Editor's Opinion: Bravery Is The Only Escape
Posted by Ken Barnes
Moving on to the next level.
Our friends over at Push Square posted an article this afternoon regarding a new game that’s currently seeking crowdfunding via IndieGogo and that with any luck, will be coming to the PS Vita system.
Imagination Is the Only Escape is the proposed title of the game, and it will initially be aiming at mobile platforms (as well as PC and Mac), before hopefully reaching the Vita. The game comes from the mind of Luc Bernard, who has been shopping the concept of the game for a few years now, originally aiming it at the Nintendo DS, and being unable to secure a publisher.
So why are publishers so loathe to take a risk on the game? Not only that, but why am I talking about it here on an Xbox-only site, when the developer seemingly has no intention of bringing it to any Xbox platform?
Well, the game is set during World War II. Specifically, during the Occupation of France by the Nazis. It tells the story of a young Jewish boy – Samuel - as he attempts to escape the atrocities of the Holocaust. Some of the opening scenes depict 1942’s Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup – where Jews were arrested en masse in Paris. Samuel’s mother tells him to escape, but before he can do so, she is spotted and killed in front of him. From there, he’s alone. You can get a feel for the game by looking at the concept art, some of which accompanies this article. The lead-off image alone will make you feel something. It doesn’t matter what you feel, but you’ll feel something.
Story aside, the game doesn’t portray the Nazis as comedy robots with eight limbs. It doesn’t portray them as zombies that bleed green blood when shot, or that react hilariously when you shoot their hat off. It portrays them as the people that they were, leading and taking part in some of the worst atrocities that man has ever suffered. This is what has the publishers scared. That, and the fact that there are a shocking number of people in this world that believe that the Holocaust was a hoax. They’re entitled to their opinion, but the fact is that the publishers are frightened of the backlash that would come from people with those beliefs, and that’s why they won’t be putting their name on such a challenging game anytime soon.
At this point, I would like to make it clear that I am not making a personal comment on the game’s subject, or the politics of the events that occurred during World War II. If you want to read anything into this article beyond the words that I've written, or you want to comment and tell me that I'm a jackass, then that’s just fine. You have the right to do either thing, if that is your will. Just bear in mind how lucky you are to be able to exercise the force of that will. Not everyone had, or indeed has, the ability to do that without fear of being persecuted. Or worse, killed.
We as gamers need games like this to be made. It doesn’t matter for which format, or which platform holder gets the money. The medium as a whole needs games like these to materialize if it’s ever going to achieve any sort of respect when compared to other forms of creativity, such as movies, books, or even art in general. Those mediums don’t hesitate to tackle tough issues as and when it is called for, but in this sense, games are stuck in the dark ages. Just look at the titles that we currently have access to. Gangsters, street toughs, and innocents getting blown away in Grand Theft Auto. Wave after wave of enemy soldiers of varying colours and creeds being gunned down in a hail of bullets in Call of Duty, Battlefield, and a million other games of that nature. Alien shooters. Puzzle games. Racing games. Sports games. Games that are designed to feed their player’s egomania and drain their wallets by leading them on with free-to-play hook after free-to-play hook. But we’ve got nothing – and I mean nothing – that takes a good and honest look at the more serious issues that we face, or have faced in the past.
Even titles that are designed to be historically accurate generally treat the characters as if they’re nothing but fodder for the cannon or the blade. Sure, we have titles that are somewhat controversial in their subject matter, but only that warm and fuzzy “safe” kind of controversy that is going to obtain a few column inches and drive a few extra sales as a result. When you’re gunning down your twentieth enemy in five minutes, are there any ramifications other than potentially having to deal with the victim’s now-angrier friends? Do you know anything about the person that you’ve just killed? We want games to be as realistic as possible, right? So why, when we’ve pretty much perfected the art of how blood flies from the temples when a bullet is aimed correctly, do we continue to push graphics, graphics, graphics, and more graphics, without ensuring that characters have some sort of backstory and are not just drones, or that cold-blooded murder is represented as a bad thing? Why does every kill not have ramifications further down the line? Again, because publishers are scared. They would force-feed you the same old rubbish year after year, if they could. Some do. There’s more than one occasion where last year’s game has had a new front cover and logo slapped on it, and been sold again as a new product. We need to convince them that they can take a risk, and that it won’t lead to their financial ruin if they dare to stray outside of the lines of convention.
We NEED games that challenge us intellectually, beyond pressing buttons in the right order or with the right timing, or deciding when to attack and defend. We NEED to push gaming on to the next level, and to start making games that cause people to stop and think. We have a new generation of consoles just around the corner, and a player base that’s bigger than ever before. Largely, that’s due to the industry making half-decent progress of improving the image of gaming in recent years. The influx of casual gamers has taken the medium out of the realms of back-bedroom geekery, and brought it into the living room. From there, it’s gone from the living room to the mobile device, convincing even more players that gaming isn’t just an activity for kids and immature men with commitment issues.
Supporting games like Bernard’s are one of the few ways that we can push things onwards. It doesn’t matter whether the subject of a game is the Holocaust, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Ireland’s Great Famine, or the Fall of Communism. We should be able to tackle these subjects as a matter of course and as readily and willingly as books and movies do. The industry’s inability to walk into territory that even remotely threatens to cause players to think about what they’re doing, or that could make them ask questions regarding the world around them, is most assuredly holding us back.
The developer is looking for $125,000 to get Imagination is the Only Escape released. Personally, I think that’s a pretty tall order, but it shouldn’t be. If between us, we can throw millions of dollars towards the next Elite or the next Double Fine game, then we should be able to throw a few towards this.
Good luck, Luc.
The above article represents the editor-in-chief's personal opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Pure Xbox, Push Square, or Nintendo Life as a whole.