Attentat 1942

Attentat 1942

Charles University, Czech Academy of Sciences, 2017.

Author
Zdenko Mago
Keywords
Reinhard Heydrich; Czechoslovakia; Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia; Prague; World War II; Holocaust; Heydrichiáda; Gestapo; concentration camps; human rights; digital game; point-and-click adventure; educational game; assassination.

The game Attentat 1942 is a point-and-click adventure digital game, a collaborative work by a team of professionals from the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics as well as the Faculty of Arts at Charles University in Prague, and the Institute of Contemporary History at the Czech Academy of Science. The same team was responsible for the original game Czechoslovakia 38-89: Assassination that, among other awards, won the 3rd International Educational Games Competition within ECGBL 2015 at the University of Southern Denmark as the best educational game. The composition of the team naturally led to the creation of interactive educational tools, more than likely appealing not only to the current generations Z and Alpha, but also to the older generations affected by the depicted events. Attentat 1942 is an important asset in overcoming prejudices towards digital games and establishing their use within learning processes. This brings people closer to a new era of history and human rights education in the regions of Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Interestingly, the game was originally released worldwide in 2017 with the exception of Germany due to the presence of Nazi symbols in the game. However, after the changes in the Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle (USK)1 rating policy in 2018, Attentat 1942 became the first computer game released on the German market in its original uncensored version (Gamasutra 2018).

Former Czechoslovakia (present-day Slovakia and the Czech Republic) was situated in the very centre of Europe, so the events of WWII affected it directly. Czechoslovakia itself, however, played several important roles during this infamous episode in human history. The German occupation of Czechoslovakia began after the ‘Munich Betrayal’ in September 1938. ‘Munich Betrayal’ is a local term for the Munich Agreement, which resulted in the allies providing Hitler with the border territories of Czechoslovakia called the Sudetenland, mostly inhabited by a German-speaking population.

In March 1939, Nazi Germany occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia. Reinhard Heydrich, a prominent Nazi and one of the main organizers of the Holocaust, became the head of the declared Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Czechoslovak paratroopers assassinated Heydrich on 27 May 1942 and the Nazi revenge was brutal. More than 1500 people were executed; 3000 Jews were sent to concentration camps. The Nazis destroyed the Czech villages of Lidice and Ležáky. Fear reigned throughout the Protectorate.

The introduction to the game Attentat 1942 quoted above specifies the factual historical context which underlies the fictional storyline of the game. However, it does not include an interactive simulation of the Heydrich assassination, which would be in line with the usual action nature of popular war-themed digital games. Instead, the plot revolves around the investigation into the reasons behind the arrest of Jindřich Jelínek during so called Heydrichiáda (the period following the enactment of the martial law after the assassination, which was characterised by the terrorising of the Czech population).

The player primarily plays as Jindřich Jelínek’s grandchild, who wants to know the truth about his grandfather (suspecting him of participation in the assassination), and therefore conducts interviews with people related to that arrest, starting with his grandmother.

There are a total of eight other characters in the game. Their locations on a map of the urban settlement of Prague representing the game environment are gradually revealed, as the player obtains key information during the interviews with the characters he had already met – interactive simulations of the dialogues within which the player chooses one of the possible answers (a format similar to a quiz), and the interview continues based on his choice. Revealing the past brings up many findings and emotions associated with bitter memories of living under Nazi occupation and the atrocities of the Holocaust. Besides referring to actual historical events, the game deals with human rights issues as described below.

