Oct 25th 2018

The Controversy of Putting the Holocaust in Video Games

Let’s talk about the Holocaust. Specifically the Holocaust and games. This is a difficult subject, and can’t be simplified into a single article very easily, so this will be a multiple post series. An in-depth look into games and how the Holocaust fits into them, or if it even should. To start off, let’s look at how a couple modern games address this important issue.

You can’t talk about the Holocaust and games without bringing up a series like Call of Duty. Many of the games released in the COD franchise were based around WW2, but it has mostly avoided even depicting concentration camps. The exception was the most recent release, Call of Duty: WWII. However, they didn’t show the camp in operation but as smoldering ruins without a prisoner in sight. The game shied away from showing the horrors of the atrocity, but why? According to the developers they didn’t want to come off as insincere, or make the holocaust seem too cartoonish. It was a tough decision for the staff and they eventually settled on this sort of compromise.

The problem, however, is that this got them criticism from several news sites for not going the lengths necessary to even attempt to show one of the greatest atrocities from the war. All while being more than willing to show the slaughter of soldiers in mass, even using these killings as impactful moments to try and add depth to the story. Of course, on the other side of things there were many who criticized them for putting a depiction of the Holocaust in their game at all. So trying a half-measure only seemed to upset people on both sides of this argument.

However, Call of Duty is a game that takes itself fairly seriously, loot boxes dropping from the sky and everything. So why not look at a series that is less grounded in reality, like Wolfenstein. In Wolfenstein you fight Nazi’s, that’s essentially the core of the series since Wolfenstein 3D. In Wolfenstein: The New Order the Nazi’s won WW2, and have taken over the world. You even go undercover in a Nazi concentration camp. In this part of the game you get a firsthand look at the atrocities of the camps, including at one point having to push corpses off of you to escape an oven. This camp is shown in full operation, and you are forced to exist as part of it. Many of the events in the camp are grounded in reality, but it’s a fantasy game and there are things like giant robots with ovens for bodies roaming the camp. The prisoners in the camp are also not emaciated as one would expect, but instead use similar bodies to other characters in the game. The developers explained that this was due to technical limitations, and not as a way to make it seem like the prisoners were treated better.

Again, there were problems. There were still people who called out the game for showing a representation of concentration camps. Yet, there was much less criticism from the other side. More people applauded their efforts, and the subject being shown in such a harsh manor. The few criticisms they did receive revolved around the unrealistic aspects like the robots, the character models, and how the escape was handled. Still it appeared that people (critics especially) seemed to be happy to see this sensitive subject tackled by a game.

It is a difficult line to toe. Developers do not want to be seen as trying to profit off of these atrocities, but shying away from them and white washing them from a game doesn’t seem right either. That difficult line is most likely one of the reasons the controversial game, Imagination is the Only Escape, never got released after being cancelled by Nintendo and then failing an IndieGoGo campaign. Does this mean games should shy away from the Holocaust or other sensitive subjects? Well I’m sure the developers of 1979 Revolution, Missing: The Complete saga, and That Dragon Cancer would all disagree there. However, a lot more information needs to be gone through before coming to a conclusion about the Holocaust specifically. So, in Part 2 we will look at how older games handled this subject.