Home > Historical Problem Space, reviews, Theory and Practice > Through the Darkest of Times’ Historical Problem Space

Through the Darkest of Times’ Historical Problem Space

This is a republication of my two-part essay on Playthepast.org, (original Part 1 and Part 2 here). It is the first long-form historical game analysis I have written using the Historical Problem Space framework. The first half of the essay is more descriptive, illustrating the details that go into a historical problem space analysis. The second part provides more analysis and conclusions about the game as a history.

What follows is an analysis of Paintbucket Games’ Through the Darkest of Times (TtDoT) using the Historical Problem Space framework (the second part goes live on 12/17/20). I hope this will serve as a historical review for educators and those interested in playing and studying historical games. More ambitiously, this essay also offers a worked example for using the historical problem space framework. Readers who would like to know more about the framework can look to my other writing on the topic (McCall 2020; a brief introduction on PtP; the original 2012 PtP post ), but that’s not essential for reading this essay. The tl;dr of the Historical Problem Space framework: The defining feature of gamic histories is that they present the past in terms of a historical problem space where the player-agent has goals and makes choices within a systemic gameworld. Commercial game developers, “developer-historians” as Chapman (2016) terms them, draw from the curated evidence of the past and render the historical content as a historical problem space. In that problem space, the player-agent, in a virtual gameworld, tasked with reaching a goal, interacts with the various elements of the gameworld, leveraging abilities and avoiding or overcoming constraints. Ultimately, understanding TtDoT’s interpretation of the past, appreciating it as a gamic history, benefits from considering the historical problem space the developer historians have crafted.

Disclosures: 1) Paintbucket generously supplied me with a review copy of this game and, 2) I have not yet made it past 1941 in multiple attempts, and my analysis is mostly based on that part of the game with help on what happens in the final parts from the excellent review by David Wildgoose at Gamespot. Also be sure to read the JGS interview of designer, Jörg Friedrich

***

Through the Darkest of Times (TtDoT) is a turn-based strategy game developed by  Paintbucket Games and published by Handy Games, available on Steam, Switch, and Android. It is a powerful narrative game experience focused on a group of German civilians in Berlin resisting the Nazi regime. Says Paintbucket Games, “Unspeakable horrors and suffering would sweep across the world. Few would stand and fight the monstrosity that was the German Reich. Will you? Lead an underground resistance group Through the Darkest of Times.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Hideout-1024x665.png
The Hideout for the Resistance Group

The game starts in January 1933, the date when Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany and arguably the start of a very significant year in the Nazi party’s quest to dominate civil and private life. Gameplay is divided into weeks. At the start of each week, the player-agent, acting as the leader of this resistance group in Berlin, assigns their group members (somewhere between 3 and 5 including the player-agent) to one or more missions. These range from:

  • gathering donations and recruiting supporters
  • purchasing resistance supplies like paint and paper
  • resisting by painting slogans, printing and distributing critical pamphlets
  • occasionally breaking captured agents out of prison and,
  • in extremely rare cases, planting bombs.

Each mission has a minimum number of required members and room for extra members.  Based on the operatives assigned, the game calculates the effectiveness of preparations and the riskiness of the operation. If the player accepts the level of preparation and risk, the mission goes ahead as assigned.

Genre conventions

Genres are difficult to pin down precisely and overlap considerably. Despite the ambiguities, game developers not infrequently draw from the gameplay conventions of similar games–genres–when designing a new game. In the case of TtDoT the genre is partly turn-based strategy and some of the common conventions that it adopts are the division of action into a planning and execution phase (players assign operatives to missions) and the use of character stats and resources and metrics like supporters and group morale. Paintbucket, however has interwoven interactive-text (often called IF, interactive fiction, CYOA, etc.,) and graphics into the strategic components. This complement the strategic gameplay and narrates the rise of the Nazi’s and the horrors leading to and culminating in the horror of the Shoah.)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is CHar-generator-2-1024x664.png
Player-agent creation screen

