Holocaust War Games: Playing with Genocide
What happens when we ‘play’ with traumatic histories? Are there limits to what can or should be represented as children’s play, or what roles the players can hold? Does it make a difference if the trauma is safely in our collective past, or is ongoing or recurring? These are the questions that scholars, artists, and game developers wrestle with as society’s most troubled historic ‘hot spots’ find themselves manifested in children’s toys, board games, and virtual worlds. For most of us, the concentration camp of Nazi Germany is the iconic image of trauma for the twentieth century—if not for all time. In this paper, the author explores a number of Holocaust-themed games and toys whose power seems to lie at the seductive intersection of make-believe and historic horror. Each game, produced in distinctly different historical contexts, draws for its subject matter on the demonization, persecution, and ultimate annihilation of Europe’s Jewish population by the Nazi regime during the Holocaust of Germany’s Third Reich. What role, then, do such games and/or their artistic doubles actually play in fomenting racial, ethnic, or religious hatred and, in turn, inciting criminal activity—or even mass destruction—against their targeted subjects? Through a careful analysis of the changing role of Holocaust-themed games, first as propaganda, then as artistic provocation, and, most recently, as a form of hate speech, the author explores what happens when children, or adults, are invited to vicariously ‘play’ at the most sadistic aspects of history and human nature.
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