Forbidden Games: Representations of the Holocaust in Videogames

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2021-05-01T05:00:00.000Z

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Abstract

In the contemporary world, the Holocaust is remembered and represented not just in classrooms and memorial sites but increasingly in virtual spaces: digital exhibits, simulations, and videogames. This is a shift for the commercial videogame industry, which largely avoided referencing the Holocaust despite the prevalence of World War II as a setting until the 2017 release of Call of Duty: WWII incorporated Holocaust imagery into both the game and its promotional trailers. This project investigates how videogames represent the Holocaust through both embedded and emergent narratives alongside game mechanics and aesthetics, as well as how players respond to these games on the levels of entertainment and history. It is beyond the scope of this study to judge whether it is tasteful or ethical to create videogames about the Holocaust—these videogames are already being made, and we must study how they shape player perspectives on historical events. Due to the relative youth of videogames as an expressive medium, few researchers have explored how videogames might represent or distort memory of the Holocaust. However, as Holocaust education becomes steadily more involved with digital and new media, it is important to bring areas like Holocaust representation, digital rhetoric, and game studies into closer communication. The literature review seeks to bridge these gaps in discourse, starting with a background on the history of Holocaust representation and thinkers like Alvin Rosenfeld, Saul Friedlander, and Marianne Hirsch before exploring how videogames function as persuasive texts, drawing from rhetoricians like Ian Bogost, Kenneth Burke, and Chaim Perelman. Lastly, I explore how videogames create meaning through the relationship between a game’s preprogrammed worlds and narratives and the game itself as an interactive system of rules and procedures. This section also introduces some of the unique conventions and grammar of videogames such as the different platforms and genres, elements like the user interface and graphical perspective, and stylistic devices like cutscenes. This review is followed by the rhetorical analysis of three videogames as case studies: KZ Manager, Call of Duty: WWII, and World of Warcraft. These chapters explore how each game represents the Holocaust through its storylines, mechanics, and aesthetic design, in addition to other factors like a game’s accessibility and community of players. These representations are also shaped by the game’s genre and the underlying philosophies associated with each, from the resource-focused simulation game to the action-oriented first-person shooter (FPS) and more narrative-driven massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). These games provide examples of historical inaccuracy and developer bias, as well as a tendency towards reducing the Holocaust to fit narratives of individual heroism or a mythic struggle against evil. However, the latter two games also demonstrate how well-designed mechanics, quests, and characters can impact individual players, inspiring some to study history in more depth or simply showing them the humanity of the Other.

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Literature, Comparative, Mass Communications, Jewish Studies

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