Player-agent, role, and scope

The player plays as leader of a resistance group, generated and named at the start of the game and labelled as “you.” This player-agent is an example of a historical archetype, a representation of one possible agent among the many German civilians who resisted the Nazis. Arguably, identifying the player with an individual player agent contributes to a sense of player agency in the interactive text sections of the game where the player-agent must make personal decisions. When it comes to the core strategic gameplay, however, the player-agent is the director of resistance operations and decides which members, including their own character, to assign to various missions. The other members function as subordinate agents (see below), who can take some significant actions on their own (though not missions) and can be assigned to missions as the player-agent sees fit.

Designed goals

TtDoT stands out among strategy games in that its goals and victory-state can be thought of as attenuated rather than amplified. In many historical games, achieving the victory conditions is meant to suggest that the player “won”; they triumphed. An attenuated victory exists when the player-agent succeeds in achieving the designed game goal but is hardly in a triumphant, winning position: it is a limited success. In the case of this game, it is not immediately clear that the ultimate victory is simply surviving while still resisting. At the start of the first chapter (1933) the player sees a loading screen that includes in red capital letters “STOP THE REGIME!” Building on this, the game designers give visual and textual cues to suggest that stopping the regime is possible and should be the goal of the group. A triumphal ending where the Nazi Regime is ousted, however, is not achievable by the resistance group in the gameworld and narrative. That is a powerful message of the game: the resistance will not triumph.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Stop-the-regime-1024x658.png
Stop the Regime! (but you cannot)

In practice, the designed goal for the player-agent is to survive and keep the resistance group alive, by keeping the group’s morale and supporters above 0. And so, beginning the chapter with the heightened hope of ousting the Nazi Regime, the player experiences through play an important message of this game: resistance to the Nazi regime was difficult and dangerous, and civilian efforts to resist could not achieve more than just the simple acts of resistance and survival. This means attending regularly to group morale, a metric ranging from below 0 to 100. Morale declines by 10 points at the start of every week. Certain events–decisions the player-agent makes in the interactive text portions of the game and success in resistance missions–can raise morale.  Chapter One covers the whole of 1933 including:

  • the start of Hitler’s Chancellorship in January
  • the Reichstag fire in February
  • the Enabling Act of March that allowed Hitler to decree laws without a parliamentary vote
  • the outlawing of all political parties except for the Nazis in July

and so on (1933: Key Dates | The Holocaust Encyclopedia). The designed victory for this chapter is to survive as a resistance group. In the best-case scenario, the player sees a screen like this: an attenuated victory after successfully achieving the designed player goals in the game.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1933-Ending-1024x663.png
A successful ending to 1933 and an attenuated victory

Gameworld

The gameworld is, with a few exceptions in the interactive text components where the player-agent travels outside Germany, Berlin from 1933 – 1946. Most of the space is implied however, using a stylized map of Berlin divided into districts with various missions appearing throughout the city. Because it is implied space on a rendition of a map, the players cannot engage in gameworld actions one might find in a Civilization or an Assassin’s Creed:

  • exploring, in the sense of uncovering areas of the map not yet visible to the player through revealing fog of war;
  • traversing, in the sense of starting at one point on the map and moving across the map in a direction;
  • developing, in the sense of “building” features on the land; and
  • contesting, challenging control or ownership of space, (although the Nazis do challenge player activities in the space somewhat; see below)

The implied spaces the resistors can visit are those places with missions attached to them. As a result one gets the feel of planning missions on a map and the sense that Berlin is a complex city. Though districts will get more risky to conduct operations in as the SA/SS/Gestapo are alerted, the space rendered in the Berlin map is not really contestable either. In short, the map provides a thematic spatial rendition of Berlin and the opportunities for resistance in it. Functionally, the available missions could also be rendered as a simple list unattached to the map, but here the devs have crafted a solution that better spatially and temporally situates the player-agent in 1930s and 1940s Berlin.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Mission-Map-1024x665.png
Mission map of Berlin