The events of WWII presented in the game Attentat 1942 are processed in the context of a digital game for the first time. The closest example is the recently released DLC for Call of Duty: WWII – Resistance (Sledgehammer Games 2018) set in Prague shortly after or coinciding with the Heydrich assassination that featured, among other things, an “Anthropoid multiplayer map” which takes its name from the Operation Anthropoid that involved the assassination of Heydrich. However, the DLC does not include a closer look at the assassination itself or related events. Regarding other types of audio-visual media, the topic of Heydrich’s assassination was represented in several films. Between 2015 and 2017, when the game Attentat 1942 emerged from the original interactive learning simulation Czechoslovakia 38-89: Assassination, two related European films were released. Anthropoid (Sean Ellis, 2016, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, France) shows the events directly related to the assassination from the perspective of the soldiers who carried it out. The film The Man with the Iron Heart (Cédric Jimenez, 2017, France, Belgium) shows the assassination and the events which preceded it, from the perspective of Reinhard Heydrich himself, including his life and career in the Third Reich. However, perhaps the most important is the Czechoslovak film Atentát / The Assassination (Jiří Sequens, 1964, Czechoslovakia), because aside from the assassination itself it also depicts the events following – the consequences of the act. Such an ambition drove the Czech film Lidice / Fall of the Innocent (Petr Nikolaev, 2011, Czech Republic, Slovakia), which tells the tragic story of the destruction of Lidice village and the massacre of its inhabitants as Nazi revenge. Apart from this specific historical event, the Holocaust itself is generally a very strong topic as a subject for filmmaking. However, unlike the films, the interactive experience provided by the game can leave different, possibly more intense impressions caused by immersive playing.

According to Attentat 1942’s designers, digital games on the theme of war usually lack the perspective of civilians (Chalk 2017). This War of Mine (11 Bit Studios 2014) is one of the very few examples of games which recognise that not all people in wars are soldiers.This Polish digital survival game, describes the Siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War from the point of view of local civilians, whose only job day after day is to survive. Such personal perspective which might provoke very strong emotions in the gamer is useful in learning not just historical facts, but gaining a deeper understanding of the events. Based on this premise, the UN Refugee Agency developed the game Against all Odds (UNHCR 2005) that allows, through visual means, players to put themselves in the position of refugees involuntarily leaving their homes to seek asylum in a foreign country, not always with a hope for a warm welcome. A similar immersive effect is the aim of Attentat 1942 as well, and its outstanding visual characteristics considerably enhance this aspect.

In general, the repeatedly deployed arrangements of audio-visual elements in game design (in order to express the unique nuances of the game genres) create audio-visual styles, such as photorealism, caricature and abstractionism (Järvinen 2002). Attentat 1942, however, is both different and unique. It combines several distinct design techniques, which are primarily used separately from each other to emphasise the individual ‘reality’ levels of the fictional storyline, and also used as clues across these levels to underline their interrelations and continuity. Paradoxically, this makes the narrative more comprehensive. We are able to identify three levels within one narrative, each of which uses a different visual style (see Fig. 1).

Apparatus9_Mago_Review_Attentat_1942.docx.tmp/word/media/image1.jpg
The three narrative levels in Attentat 1942 (2017). Screenshots by the author.

The first level, ‘Personal Memories’, is the main storyline inspired by post-war testimony and eyewitness memories, which are represented in the game by a series of re-enacted interviews. Despite the fact that the entire story is fictional, it is inspired by the actual historical events. The characters in the game narrate real history, into which fiction is incorporated. Moreover, this narrative level is created with a technique called ‘full-motion video’ (FMV), which merges the sequences filmed in real-life locations with the graphic environment of the game. FMV represents the most obvious example of photorealism in the recent history of digital games, so Attentat 1942 partially follows the tradition formed by the numerous adventure games dating from the mid-1990s (Järvinen 2002: 121).

On the other hand, the second narrative level, ‘Authentic Footage’, supports the first level’s realism component rather than standing on its own, and represents the only realistic part of the game that still retains a certain narrative value. It consists of flashbacks created from genuine historical audio-visual materials, illustrating the context behind the stories told by the characters in the game. This gives more depth and adds the emotion associated with the topic (particularly for those who were impacted directly during WWII, or indirectly by the consequences of the war). As this narrative level consists of authentic video sequences, the processing is naturally photorealistic, but unlike the FMV of the first level, it is monochromatic.

