Attentat 1942 explores the horrors of WWII through the eyes of its surviving civilians, looking to have players experience some of what they felt and did through an interactive look at their memories of the time. Using interactive graphic novel moments, interviews with real people, and historical footage, it looks to immerse the player in a dark part of history that didn’t happen all that long ago.
Siliconera reached out to the developers of Attentat 1942 to learn about the research they had done to get the story just right, how they would let players interact with these living histories, and the emotional impact of collecting these stories of personal tragedy and pain.
What made you want to tell the story of WWII survivors in Attentat 1942? Why was it important for you to capture this perspective?
Vít Šisler, Lead Designer of Attentat 1942 – We wanted to show recent history from personal, intimate, and diverse perspectives. The story of the game revolves around the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, a prominent Nazi official and the Deputy Reichsprotektor of the occupied Czech lands. Yet the game doesn’t focus on the well-known and dramatic story of the assassination itself, but rather on the day-to-day lives of ordinary citizens under the Nazi occupation. We wanted to connect personal histories with overarching historical narratives. There are many realistic video games about WWII, yet their realism focuses mostly on warfare and military operations. The civilian perspective is typically missing in war-themed games: with a few notable exceptions. In Attentat 1942, we wanted to show the impact the war and the totalitarian regime had on the lives and minds of ordinary people.
What work went into collecting these stories for players to hear? What went into researching them and getting them right?
There is a substantial amount of historical work behind the game. We have six historians from Charles University and the Czech Academy of Sciences on our team. The game is based on historical research and real testimonies. Yet, we didn’t work with these testimonies in a literal fashion. Rather, we used them to construct realistic and emotionally appealing narratives, without gamifying real people’s memories. Nevertheless, every single character, object or utterance in the game was written by, or consulted with, a team of professional historians.
What challenges did you face in turning these stories into a game?
The first challenge was that of selection: which stories and memories to include and which not? We faced some tough decisions here, but we tried hard to offer players a variety of different perspectives. Attentat 1942 features eight key characters; including civilians living under the occupation, resistance fighters, and Holocaust survivors. We also included perspectives that are often missing in Czech popular history; for example, those of Roma or Sudeten Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia after the war. The game offers different points of view and invites players to reflect critically upon them.
The second challenge was handling the tension between gameplay and authenticity: should players be allowed to replay the past and change history? Early on, we decided not to do that, given the historical accuracy of the game and its serious content. You play the game in the present and talk to different characters, all of them WWII survivors, in order to discover what happened to your grandpa, who was arrested by the Gestapo immediately after Heydrich’s assassination. You can’t change the past. However, depending on to whom you are speaking, what questions you ask and how you frame them, you unearth different layers of the past. These layers include some troubling events in your own family’s history that had never really been talked about before.
What challenges did you deal with looking deep into these stories yourselves; as human beings? What emotional difficulties did you face looking into these stories of personal tragedy?
Even though I am the designer of the game, I am deeply moved by its story every time I play it. Working on this project, and going through the testimonies of real people on whose stories we based our game upon, made me painfully aware of the fragility of human life and the conditionality of the world we live in; circumstances we often take for granted. It deepened my respect for the survivors of the occupation and the war. They faced challenges I can’t imagine going through and were forced to make decisions I hope I will never have to make.
How did you decide upon methods for conveying the stories? Why did you use these different styles of interaction? The different presentations?
We wanted to separate clearly what is happening in the present during the game and what took place in the past. We also wanted to distinguish what is real historical footage and what is part of our gameplay construct. Therefore, we render the present-time interviews with in-game characters as full-motion videos; the characters’ personal “memories” as black-and-white comics; and the general, well-documented events from the past as real historical footage.
What do you feel that immersing themselves in these stories does for the player? What are you hoping they will take away from their time playing the game that they would otherwise not get from just reading or hearing these stories?
By presenting history from a range of different and personal perspectives, we hope that players will be able to better imagine this time period and develop a deeper understanding of it. The game invites players to reflect critically on its content and afterwards ask questions. It presents history neither as a closed chapter of the past, nor as a collection of events with definite conclusions. The interactive nature of the process (the fact that players make decisions that matter) increases immersion into the story and the emotional connection to the game’s characters. We believe that video games are a great medium for telling serious stories.
What do you feel is important for people to take away from these stories today?
From history books, you might get the impression that history is something distant and definite, but it can be very relevant and personal. It is our everyday decisions and behavior that create history. Democracy shouldn’t be taken for granted and the time may come when you have to fight for it. If I had to summarize it in one sentence, the message of the game would be as follows: don’t lose hope and courage even when the world around you is darkening.