Gameworld elements

The gameworld the player-agent operates in includes these important elements:

Resistance group members:  Up to five, including the player-agent, operatives who can be assigned to missions in Berlin. They are, except for the player-agent, subordinate agents to the player-agent. They can be assigned to missions as the player desires, and the player chooses their response if a mission gets interrupted (fleeing, hiding, or carrying through). Still, the members have agency and are subordinates, rather than minions. They express their own ideas, even to the point of criticizing the player-agent, have their own problems (such as being fired from their day job; worrying about the safety of their newborn child; or having a loved one join the Nazis). They also have their own morale metric. The absolute value of a member’s morale is kept hidden from the player, but the player sees how their agent’s choices raise or lower the member’s morale. Finally, members can leave the group if they feel unsafe or disillusioned with the progress of the resistance group. Presumably, in terms of mechanics, this happens when their morale drops too low.

Each resistance member also has a series of traits:

  • a profession, ranging from journalist, welder, and waiter, to artist, and, merchant, and unemployed
  • a political affiliation, ranging from Communist and Social Democrat, to Christian Liberal, Conservative and Catholic Conservative, and even Anarchist
  • A status (fearful, calm, mediator)
  • Five core stats, each with a value from 1 to 5 (?) that are used to determine how successful the operative will be in their assigned mission: secrecy, empathy, propaganda, strength, and literacy
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Stats-1024x436.png
Mission members and stats

Supporters:  These are represented only as a number, not individually, and serve only as a source of some weekly donations, a minimum requirement for taking on certain missions, and as an metric of success. Consequently, the supporters are not really agents or even minions (there is nothing the player-agent can order them to do). Rather the total number of supporters functions mostly as a metric.

Morale: This is the decisive metric for the group when it comes to achieving the goals of the resistance movement: if it falls below zero, the game is over. Morale automatically drops by 10 points at the end of each week/turn. Certain missions can raise morale as can certain decisions in the interactive text portion of the game. Not infrequently, these gains do not fully compensate for the steady 10 points weekly decline. Occasionally opportunities will arise for all the agents in the group to attend a wedding, or a jazz club, or an art exhibit and, in doing so, raise the group morale significantly higher. Hiding in a safe space also raises morale. These morale-raising decisions, however, prevent operatives from doing resistance work. As with many of the decisions in the game, these involve challenging trade-offs.

Missions:  Various circles on the map of Berlin appear, indicating resistance missions that the player-agent can assign to themselves and/or other group members. There are several categories:

Fundraising: Asking for donations of the marks needed to acquire resistance supplies like paint and paper and pay for hideouts and new operative recruitment.

Gaining support: Persuading more supporters to back the group, which increases donations and enables access to certain missions.

Recruiting a new member: for the core group of up to five operatives

Acquiring resistance supplies: such as paint (for slogans on walls) and paper (for authoring pamphlets critical of the Nazis), both of which can be bought. The act of purchasing these supplies, however, can raise the “heat” on the member, the awareness the Nazis have of the member as a potential resistor (heat is reflected in the PC version by 1 to 5 red dots). Gas can be acquired to make incendiary devices and SA and army uniforms can be stolen to enable access to certain kinds of missions.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Mission-Leaflets-1024x665.png
Mission to produce leaflets

Breakout Missions: Group members can be arrested in the course of conducting a mission if their heat level is high enough  or they are caught in an act of resistance. Then the player-agent must decide if they wish to risk breaking the arrested member out of jail

Acts of Resistance: Distributing leaflets, painting slogans of resistance, and, in later turns, helping persecuted people escape from Germany. There are also higher-level resistance acts like using incendiary devices or hanging resistance banners in public spaces.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Truth-Mission6-1024x663.png
A High Level Mission: A Giant Resistance Banner and Leaflets in Alexanderplatz

