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Boca Raton group producing Holocaust video game

The Holocaust (1934-1945)Political FundraisingGamingFlorida Atlantic UniversityHuman RightsNintendo Company Ltd.

A Boca Raton Holocaust remembrance group is creating a video pinball game to help children learn about the Holocaust.

Electronic games that offer lessons about the Holocaust, the destruction of 6 million Jews in Europe during World War II, have been controversial in recent years. But supporters of Next Generations, an 11-year-old group founded by children and grandchildren of survivors, say there is nothing offensive about their new offering, called Factanium, which will be ready in the coming weeks.

"Every 2-year-old is on an iPad," said Sylvia Kahana, executive vice president. "This is another tool to get middle- and high-school students interested in learning."

The game will resemble an arcade-style pinball machine. Players must hit the pinball to the correct fact on a timeline, beginning with "Adolf Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany" in 1933 and ending with "Hitler commits suicide in his Berlin bunker" in 1945.

Each stage of the game has about six events the player must know in order to proceed to the next year in the timeline.

Some Holocaust education advocates oppose the use of games to teach the lessons of the genocide. Rosanna Gatens, director of the Center for Holocaust and Human Rights Education at Florida Atlantic University, said she sees several problems with Factanium.

"The game's design emphasizes eye-hand coordination rather than learning information," Gatens said. "For social studies and Holocaust educators, dates are not as important as the who, what, why, where and how questions that led to the murder of millions of people ... So I wonder what students learn about the main facts of the Holocaust."

A few previous attempts at Holocaust games by other developers were not well-received. In 2010, an Israeli game developer released "Sonderkommando Revolt," based on the real-life rebellion at the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944. The Anti-Defamation League condemned it, saying: "The Holocaust should be off-limits for video games."

Last year, a British game developer sought funding for "Imagination Is The Only Escape," in which a boy named Samuel uses his creativity to withdraw from the horrors of life in France in 1942. The idea was rejected by Nintendo, and a campaign on the fundraising site Indiegogo ended after he raised only $5,000 toward his $125,000 goal.

Marlon Moser, who is developing Factanium for Next Generations, said he learned from those developers' experiences.

"I had to be very cautious on how to approach the theme," Moser said in an email. "I didn't exploit images of the war or the Holocaust, I used only texts to show the facts and the graphics are more like futuristic science fiction stuff."

Nancy Dershaw, Next Generations' founder and president, said the group plans to sell the game through its web site, NextGenerations.org, and on Amazon.com, possibly packaging it with its oral history DVD project, "Life After the Holocaust," which sells on Amazon for $10.

"This is the start of many new games we'll be producing for Next Generations," Dershaw said. "We are not in it to make money. Our goal is to get exposure for Holocaust education programs."

Lsolomon@tribune.com or 561-243-6536

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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The Holocaust (1934-1945)Political FundraisingGamingFlorida Atlantic UniversityHuman RightsNintendo Company Ltd.
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