would be much more difficult for players to intuit this sort of gameplay without the historical setting, but the historical aspect could inform and establish new forms of gameplay without needing extensive player tutorialization. Leaving that on the table is a huge waste.
It’s also important to recognize that not everybody necessarily understands the historical context of the Nazis and what they did. It’s easy to dismiss it as something “everybody” knows already, but many people have never taken a proper world history class or internalized the events of World War II. A historical video game can be (and often is) a young person’s first introduction to the material, so it is important that we set the stage properly for understanding the historical significance and context associated with it. Just because it isn’t new to many players doesn’t mean it isn’t new to some players. It is our responsibility as developers to convey that historical context properly.
Overall, I think that it’s important that we developers acknowledge what historical groups like the Nazis were when we build games with historical settings. Part of building a game with a historical setting is teaching players (especially players who may lack the historical context) – respectfully – about historical events and their repercussions. Treating groups that carry such historical context like the Nazis as little more than the red or blue team throws out all of that context. That’s hugely wasteful, as well as disrespectful of history. I feel that we, as developers, should always strive to make good use of all of the tools we have available. That includes creating content and gameplay around Nazis that serves to make the player think about what it actually meant to be a Nazi. In this case, it isn’t necessarily as simple as “thing bad”, but instead “thing actually did this and that for those reasons”. We have the ability (and, I think, responsibility) to make this message emergent through the historical gameplay, and we have the added benefit of many people carrying that context in with them so we don’t have to do all of the heavy lifting ourselves.[Join us on Discord]
The FANTa Project is currently on hiatus while I am
crunching at work too busy.
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