Each mission has a level of preparation–a chance of success–that is calculated from the strengths and weaknesses of the group member / members assigned to the mission. Each mission also has a risk level, also dependent on the group members and the amount of heat they have from the Nazis. It is possible for riskier missions to get interrupted in process by suspicious bystanders, potential witnesses and informants, police, and the SA/SS/Gestapo. The player is notified of the interruption and must choose whether the groups’ members on that mission flee, hide, or stay on task (called “enforce” in the game). Persisting in a risky situation can get members arrested, increase their heat with the Nazis, and even get them killed, depending on the circumstances. Hiding and fleeing risk the success of the mission, but increase the chance the operatives will escape unscathed.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Interruption-1024x671.jpg
A Mission Interrupted

Higher level missions are accessed by successfully completing prerequisite ones. So, distributing leaflets requires that the group has made leaflets (as a separate mission), which in turn requires paper (purchased during a separate mission). The most challenging missions (Hanging a resistance banner at Alexanderplatz, bombing the Olympics, helping the persecuted escape Germany) require careful planning and allocation of resources and group members. I have yet to have achieved one in my playthroughs.

Resistance Group Members:  The up-to-four resistance group members function as subordinate agents, (with the player agent serving as an additional operative). The player-agent has absolute control over selecting members for the missions they will perform. Each member, however, has a fair amount of gameworld agency. Each has their own (hidden) morale level and can opt to remain with or leave the group depending on circumstances in the world, often brought on by choices and events in the interactive-text segments. Each group member also has a political affiliation, which can range from Conservative, to Catholic Conservative, to Christian Liberal, Social Democrat, Communist and Anarchists. Quarrels between members with different politics can and do break out, and the player-agent must choose whether to side with one member and dismiss another, or ignore the conflict. These decisions affect the morale of the involved members, which in turn affects whether they remain with the group. In short, the player-agent is managing the personalities of individual member agents, not simply dictating to minions. This has the potential to add considerably to the emotional headspace of the player-agent: they are invited to care about and know their operative members.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Infighting-1-1024x669.png
Two Members Cannot Get Along: Whom Will the Player-Agent Support?

The Nazis: Though in some ways the Nazis function, mechanically, as opponents without much agency, obstacles in the environment to the player-agent, in a real sense, the Nazi presence is also one overwhelmingly powerful rival agent striving to win the game by crushing the player-agent’s resistance group. They are everywhere. At the start of each turn, a series of newspaper headlines note key events in the history of Nazi Germany. These are current events for the agents in the gameworld and outline the rise to power and the brutal oppression of the Nazis.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Newspaper-1024x666.png
Weekly newspapers

The interactive text components of the game and associated graphics also enable the player-agent to see the harm the Nazis are doing to the people of Germany, especially disenfranchised and marginalized people. In addition to the interactive text segments, there are longer narrative interludes telling the story of the domination of the Nazis and their agenda, the rise of oppression and violence, and the road to the horror of the Shoah.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Book-Burning-1024x662.png
A book-burning supervised by Goebbels

In the strategic components of the game, the possibility of arrest, and the threat of torture and death are the greatest risks to the player-agent achieving their goals. The increasingly overwhelming power of Hitler and the Nazis is realized through the drop in morale every week but also made real through the heat metric each group member has. Too much heat, and the character can be imprisoned, removing them from the group unless a rescue mission is undertaken. In addition, sections of Berlin will grow redder if the group draws too much Nazi interest there and display one or more Nazi troopers policing, making missions more dangerous. Individual missions are also color coded in green, yellow, and red to indicate how much risk of alerting the Nazis the mission entails.

