On 19 October MEMENTOES hosted a workshop at the Central and Eastern European Game Studies (CEEGS) conference, titled “Video games, history, and museums: Challenges and opportunities for collaborative development.” The workshop provided an opportunity to present MEMENTOES to a professional audience of game developers and games studies scholars and collect feedback on partners’ work so far. The workshop focused on ethics, particularly related to the use of real-life traumatic events in games, and audience members and panellists generated valuable, interdisciplinary insights that will contribute to the project work going forward.
The event was attended by partners from the War Childhood Museum (WCM), Charles Games (CG), Trilateral Research, and FORTH. Below is a summary of the presentations and panels.
After an introduction to the workshop by Fernanda Flores from the War Childhood Museum, Lukaš Kolek from Charles Games presented an overview and work-in-progress images from Toys, the MEMENTOES game developed by CG and WCM based on the experiences of children growing up during wartime. He provided a detailed explanation of the co-creation process between CG and WCM, which involved both partners studying each other’s work, the identification of examples which could inspire their collaborative work, and frequent brainstorming sessions focused on building museums’ trust in game developers’ ability to handle difficult subject matter. This point led to a discussion about an important theme in the MEMENTOES project: demonstrating that video games are an appropriate medium to depict and educate users on complex, traumatic historical events.
Next up was a panel moderated by Amelia Williams from Trilateral Research, which focused on the ethics of using real peoples’ stories to make video games. The panelists were Lukaš (CG), Fernanda (WCM), and Kostas Apostolakis (FORTH). The panel answered questions such as:
- How should we approach the depiction of traumatic or violent events in games?
- How should we balance the need to protect survivors of an event by portraying things sensitively vs the need to inform and emotionally engage audiences with no connection to an event?
- What measures should be taken to avoid the retraumatisation of communities?
These are difficult questions with multiple answers; as audience members pointed out, journalists, filmmakers, and game developers have successfully taken different approaches to portraying violence and telling true stories. Overall, the group supported indirect portrayals of violence only, and agreed that the degree to which traumatic events are discussed depends on the age of the target audience. Panellists also emphasised the importance of working closely with historians and survivor communities, and the value of workshops like this one as opportunities to collect interdisciplinary approaches to these ethical quandaries.
Finally, the workshop concluded with a panel discussion about the ethics of marketing and commercialising games based on sensitive topics. Lukaš from CG moderated, and panelists included Amelia (Trilateral Research), Kostas (FORTH), Fernanda (WCM), and Ondřej Trhoň (CG). The panel debated questions such as:
- What measures can be implemented to ensure the marketing of games based on serious issues maintains respect and authenticity for the individual communities involved?
- What are the ethical risks associated with marketing games based on serious topics?
- What are the ethical dilemmas surrounding profiting from narratives that involve trauma or deeply personal experiences?
The panellists agreed that marketing games with such serious subject matter requires a tactful approach. Common marketing tactics relying on social media often trade in brief, lighthearted content which doesn’t suit nuanced and sensitive subject matter, and could undermine the ethical considerations made throughout the project. Panellists suggested approaches such as using social media to offer behind-the-scenes looks at the development process and marketing campaigns focused on the potential outcomes of games, such as education. When it comes to commercialising games based on traumatic experiences, the group discussed potential models that involve commitments to donate a percentage of profits to charities. Like the first panel, these questions are difficult to resolve in a single, neat answer, and MEMENTOES partners will continue considering different approaches to marketing and commercialising the project games throughout the project.
The MEMENTOES workshop at this year’s CEEGS conference generated valuable insights and feedback that will support the project work to come, and partners are committed to participating in similar events in the future. Follow the project social media pages and sign up for the newsletter to stay up-to-date and learn more
Written by Amelia Williams, Trilateral Research
Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the Research Executive Agency. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.