Future headsThrough the Darkest of Times © Paintbucket GamesThrough the Darkest of Times © Paintbucket Games

These Gamers play with history

Not many knew about the indie studio Paintbucket Games in Berlin by summer 2018. But then they developed the game ‘Through the Darkest of Times’ that shook up the German public. The reason for this was that so far computer games containing swastikas and Nazi salutes were prohibited.

The game by Paintbucket Games does not only show these symbols but the game is also released for twelve years and up. The USK [entertainment software self-control] reasoning quotes a paragraph that applies the social adequacy in future also to computer games. Referring to this clause means that the interdiction does not apply to a certain use of characteristics in the sections of science and teaching, art, or civic information. Equally, it is not punishable to use characteristics that show quite distinctly the rejection of Nazi-ideology.

“During talks within the scope of the GAMESCOM we have often discussed at what age National Socialism or the Holocaust can be made a subject and also in what shape or form. Would this work within the scope of a game? We think: Yes! and we are happy to have kick-started a discussion here“, says Sebastian Schulz, developer at Paintbucket Games.

Politicians‘ Outcry

Once the game was approved by the USK, and despite all prerequisites, the studio became all of a sudden the centre of an immense echo from the media which went from a distinct approval to a public outcry. Paintbucket Games repeatedly referred to the informative character of the game and the gamer community highly approved of it. The proponents said that many young people would not watch films or read books and that this game may really be the only way to reach this target group. During the Deutscher Entwicklerpreis 2018 the Berlin studio was awarded ‘Best Studio‘ - despite strong protest from politicians and the Israeli ambassador. “With their game the studio did not only demonstrate how responsible, critical and meaningful games can be that deal with the time of National Socialism. The developers chose a courageous way with their project“, according to the reasoning of the jury.

History from the view of ordinary Berlin citizens

An opinion also shared by the Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg that supported the project of Paintbucket Games right from the start. “Through the Darkest of Times“ does not only provide a valuable source of information all around this darkest chapter of German history, but above all the game has very little to do with the general understanding of such games as perceived by the general public. There is no shooting and no violence. The makers of Paintbucket Games have tried to reflect the mood of the people at the time using game characters. In this connection the player does not choose between bad and trigger-happy Nazis but can slip into the role of ordinary Berlin citizens such as taxi drivers, civil servants or politicians. “One plays a group of civilian resistance fighters during the years of 1933 and 1945 who try to oppose the NS-system with their means“, explains Schulz.

Games are like films and books

The developers knew, of course, that “Through the Darkest of Times“ would provoke although they did not expect such a big fuss. By launching the game, they are also following a personal objective: “I want the games to be treated just like any other medium”, says co-developer Jörg Friedrich to the online magazine golem.de. After all, showing Nazi symbols was allowed in the ‘Babylon Berlin’ series or the Hollywood film ‘Inglorious Bastards’. According to Sebastian Schultz games are eligible to the same treatment as films or books and is of the same opinion as his studio partner: “Jörg and I are game developers and politically responsible people at the same time and as “Paintbucket Games” we want to use the medium that we master completely to develop valuable and intelligent games that are exciting and entertaining, but have a deeper sense at the same time.

With the first game that received approval by the USK according to the new regulations on unconstitutional symbols, the Berlin studio makes way for future games in Germany – a medium that can deal with German history socially responsible without having to neglect the artistic touch. However, before Paintbucket Games tackles the next project, their attention is on the here and now: “We have by now grown into a proper small company with two wonderful employees and intend to work in Kreuzberg permanently and create good games! Therefore new ideas are taking shape in our heads already, but currently ‘TtDoT‘ requires our complete and utter attention.“