Choices, Strategies, and Behaviors

Paintbucket has melded two genres of game together in TtDoT: turn-based, resource- and metric-focused strategy, and interactive text with illustrations. Interactive text (often called interactive fiction, IF, or choice-based text), because it leverages the power of textual expression, is an outstanding mechanism for narrative and for player choice within a narrative (for more on the strengths of interactive text for history, see Twine, Inform, and Designing Interactive History Texts). Strategy games, while arguably less effective for conveying narrative,  are excellent for representing—well—strategic decisions about how to manage resources, operatives, and supplies.  By combining the two , TtDoT leverages the strengths of both to create a challenging management simulation with strong narrative choices. The result is a narrative richness that has the potential to spark emotional connections for the player.

Turn-to-turn in the strategy component of the game, the player agent must effectively manage group members, each with their own personality and problems. The player agent must also prioritize available missions and determine the best available group members by capitalizing on member traits that can help a mission and avoiding or mitigating traits that can harm a mission. Each mission requires at least one group member; adding more often increases the chances of success; and certain members are better at certain missions. There is also a challenging logistical component of the strategic game. Successful resistance requires money for supplies and for funding hiding spots when the heat grows too intense on some group members. Money must be gained through donation missions. The member raising money, of course, cannot complete any other mission that week. Likewise, many missions require supplies (paint, gas, paper, leaflets, books) that can only be obtained through their corresponding missions. In addition, the resistance group must continue enlisting supporters if it is to survive; these supporters, too, are only obtained through missions. For practical purposes, consequently, a number of group members will need to work regularly on these logistical missions—every week in my experience—just for the group to subsist and be able to conduct higher level resistance missions.

A mission to produce leaflets requires a stack of paper in the mission inventory

The most common resistance opportunities beyond recruiting and soliciting donations involve low-level actions like spreading leaflets, talking to potential supporters, and painting resistance slogans on buildings. If the player agent manages supplies and members successfully and chooses to do so, greater acts of resistance can be undertaken. These are difficult to achieve, however, both because they are riskier and because they require higher-level prerequisite supplies.

These strategy elements are then complemented by the interactive text segments of the game. In these the player agent is presented with all manner of choices revolving around whether to resist Nazi evils openly or to stay silent and safer. Examples, from the first two chapters of the game include:

  • Helping an elderly Jewish man assaulted by SA thugs;
  • Crossing SA boycotters and shopping in a store owned by Jewish grocers;
  • Stumbling onto a book burning led by Goebbels;
  • Photo-documenting the abuse of Roma in camps

Many of the choices revolving around the growing Nazification of Germany are unsatisfying by design: regardless of whether the player agents opts to listen to Hitler’s address at Nuremburg in 1936, it still takes place.

SA troopers boycotting a Jewish business: Will the player-agent risk crossing the line?

Interactive text dilemmas with choices also occur when group members experience mishaps or have arguments with other group members.  Sometimes the player-agent’s choices have a direct impact on the gameworld elements, as members’ morale rises or dips. If a member’s morale drops too far, they will leave the group.

Mission members not getting along

Again, interactive text is a powerful medium because (as I have suggested elsewhere), it combines the precision, detail, and expressive power of words, and the capacity to qualify ideas, with the choice-making inherent in games. The scenarios articulated in the interactive text are emotionally charged. descriptive power of interactive text, arguably, has the chance to heighten the player’s emotional response and tension beyond the core strategic elements of the game: players can understand the misery and feel compelled to act, but fear the risks to the group’s safety.

The result is this: Even when the player is successful at the strategic sections, the interactive text segments makes clear that the Nazis continue to grow more powerful, more brutal, more monstrous. This is a powerful tension in the game brought out in the available choices of the problem space and their impact.

Putting All The Elements Together: The Historical Problem Space of Through the Darkest of Times

The historical problem space framework is designed to encourage the holistic consideration and analysis of historical video games. Part-and-parcel of this is to consider the systemic space of a gameworld and its elements, the whole composition that the game presents. This is a more productive approach, I’d argue, than simply picking discrete aspects of the game for historical consideration without considering the whole. For example, one might consider the game’s representation of political parties other than the Nazis and how that reflects the available historical evidence, but that should ideally not take place without appreciating the way that political parties function in the gameworld. To give a second example, one could assess how the map and depiction of Berlin’s geography in the game conforms or differs with the city’s historical geography, but that ideally should not take place without appreciating how the map space functions in (and to a certain extent as) the gameworld (McCall 2020).

