November 24, 2021
With the number of Holocaust survivors dwindling by the day, the need for innovation in the realm of educating future generations about the Nazi genocide is only getting more urgent.
This was the challenge Los Angeles-based video game director Luc Bernard decided he must tackle. And now, after a decade of starts and stops, his educational video game about the Holocaust — “The Light in the Darkness” — is set to launch on Xbox and Windows 10 next year as a free-to-play title.
“People complain about the lack of knowledge about the Holocaust and the rise of antisemitism, but nobody is offering any solutions, which is what this game does,” Bernard — who was born in France and raised in the United Kingdom — told the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM). “Maybe we need to try something a bit new.”
Bernard’s personal interest in the Holocaust is tied to his own family’s history. As a child, he was told about his grandmother in the UK who looked after Jewish refugee children who were rescued from Nazi Germany as part of the “Kindertransport” rescue operation just before the outbreak of World War II.
His fascination peaked only further after his family’s roots were revealed to him as a teenager.
“When that came out, it shook up a lot of things,” Bernard recalled. “And it started to make me do my own research into the Holocaust. And what I learned on my own was way more horrific than what we learned in school. They showed us Schindler’s List, which affected us, but that was about it.”
And later, in his work as a video game director, “I was seeing all these World War II games, but they always failed to mention or talk about the Holocaust, almost pretending that moment in history didn’t exist,” Bernard noted.
Bernard’s initial attempt to develop the game around ten years ago did not go anywhere, partly due to skepticism he faced from Holocaust remembrance organizations.
“Some older people didn’t think it was a good idea, so I felt a bit demoralized,” Bernard acknowledged.
But last year, motivated by encouragement from professors he met at universities where he had given lectures, Bernard revived the project.
“They told me, ‘You’re the future, it’s really important that you do this,’ and that got me back into it,” he said.
Then, this past May, the flare-up of Israel-Gaza violence was accompanied by a global spike of antisemitism, and this gave the project an even greater impetus.
“What I saw on the internet and in real life, I never thought I would see in my lifetime,” Bernard said. “I was shocked and horrified. It wasn’t just anti-Israel sentiment, it went straight antisemitic. There were people who put Nazi swastikas on the flag of Israel walking in front of the Holocaust museum down the street from me in Los Angeles.”
“I think the project really changed for me then, because I realized how important it was,” he added. “Antisemitism is on such a rise. Jewish kids were getting beaten up in my neighborhood. This is looking like the old times, it’s not good at all.”
“We have to educate people about what hate can lead to,” Bernard said. “The younger generation doesn’t even know what the Nazis did, comparing everything to the Nazis and the Holocaust, and they don’t seem to understand it.”
Holocaust remembrance organizations are now more open to the idea than they were a decade ago, according to Bernard.
“They do accept it and think it’s a good idea, and they hope it will be done right,” he said.
The plot of the game is based on the story of a fictional family of Polish Jews — Moses, Bluma, and their son Samuel — who moved to France before World War II seeking a better life.
Players will experience events from before the Nazi occupation of France up to the infamous July 1942 Vel D’Hiv Roundup — the mass arrest of Jews in Paris and their subsequent deportation to concentration and extermination camps.
Bernard consulted with multiple Holocaust survivors, historians, and educators to ensure the accuracy of the game’s details.
“When we’re making a plot like this, we can’t have any errors,” Bernard said. “We double and triple checked facts. Every single thing that happens in the game is based on the truth, from different accounts we put to together to make it appealing and tell the story we wanted to tell.”
“Not to reveal a spoiler, but the characters will die,” Bernard continued. “We’re not making a Hollywood story with a happy ending, we’re going to show the truth.”
Bernard’s said his goal was to “get people attached to the characters so they want to see what happens to them.”
“I want people when they play this to actually feel emotional,” he added. “Stories have always been what help people empathize with others.”
The game will also have an education mode, featuring historical materials — such as photos, documents, and survivor testimonies.
Bernard hopes the game will expose a young mass audience to the Holocaust and spark interest in learning more on their own about the historical facts of the genocide.
“This will break barriers and open up the door for Holocaust education for everyone,” he said.
Bernard anticipates at least three million users in the first year after the game is released.
“If we manage to have a conversation with young people about the Holocaust again, and if we manage to appeal to the whole digital generation and have them learn about it in a way that doesn’t feel forced, this will have been a success,” he said.