A Gaming Ethical Conundrum

I've found myself thinking about games set in World War Two recently, due to some recent reading and my general gaming ADD.  I think I've got the seed for a fun game; I hope to talk more about that in the future.  For now, though, I want to publicly poke at some personal feelings, bordering on an ethical problem, that arose as I brainstormed about the game.

Simply put: when is a game disrespectful to those who actually did or lived through the things one is playing at?

In the WW2 game I'm considering, I had imagined a scenario where the PC's would be able to help a family of Jews escape the Nazi occupation of Paris.  As a scenario, it could be quite good -- lots of tension, covert operations, fast-talking, connecting with the Resistance, eluding and laying the Allied smack down on Nazis.  I had all sorts of avenues planned in my head.  But then I had a thought: what if the PC's fail?  Well, we all know what happens if they fail -- the Jews get sent to Dachau or somewhere equally horrible.  That doesn't make for a fun game.  Then I had another thought -- what would a Holocaust survivor think of a bunch of people sitting around a table, playing a game that, at some level, tried to simulate aspects of one of the greatest tragedies of human history?  Sure, the gamers are all playing on the right side, but the mere aspect of making it a game seems disrespectful somehow.  The more I thought about it, I could imagine the same reaction from a combat veteran of D-Day, or the Tet Offensive, or any sort of actual conflict where real people, people who could easily be sitting at the table with us, died.

Some of this is historical distance, at least for me.  I don't get the same ethical willies if I think about, say, medieval games or even games set prior to the 20th Century.  But when I start to think about effectively pretending to be fighting in wars my grandparents and uncles fought in it feels different.

My solution for the WW2 game is to make it more supernatural -- Nazi's with magic (a la Hellboy), which distances it from real life.  But I am wondering if anyone else has felt this to be an issue?  Or, is it (once again) me making a problem out of something that's supposed to be simple and fun?


  1. I see no problems here. Go with the pure history game. Have you ever heard of a board game called Train?


  2. No one cares, apparently:
    Call of Duty, Medal of Honor(WW2), Black Ops(Vietnam), and etc...(Veterans of these wars don't seemed to be pissed.)
    Kill Nazis!(And the, um, Vietnam-type-guys who show up in Palladium's Recon!)
    Side Note: Where are the WW1 games at?

    My solution for the WW2 game is to make it more supernatural -- Nazi's with magic (a la Hellboy):
    Stupid Jetpack Hitler!
    I'd go for it, sounds awesome.

    If you draw the line at gaming in modern wars, I'd say you should do the same for historical representations of older ones as well...(I wouldn't, but they were still real, and horrible!) But D&D is ridiculous(Reneval setting?, with Cthulumen? Evil Wizards making Owlbears?, Sex change Girdles? Really), so there's that...

  3. @valeran I was thinking of those video games as well! And I get that there's no real rational reason to draw the line at WW2, but that's where the issue seems to creep up for me.

    I think I am just being overly sensitive. Wouldn't be the first time!

  4. @Professor Pope:
    Sensitivity to suffering(especially real suffering) is never a bad thing, I'd say.
    But sometimes ya just gotta ventilate some Nazis! And Tigermen. And 'Indians'. And Corporate Fatcats. And Reavers. And Gangsters. And the other, put-upon White(Err... Green?[lately]) Meat(didn't they used to be pork :-)): Orc!

    The only time I believe things'd get hinky in a WW2 RPG would be if somebody(Role-playing challenge, maybe? A jerkass? Empathizes with Human Killing Machines?) wanted to play a 'good' Waffen-SS member or ex-SS Totenkopf Sturmbanne, or somesuch. Devil's Guard, the RPG or Riverworld RPG as Göring? Not me, man.(I dislike bullies, so...) But YMMV.

  5. @valaran I hear ya. Again, it's some internal compartmentalization going on for me, as I never really bought into the "do we kill the goblin babies?" dilemma.

    I think an interesting character arc would be someone who maybe buys into the Hitler Youth thing in the mid 1930's (because, say their father died in WWI), but as things progress, gets worried then sickened then angry to the point of rebellion about where the movement goes. Or maybe that's not such a good arc, as the party's racism and hatred seemed pretty apparent from the get go.


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