The third level of narrative, ‘Interactive Comics’, is the core of game fiction, and creates space for incorporating the most striking interactive components – mini-games. The story is presented as hand-drawn graphics in a format typical of graphic novels. Graphic novels are important pop-culture artefacts, the narrative content of which goes beyond superhero fiction. We can find examples of graphic novels concerned with most areas of common life, because this art form can be remarkably expressive. Often graphic novels and comics themselves are used as sources for cross-media adaptations. In the case of Attentat 1942, the developers might have had a number of reasons for choosing a graphic novel-like representation for their story, besides the aforementioned. Hand-drawn graphics are relatively demanding to create; therefore, a graphic novel is an ideal solution, because it does not essentially require sophisticated animation to provide a comprehensive representation of situations and emotional expressions. Moreover, the popular positive reception of hand-drawn graphics is already well proven by the success of graphic novels and comics, even monochromatic ones (an appropriate example of which is Frank Miller’s work). This plays an important role as another method of representing the past. Finally, we should reconsider superhero comics in their metaphorical relation to games in general, because the main character (Jindřich Jelínek in Attentat 1942) acts unselfishly to help or even to save their friend/s, while sacrificing their own safety. In a certain sense, they meet the criteria of a hero / heroine (Radošinská 2018).

Analysis of the narrative levels within the game shows that the fundamental distinguishing feature of the timelines is the colour palette. Colour processing stands for the present, a monochromatic scale represents the past, in both fictional (interactive comics) as well as real (authentic footage) episodes. Exceptions to this are the original historical artefacts, which, in an effort to preserve historical authenticity, slightly disrupt this coherent division. This brings us to the stated secondary use of various design techniques, such as details across the narrative levels to create tighter interrelations and underline continuity.

The first interview sequence with grandmother Jelínek in her flat starts with the shot of an oval framed picture of a man and a woman. During the interview, when the grandmother is asked to show the anti-German leaflets which belonged to her husband, she passes by a quite large framed picture that the player has not seen before. It becomes clear that it is the grandparents’ wedding photo, or rather what’s supposed to look like one. Instead of the expected black-and-white photo, typical for old photography, the picture is hand-drawn and monochromatic which resembles the technique utilised in the interactive comics’ parts of the game (see Fig. 2). This detail connects the less evident fiction represented by the photorealistic documentary and the more obvious fiction represented by the comics’ simulation of past events into one whole. Another such moment occurs during the interview with Jakub Hein, grandfather Jelínek’s fellow prisoner, who shows an old photograph from Auschwitz along with his fake passport (with a portrait photo of the young grandfather Jelínek), both substituted by hand-drawn graphics, unlike the other displayed items which are original historical artefacts or their replicas.

Apparatus9_Mago_Review_Attentat_1942.docx.tmp/word/media/image2.png
Attentat 1942 (2017). Screenshots by the author.

Besides the guided interviews of the storyline, the players can also engage in various mini-games throughout the game as a whole. Depending on the players’ actions (e.g. finding the best place to hide the anti-German leaflets) within specific mini-games, they can gain up to two gold coins, which can be later used in exchange for repeating interviews in order to go through all available dialogue options. If a player does not obtain all available gold coins in the mini-games, they can later replay them as many times as needed. However, the mini-games are not purposeless. They are an integral part of the narrative, but standalone at the same time which allows the player to test the consequences of their actions for the characters they are playing. Mini-games are the only parts within which the gamer can play some other characters besides Jindřich Jelínek’s grandchild. A failure, such as not finding the best mini-game solution, has no real impact on the story. It merely provides information about the eventual consequences of such decisions.

Some mini-games provide additional historical facts and information. An example is ‘Destroying Forbidden Items’ in Josef Málek’s apartment in an effort to avoid being arrested by the Gestapo. There are 13 items in total, and the player (as Josef Málek) has to decide to keep or to destroy them. The threat level of individual items is divided into several categories – life threatening, discouraged, problematic, and neutral. After each decision, the player is informed about the attitude of the Nazi regime to each specific item, as well as about the reasons for the stated threat level. In the case of the autographed picture of Czechoslovak President E. Beneš , the player can decide to keep the photo, even though it is marked as discouraged, which means that owning it could be dangerous. Beneš had fled to London, where he was the head of the Czechoslovak government in exile, so both Czech and German propaganda condemned him as a national traitor.

