Video game

Inside the Video Game Asking You to “Cure Hitler” – The Forward


In a nicely furnished psychologist’s office, under a picture window offering a view over the city skyline, a reclining figure, looking at a majestic portrait of Freud, talks about his loving mother and his abusive father. The patient, a man in his mid-thirties, is a veteran and amateur artist with a criminal record; he is prone to paranoid tangents and is sometimes elusive. He wears ankle boots and an iron cross.

It’s 1925, and the man is Adolf Hitler. In less than a decade, he will take control of Germany and begin implementing a genocidal program against, among others, the nation’s Jews.

Unless you can cure it.

So goes the premise of “Heal Hitler”, a video game released on the Steam PC market on July 22. In this game, players act as a psychologist probing Hitler’s past traumas in an effort to heal him from his delusions and prevent his rise to the rank of Chancellor. and the establishment of the Third Reich.

While the premise sounds sensational, it is actually a historically grounded case study in which little other than the Nazi leader seeking help premise is invented. And it is, in fact, not a bad entry point to understand what motivated Hitler. Its creator, a 27-year-old Czech game developer who released it under the pseudonym Jon Aegis, says he lost his family to Hitler’s wars. He did not come to imagine advising Hitler as a fan of his work.

Instead, Aegis said he was simply a game developer with an interest in psychology – specifically the work of Carl Jung. Reading Jung’s work, including his thoughts on Hitler’s pathology, he began to play around with the idea of ​​a psychology simulator franchise. He thought it would be good to start with an interesting person to analyze, and already knowing something of Jung’s Hitler profile, the idea fell into place.

“Finding out more about Hitler was a very difficult thing,” wrote Aegis, who declined to provide his real name, by email. In creating the game, he studied Hitler’s analysis by social psychologist Erich Fromm, “The Spirit of Adolf Hitler” by Walter Langer, a DSM-IV Assessment of the Dictator, and “1924: The Year That A made Hitler “by Peter Ross Range.

“At this point, I’m repelled by him and I don’t really want to find out more information about him,” Aegis said. “I had enough.”

But despite his clear disgust – and the lucid in-game accusation of Hitler’s anti-Semitism – Aegis was inundated with online abuse when he began marketing the game on Reddit.

“I had anticipated some controversy,” Aegis said. “But what happened on Reddit, I’ve never experienced in my life.”

Aegis has received what he believes are hundreds of personal attacks calling him a Nazi apologist, anti-Semite and “racial realist,” a term he had never heard before.

Aegis understands that the name he has given his game can seem creepy. But he is frustrated by the critics who, he said, “read the name ‘Heal Hitler’ and assumed I wanted to heal Hitler to enable him to be more effective in suffering.

After playing the game, I can confirm that this is by no means the point. The game treats Hitler as a human being whose problems can be reduced to the usual mundane baggage that comes from having parents, family tragedy, and a dotted creative dream. It seems taboo to suggest that Hitler could have been cured – that to avoid the horrors of the Final Solution, all he had to do was spend time on the analyst’s couch. But it helps to recognize that Hitler, although capable of monstrosities few in history matched, was not just a monster.

“Hitler was human,” Aegis said. “And he was a pretty boring and weak human. This is exactly what I mean – a guy like this could exist even today and people who are not really used to facing their own evil would have no way of detecting it in others.

As an anonymous analyst, you can make a limited number of choices about how to run the session, and you can gauge your success in the form of newspaper headlines. If you are successful in convincing Hitler to consider the source of his anger – the reason he came to see you, after his colleagues noted his lopsided speech in a public speech – the headlines report that he quit the Nazi Party. , abandoned the publication of “Mein Kampf” or, if you win the game, quit politics.

The attraction of attempting to diagnose one of the world’s greatest tyrants is by no means new. What is new here is the presentation. There is an understandably reflective unease that comes with gamifying the subject matter, although “Heal Hitler” is far from the first game to address this possibility. Considering the stakes – the deaths of millions are at stake – a simple “game over” notice or a headline letting you know Hitler formed the SS can be frightening.

Subtle changes in the questions and the sequence can change the outcome, which is one of the main failures of the game. It does not always make sense for a certain choice to give a positive or negative result. A question about why Hitler dates very young girls, rather than a question about a Jewish gallery owner who doesn’t like his work, can make the difference between publishing or putting “Mein Kampf” on the shelves. I asked Aegis what tactic might change the ending, and he replied that in the end there weren’t a lot of options available to the player, and the method just follows what therapy looked like in the end. period, with a Freudian vision of Hitler’s relationship to his parents. Hitler’s worldview and feeling as the savior of Germany and other tenets of his manifesto are also explained in his own words in the game.

I think the discomfort with the game comes down to a story change that comes a bit too close to denial, in a way that violent video games where players kill Hitler in a hail of bullets or thought experiments on the end of his life as an infant doesn’t. The act of psychoanalysis has the intrinsic precondition of seeing another person like that – a person, and a person who can change for the better. For someone like Hitler, steeped in not only psychological damage but a centuries-old background of fanaticism, one hour a week would probably never be enough. So, receiving it in human terms may still be controversial.

“People think I’m trying to humanize Hitler and make them sympathize with him,” Aegis said. That’s not entirely true, he argues, but he says understanding Hitler’s darkness is imperative to understanding how tyrants take power – appealing to our darkness as well. “A lot of people were deceived by Hitler. And I think it is still possible today.