I've found myself thinking about games set in World War Two recently, due to some recent reading and my general gaming ADD. I think I've got the seed for a fun game; I hope to talk more about that in the future. For now, though, I want to publicly poke at some personal feelings, bordering on an ethical problem, that arose as I brainstormed about the game.
Simply put: when is a game disrespectful to those who actually did or lived through the things one is playing at?
In the WW2 game I'm considering, I had imagined a scenario where the PC's would be able to help a family of Jews escape the Nazi occupation of Paris. As a scenario, it could be quite good -- lots of tension, covert operations, fast-talking, connecting with the Resistance, eluding and laying the Allied smack down on Nazis. I had all sorts of avenues planned in my head. But then I had a thought: what if the PC's fail? Well, we all know what happens if they fail -- the Jews get sent to Dachau or somewhere equally horrible. That doesn't make for a fun game. Then I had another thought -- what would a Holocaust survivor think of a bunch of people sitting around a table, playing a game that, at some level, tried to simulate aspects of one of the greatest tragedies of human history? Sure, the gamers are all playing on the right side, but the mere aspect of making it a game seems disrespectful somehow. The more I thought about it, I could imagine the same reaction from a combat veteran of D-Day, or the Tet Offensive, or any sort of actual conflict where real people, people who could easily be sitting at the table with us, died.
Some of this is historical distance, at least for me. I don't get the same ethical willies if I think about, say, medieval games or even games set prior to the 20th Century. But when I start to think about effectively pretending to be fighting in wars my grandparents and uncles fought in it feels different.
My solution for the WW2 game is to make it more supernatural -- Nazi's with magic (a la Hellboy), which distances it from real life. But I am wondering if anyone else has felt this to be an issue? Or, is it (once again) me making a problem out of something that's supposed to be simple and fun?