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Gaming and the perception of history

Posted by: Chuck at 11/13/2008 12:18 PM
As someone who is half German it was interesting to read this post on Joystiq by James Ransom-Wiley about how he couldn't get past the first five minutes of Call of Duty:World at War because of how the Japanese are depicted in the game.  That's certainly fine as we all have different tolerances for violence and the issue certainly seemed to hit home with him given his ancestry.  What really got my goat was that the fact that he then paints the Nazi's (and transitively all Germans) with the brush of pure evil but the Japanese (who committed nearly as horrible acts) get a free pass.

While no one in my family has direct ties to either World War (my great grandfather came to America before the start of WWI) I still feel some ties to my ancestry.  My family lived in Germany for a number of years and I've stood in the showers at Dachau and seen the horrors of a concentration first hand.  I've seen the monuments in Russia where the Nazi's wiped out entire villages and it's something that leaves an indelible mark on your soul.  It's something that we can't ever forget or allow to happen again.  For most Germans this is our cross to bear as there's not getting around it.

Personally I don't have a problem killing Nazi's in games like Call of Duty because I've abstracted them enough to realize it's just a game and that these are soldiers of an evil philosophy.  Not all Germans at the time were bad people and some fought actively against the Nazi party when and where they could (something that gets lost in all the WWII move and game plotlines).  If we really look at the mirror of history though it's not like we as American's were completely innocent (the fire bombing of Dresden comes to mind) of everything at the time.

Getting back to the point of this post it's a bit disturbing when you can paint one group as "evil" while another group is forgiven.  Especially based on comments like:

"I draw a disconnect between Nazis and Germans as large as the divide between "alien" and human. The Nazis have been transformed into monsters, which does not need to be justified in my gaming. But the Japanese Empire that bombed Pearl Harbor and the Japanese today, even Japanese-Americans, are very much intertwined in my perception. Those people are connected for me -- a part of me -- and I see them in World at War."

You have to wonder how much popular culture impacts a perception like this, if Saving Private Ryan was based in Iwo Jima would we still have the same perception of the Japanese?  They were just as ruthless as the Germans and Western culture is fairly ignorant of what the Japanese did to the Chinese during this period in time.  I'm not advocating that the Japanese were worse than the Germans at the time but we need to realize that there's a lot of history out there that hasn't made it's way into pop culture and that it's sometimes too easy to look the other way when it comes to personal history or things we are connected to.
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