On the other hand, the overall interactive component is slightly secondary, because the dominant purpose of the game is to provide educational value. This is the reason behind the ‘integrated encyclopedia’, which reveals itself through the playing process and through discovering all the interview options. The most obvious gaming part is represented by the mini-games, or, in this case, rather the metagames – games within a game which act as self-reference to the game itself (Santaella 2007), and thus confirm that Attentat 1942 is an original digital game. After all, gamers themselves approved this status as well as its quality as a game, because Attentat 1942 was released via Steam Greenlight that was previously designed particularly for independent game developers, and the game release itself was dependent on the votes of the gaming community.

Zdenko Mago

University of Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Trnava

zdenko.mago@ucm.sk

Notes

1 The organisation has been providing an age-based classification of digital games and apps in Germany since 1994 (for more information see www.usk.de).

Bio

Zdenko Mago is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Mass Media Communication at the University of Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Trnava, Slovakia. He focuses on the game studies and interconnections between digital games and marketing communication. He currently works as an editor-in-chief at the scientific journal Acta Ludologica.

Bibliography

Gamasutra. 2018. Attentat 1942, a video game unavailable due to Nazi symbolism, finally released in Germany”, https://gamasutra.com/view/pressreleases/326142/Attentat_1942_a_video_game_unavailable_due_to_Nazi_symbolism_finally_released_in_Germany.php.

Chalk, Andy. 2017. Attentat 1942 is a ‘historically accurate’ game about the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, https://www.pcgamer.com/attentat-1942-is-a-historically-accurate-game-about-the-nazi-occupation-of-czechoslovakia/. Accessed on 6.3.2019.

Clybor, Shawn. 2018. Attentat 1942: Teacher’s Guide. New York, Prague.

Järvinen, Aki. 2002. “Gran Stylissimo: The Audiovisual Elements and Styles in Computer and Video Games.” In Proceedings of Computer Games and Digital Cultures Conference, edited by Frans Mäyrä, 113-128. Tampere.

Radošinská, Jana. 2018. Teoretické aspekty filmov o superhrdinoch/Theoretical aspects of films about superheroes. Trnava.

Santaella, Lucia. 2007. “Computer Games: The epitome of self-reference”. In Self-reference in the Media, edited by Winfried Nöth and Nina Bishara, 214-217. Berlin.

Filmography

Ellis, Sean. 2016. Anthropoid. Universal Pictures, Bleecker Street.

Jimenez, Cédric. 2017. The Man with the Iron Heart. Mars Films.

Nikolaev, Petr. 2011. Lidice / Fall of the Innocent. Bioscop.

Sequens, Jiří. 1964. Atentát / The Assassination. Filmové studio Barrandov.

Spielberg, Steven. 1993. Schindler’s List. Universal Pictures.

Ludography

11 Bit Studios. 2014. This War of Mine. Computer game, Windows. 11 Bit Studios. Poland.

Charles University, Czech Academy of Sciences. 2017. Attentat 1942. Computer game, Windows. Charles University, Czech Academy of Sciences. Czech Republic.

UNHCR. 2005. Against all Odds. Online game, Adobe Flash. UNHCR. Switzerland.

Sledgehammer Games. 2008. Call of Duty: WWII - The Resistance: DLC Pack 1. Digital download, Windows. Activision. California, USA.

Suggested Citation

Mago, Zdenko. 2019. Review: “Attentat 1942”. Apparatus. Film, Media and Digital Cultures in Central and Eastern Europe 9. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17892/app.2019.0009.181

URL: http://www.apparatusjournal.net/

Copyright: The text of this article has been published under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ This license does not apply to the media referenced in the article, which are subject to the individual rights owner's terms.





Apparatus. ISSN 2365-7758