Map of Berlin, 1900 (Britannica) and the map in TtDoT

And so this final part of the essay offers a brief assessment and analysis, based on what I have intended to be a holistic–though necessarily incomplete–consideration of the historical problem space TtDoT presents. More can and hopefully will be said about this gamic history and the way it represents resisting the Nazis. Those future analyses, hopefully, will consider parts of the game in connection to the whole, consider the historical problem space.

The remainder of this essay, while offering some assessment of historical validity, will not offer a detailed historical assessment of the historical problem space the game presents. One of the appeals of Play the Past is that it allows us to workshop ideas, test them out and discuss them as a community. A substantial formal historical overview would take this essay into the realm of an article or monograph, when my hope is simply to encourage more interest in TtDoT and the HPS framework. More pointedly, I am not a specialist, by any means, in the history of Nazi Germany, let alone resistance in Nazi Germany. I have read parts of Richard Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich and The Third Reich in Power. To prepare for teaching my Interactive History class this semester and using TtDoT,  I also investigated the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Holocaust Encyclopedia. I sought books on German civilian resistance to the Nazis only to find that, when it comes to the actual topic of civilian resistance, there seems not to be a great number of accessible books. One excellent exception, is F. McDonough’s entry in the Cambridge Perspectives in History series, Opposition and Resistance in Nazi Germany. McDonough provides brief surveys of different categories of resistors: Communists, Social Democrats, and Workers; Youth Groups; The famous White Rose group, and various Christian groups. Each chapter then ends with a small selection of primary source excerpts. I highly recommend it for interested non-specialists. There is also some discussion of German resistance in the USHMM Holocaust Encyclopedia, especially the essay “Resistance during the Holocaust” https://www.ushmm.org/m/pdfs/20000831-resistance-bklt.pdf and the essay German Resistance to Hitler.

A final thought before concluding: historical games are gamic histories, and the critical hallmark of gamic histories is choice within a set of systems. A consequence of this is that a linear text like this one cannot fully capture the cumulative effects, the feelings, the essence of choice and feedback within a system. To experience a problem space described in linear text is not really to experience a problem space. So while I have attempted to employ text to clearly analyze TtDoT, and I do hope readers will take the time to read this essay, you really should play the game to experience the problem space. This game is well worth it.

That said, let’s close with a brief summation and assessment of the gamic history of Through the Darkest of Times, the historical problem space it presents.

***

The developer-historians of Paintbucket games have crafted a gamic history of civilian resistance to the Nazi regime. Gamic histories, because they are gamic histories, present the past as historical problem spaces. The point-of-view of the player-agent in this historical problem space is that of a resistance leader, the focus their goal-oriented pursuit to stop the regime in the 1930s and 1940s.  The resistance leader faces a daunting task, operating under dictatorship that grows steadily more powerful. They must choose whom to trust and what actions to prioritize. Tradeoffs occur every turn as the needs of the group for funds and supporters is ever-present, morale is almost always diminishing, and there is significant legwork involved in preparing and executing actual acts of resistance. So this game places the player in something of the intellectual and (virtually represented) physical space of a resistor. This space consists of extraordinary and dramatic challenges of resistance posed alongside the banality of the weekly logistics of resistance. And because it is a game, the player interacts with the gameworld as a decision-making agent.

