Luc Bernard, a video game developer and the creator of the first video game about the Holocaust, appeared on the most recent episode of Podcast Against Antisemitism where he spoke about how video games could be an instrumental resource in teaching young people about the Shoah.
Mr Bernard, whose grandmother assisted children who arrived in the United Kingdom on the Kindertransport, an initiative in 1938-39 to rescue nearly 10,000 Jewish children from Europe, described his motivation in the creation of his game, The Light in the Darkness.
“Some don’t believe video games can be educational. That’s something I disagree with,” he said. “The problem is, no one has thought about what is the next step, or how do we continue education in new ways? Because I think education is trying to get the digital generation to adapt to them, rather than trying to adapt to the digital generation.”
Pointing to the successes of previous artforms in providing Holocaust education after meeting initial resistance, Mr Bernard said: “Comic books were viewed as insane at one point until Maus came out. Films were kind of viewed like, ‘I don’t know, man,’ until Shoah came out, and Schindler’s List. Video games need to be able to tackle the subject because we’re the number one form of entertainment, and I think rather than discourage game developers towards doing it, we should actually be able to guide game developers and encourage them to make these games, because then there would be more awareness.”
The story of the game revolves around Polish Jews in France during the Holocaust, Mr Bernard told our host. “You follow a Polish Jewish family in France, so you get to play, more like interact and experience, the story from France before the occupation, up to the occupation, antisemitism rising…we’re kind of going through every single step.
“What I really wanted to do is actually have you become attached to these characters, get to see who they were, get to live their life, rather than just go automatically into the bad things, because you know how film is, you want people to become attached emotionally so it has a bigger impact on the viewer, or on the player…also, in between scenes, you will have an option to listen to survivor testimonies, French survivors. You’ll be able to see the similarities to compare what they went through to what that current scene is showing.”
Asked whether ‘video game’ is an accurate title for The Light in the Darkness, Mr Bernard said that “it could be called several things,” including “an interactive story” or “an educational video game.”
Despite Mr Bernard referring to The Light in the Darkness as a ‘game’, he clarified that he has removed the player’s ability to make choices within the game to mirror the reality of the Holocaust for Jewish people. “If I made choice-based things, it would make it seem like Jews could have saved themselves. There’s so many factors to the Holocaust [and] why it happened. The fact that loads of countries closed their doors, didn’t allow refugees in. How, as the Jews were trying to get to what was British Palestine back then, Britain closed it down. How Britain only allowed 10,000 children on the Kindertransport. All those things are pretty much out of everyone’s control and I know some people [whose] mothers had to give them up just so they could live. If I made it choice-based so that it could affect the story, it would just make it seem like people had a choice and that’s why I really just had to eliminate that, and that’s again what makes it very weird for a video game. It’s very different to anything else I’ve ever done before.”
Mr Bernard chose to set the game in France under the Vichy Government. “What makes the Vichy government so interesting is that it was France that deported the Jews, it was France that decided to deport the children. France went full-on collaboration and they weren’t Nazis – they were bad people, and they had the same intent as the Nazis – and setting it in France shows how it wasn’t just the Nazis that did this, and how everyday people can become hateful.
“I think when people will play it, they’ll be like ‘wait, this was the French Government that did this? It was the French policeman that rounded them up?’, then they’ll actually realise the extent to how bad the Holocaust was because a lot of people just think it was just the Nazis. And, no, it was Europe. Europe did this.”
Mr Bernard, who is himself French, said “I actually love France, but it also means you have to address the dark, historical past of your country.”
The Light in the Darkness is expected to be released later this year for Xbox and Windows, with other platforms also under consideration.
Throughout the interview, Mr Bernard touched upon a wide variety of topics which included his own Jewish background, why the far-right has infiltrated video games, and how other video games have traditionally fallen short in how they depict Nazis.
Podcast Against Antisemitism, produced by Campaign Against Antisemitism, talks to a different guest about antisemitism each week. It streams every Thursday and is available through all major podcast apps and YouTube. You can also subscribe to have new episodes sent straight to your inbox. Previous guests have included comedian David Baddiel, The Sunday Telegraph columnist Zoe Strimpel and actor Eddie Marsan.