Some gamers have chosen to call it "creepy" and "disgusting." Media outlets, those even belonging to the videogame press itself, have misrepresented it as "Holocaust DS" or a "Nazi torture game." The truth of the matter is that Luc Bernard's proposed DS game, Imagination Is The Only Escape, is none of these things. In fact, the DS game that may never be represents something that many gamers have wanted for years -- the evolution of gaming, and the chance for videogames to tackle sensitive issues, subjects deeper than "here are some aliens, shoot them please."
The sad thing is that people have already made up their minds about Imagination Is The Only Escape before taking even a moment's time to learn what it's about. Talking to Luc, who is also creating the WiiWare exclusive Eternity's Child, you can see that he is not a "creepy" or "disgusting" individual, but a passionate man with no intention of being controversial. Is he hotheaded? Yes he is, and he minces no words in defending his art, either -- but wouldn't you be just the same if your work had been twisted out of all context by press and market alike?
Luc wanted to set a few things straight, especially following the New York Times article that has raised awareness of his game and unfortunately caused contexts to be lost by others. With talk circulating that Nintendo has slammed down the breaks and put paid to Imagination appearing on its handheld, a situation Luc straight-up states is false, the time is crucial for Bernard to clear the air about Imagination Is The Only Escape, and he has taken that time with us.
Read on for the full story behind the so-called "Holocaust" game.
Although the NY Times dubbed it a "game about Nazis," this certainly isn't IITOE's intention. The premise is, in fact, a dark yet affecting story of a young child living through the horrors of the Nazi regime and hiding within his own internal world to try and block out harsh reality -- using imagination as his escape, if you will. From the general summary alone, the potential for a touching and affecting narrative is there, and nothing suggests the gratuitous shock value that some people have already perceived.
"Now, IITOE was NEVER planned to be controversial," Luc explains. "It was planned to be an educational game that was fun at the same time ... I did research on the Holocaust with survivors and loads of history books. I spent a whole year studying it."
The general contention with this game seems to be the idea that Luc is making light of the Holocaust, which isn't his intent. While he states the title is meant to be fun, Bernard also wants to teach children how very real and very frightening this period of history was, but through a medium that they can digest better than any text book -- videogames. It's a sound strategy, one that should be applauded rather than reviled. Most of us would have been taught about Hitler's regime in school, but I doubt many of us found it very compelling. IITOE wants to be the game that makes kids care about these issues.
Bernard was so intent on avoiding misplaced controversy that he thoroughly researched the atrocities of the Nazi regime, as well as worked with people from the Jewish community to make sure he was approaching the subject with the right degree of tact.
"I have been working on game design with a Jewish mother named Tracy Miller to make sure everything was good," IITOE's creator explains. "But for some reason people seem offended just by the text at the bottom of the screen that shows history facts!"
"A lot of the Jewish community have support for this game, however a lot of neo Nazis hate it on forums, and have said it will never come out."
Bernard also contests the rumors about Nintendo outright blocking the game's release. "Right now all the comments on the Internet about Nintendo not letting it come out are not true," he reveals. "I haven't heard that from Nintendo, [they're] just misquotes."
"I'm not even sure Nintendo is aware of this game, and I will make many people play it before it is even released. The game has no violent scenes at all, the only thing that might be violent is the text but the text is fucking reality."
Bernard is very eager to let the world know that the stories about it being "Holocaust DS" couldn't be further from the truth, and it's just a game "about a child set during that dark time of history." Bernard also added that despite the stupidity of the mainstream press and what it would like to present, there is more support for the game than people against it. He feels that those reporting on his work thus far are attempting to paint it as something universally despised, regardless of the fact that a good few gamers and members of the Jewish community are behind his work.
"I'm not trying to make cash off this either since I would like to donate to help against the Darfur fucking genocide. It's just to show that games can evolve and it's not just Super Mario saving the fucking princess."
Gamers state many times that they want videogames to evolve, to take that step from puerile distraction to respected entertainment and art. Gamers claim that they are sick of macho-man "gritty" shooters with all the narrative depth of a sheet of cardboard. Now is the time to actually prove whether or not you want videogames to become more than throwaway, intellectually unfulfilling endeavors. We have a game with balls, right here and now, that wants to take the medium into a place universally considered far too touchy for some "mere" game to handle. I think any game that wants to break that glass ceiling deserves our support, don't you?
Is Luc asking a lot to expect Nintendo to allow this game on its platform? Yes he is. Should it be so much to ask, however? No, it really shouldn't be.
Books, TV shows and movies are all "allowed" to talk about the Holocaust. Videogames deserve to do so as well. When a game like Imagination Is The Only Escape, which doesn't even promote a sliver of violence, is considered too risque', it only shows how prehistoric everybody's views on games are, and highlights just how badly things need to change if we ever want to see companies bold enough to bring us more than Madden and a hundred FPS'.
Imagination Is The Only Escape is a game we should all be backing, even if the odds are against it. We should be showing the world and letting companies like Nintendo know we want games to tackle a wide and interesting variety of subject matter. Games can be brave and daring as well, and we should be daring enough to give them a chance.
Luc is no Rockstar Games. He's not out to shock people. He just wants to show what games can do.
Is he really so wrong for that?