Partial historical problem space diagram for TtDoT

The problem space of the resistance leader comes rife with danger, and with this comes a great deal of emotional cost. The interactive text components build on the strategic gameplay and present greater opportunity for the player to enter this emotional headspace of a resistance leader, helped along by the grim textual and visual scenes of the growth of Nazi power, oppression, violence, and brutalization. The early declarations that the player-agent and group members can stop the regime outright melt away and leave the grim realization that all a successful resistance group in Germany at this time can hope for is to, in fact, resist; to support and spread underground ideas of resistance; to help individuals escape the brutality of the Nazi regime; and to survive. In some ways, especially after multiple playthroughs of what can be a strategically very challenging game, resistance to the Nazi evil in itself, just resistance, is something of a noble goal in its own right.  Even the moderate acts of resistance–leaflets, speaking, and painted slogans–only increase morale and perhaps support. They do not stop the Nazis. And while I have not yet managed to successfully undertake the highest levels of resistance (bombs, broadcasts, getting secret intel out to the international press), I am confident these do not stop the Nazis either. Survival is resistance. As the player-agent puts it in one section of interactive text, “I know what my mission is. But my mission is also to stay alive and out of prison.”

End of Week Summary: A Drop in Morale

The day-to-day work is frustrating in its limited returns and involves managing personalities and logistics. Morale declines steadily, with little boosts from successful missions and occasional respites like weddings and underground jazz clubs. Supporters also decrease, although here the player-agent can make more of an impact through missions. Still, the player-agent remains in the tough position every week (every turn) of choosing how to balance group members’ strengths and the advantages and disadvantages of their political and religious commitments with the needs of the group to not just survive, but to resist. And again the fact that the problem space is stacked against the player-agent reinforces that survival by itself is resistance and resistance is victory. And so there is a real potential to experience just a bit of the emotional headspace of resistors too.

A member is arrested

History is subject to revision and debate and this essay is a tack, not a destination. That said, for me, the problem space presented by TtDoT as a whole is historically plausible and powerful. All manner of civilians, in fact, resisted the Nazis. Some resisted and risked much to do so. Placing players in that space is what TtDoT does, and while each detail may not match up neatly to the historical record, the space fits at least the broad overviews of the complex and dangerous phenomenon of civilian resistance to the Nazis. TtDoT adopts what Chapman (2016) calls a “conceptual simulation” approach, telling players about the past through its rulesets more than showing through verisimilitudinous graphics. Therefore the plausibility of the game consists not in its graphic portrayals but to the extent the models it presents reflect historical dynamics. Resistance indeed came from political and religious groups like the Communists and the Social Democrats, workers and students. Many tried to resist by spreading the word of Nazi atrocities through leaflets and books, through slogans painted on walls, buildings, and subways, even through photos of Nazi crimes. Some sought to sabotage industries and the war effort. Some tried to murder Hitler. They experienced rises and falls in moral. Through surveillance and spies, informants and police, the Nazis brutally responded to resistance. Accordingly, resistors were forced to live in uncertainty and fear. Meanwhile the Nazis sought out and attempted to eradicate all resistance by outlawing political parties and developing and employing systematic enforcers in the SA, SS, and Gestapo. Resistors had successes and defeats. Many fled; many died. Ultimately, they never posed a real threat to Hitler’s regime. Still they resisted (See McDonough and the USHMM). TtDoT captures that model well.

Ultimately, it is well worth considering the game for anyone studying or teaching about historical video games formally or informally. It is certainly well worth considering for any class covering the Second World War and intending to get at the topic of resistance in a way that may well be more powerful than simply reading the sources I suggested. Historical games are at their most powerful when they are studied, discussed, and debated. Ideally one would play this game and do some reading in the topic to gain a richer historical understanding, and perhaps even empathy, for the resistors.

In this two-part essay, I have hoped to provide an example of a historical-problem-space-focused analysis of a videogame history. I also hope that this will point the way for others to benefit from engaging in historical problem space analyses of their own. To that end, I encourage readers to discuss their comments, questions, and criticisms with me here on Play the Past or through Twitter (@Gamingthepast) or through my own site (www.gamingthepast.net ). In the meantime, play this game; study this period; talk about this game and the space it creates. In class, on your own, for an article. It’s well worth it.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: