Benjamin Kirchengast finished his bachelors degree in history at University of Vienna in 2017. Right now he is studying for his master’s degrees in “Contemporary History and Media” at University Vienna and “Game Studies” at Danube-University Krems, while also working at Verein GEDENKDIENST: He enjoyed playing games most of his life, now he loves studying them and their societal implications.
„That’s not how it was!“: Through the Darkest of Times in the context of a culture war.
FROG 2020 – Short Talk
The historical strategy and survival game Through the Darkest of Times (TtDoT) challenged the way in which history is represented in digital games. That is especially true for its representation of the national socialist Germany and the resistance occurring in parts of the society. However, this representation does not always spark huge excitement in the players of TtDoT. While the game was generally well received by the public, there is also some – quite loud – criticism in the community of digital games. I took a look at the criticism that was voiced by some players in a total of 86 negative reviews on the gaming-platforms GOG and Steam. Based on Phillip Mayrings research method of the qualitative content analysis I formed different categories of criticism on TtDoT. First of all, some reviewers simply call the game mechanics boring. Other critics focus on the interaction of game mechanics and narrative, stating that the players actions do not have any impact on the outcome of the game, which is only partially true. The way in which you can or cannot interact with Nazis did not feel authentic for many users. One of the greatest points of criticism in negative reviews though is the games representation of history. Many reviewers claim that the game transmits a modern perspective on history asserting that TtDoT is historically inaccurate and/or that it feels like the game is forcedly teaching history. Finally there is a group of reviewers who call out the narrative of the game for supposedly transmitting a leftist political agenda, using the holocaust to discredit contemporary right-wing politics focusing on Donald J. Trump. The different categories mostly do not manifest in isolation but in combination with each other giving way to deeper analysis. One major output of the study was that the resistance against TtDoT is to be understood in a broader context of a still ongoing culture war between the left and the right. In connection with the culture war the erosion of the masculine space of video games and their often highly masculine content is harshly opposed, manifested in negative reception of alternative games.