The serious game TRACING REMEMBRANCE, which was created as part of the three-part project MIRROR // MIRROR at Theater der Jungen Welt, has players work for the imaginary company vibezig and move around Leipzig's urban space – gradually becoming more confronted with places of forced labor. The EVZ Foundation met digital dramaturge Florian Heller and games designer Sebastian Quack for an interview.

Sebastian Quack and Florian Heller, what do gamers experience from TRACING REMEMBRANCE?

SQ: In the game TRACING REMEMBRANCE, you enter into an employment relationship – with the new start-up vibezig. This fictional company has developed a technology with which you can scan the future potential of places – via your mobile phone and on site via your own body. Advertising posters can be found all over the city and you can download the mobile app. Then you start working for vibezig, come into contact with your colleagues gradually and work your way through the company. In the course of work, there are incidents or side effects, which are called glitches in the game and in which information, impressions, or memories – you don't know exactly – from the National Socialist era and especially pertaining to NS forced labor flow into the system. The game is then about how to deal with it: What do you do with this experience? How do you rate it? What does all this mean?

The concept of pervasive gaming blurs the boundaries of past and future, reality, and fiction. Where were your limits – for example in ethical terms – in game development?

FH: Past and present, reality, and fiction – this is what describes it quite precisely. The present can be fiction and narration but we cannot rewrite history – that's a boundary I cannot overstep. We can invent a story about a start-up and characters who interact with us. What we are not going to invent is something that takes place at the time of National Socialism. There we neither add nor do we rewrite anything. We take the documents and transfer them 1:1 into the game as a resource. For me, this was the most decisive ethical boundary. Following the episode of ZDF Magazine Royale about the @ichbinsophiescholl Instagram account, there was a lot of talk. There it was exactly about this point: The whole problem for a historian was that things were added to the account around the historical material. For me, this is an absolute no-go in such a project – plus putting yourself in the place of the person and answering from his or her perspective.

SQ: es, this is particularly relevant in games because they invite you to identify very strongly or to take on a role. They pretend that you are able to change something in the course of action – in other words, in the course of history. This is a form of modulation where there is a risk that events at that time could have had a different outcome. These are fascinating questions for a discussion. But it is a real challenge to make games about it. Due to our younger target group, it was important to us not to make it appear as if it was easy to make such a game. We have looked for areas where it is easy to liberalize, and hope that these types of liberalization will also allow us to think a little more openly about the past – without having to simplify. We wanted to avoid educational oversimplification.

FH: There are 100,000 games in which you can plan an assassination attempt on Hitler and change the course of history. The task we have for this context is simply another one.

You have worked together as a theater, as a memorial site and as a game designer. Was there any friction at these intersections?

FH: There is always friction in such projects. It arises from the structure of theaters and the production process of a theater play, as well as from the requirements of such a project. In this case, things went relatively smoothly. There are other projects where it tends to be necessary to explain and communicate more often what it is that you are doing. This is not something people who work at the theater have necessarily had experience in – and you can't blame anyone for that. They know exactly what happens during a stage production. That's what they're here for, and that's where their Know-how lies. This is why sometimes you have to manage the first experience a bit. In the work between us, it wasn't like that at all. This is also due to the fact that we have not hired an agency that has been exclusively involved in commercial game design for many years. Sebastian is an artist himself and has an extremely artistic view of game mechanics. For me as a dramatic advisor at a theater, he is a person with whom you can work very well, because our vocabulary is remarkably similar.

SQ: We were really lucky to work with the Leipzig Nazi Forced Labour Memorial – that was really very pleasant. There was a great openness to go along with this unconventional approach, and there was no concern that we would trivialize anything. At first, we were more worried about that. Especially Josephine Ulbricht has always looked for the positive here and said: "This is so great for us!" The Memorial has always had enough self-confidence that its own resources allow for serious access, and that finding a more relaxed entry is an asset. This is not necessarily a matter of course. I could have imagined that it would have seemed too pop-cultural or funny for others – the game is also often somewhat amusing. But it is acceptable to laugh in a game like this, isn’t it? It is one of three modules: theater play, game, and performance. 

Are there any connections in terms of content? Do you continue to tell each other stories, or do all the modules represent separate elements

FH: There is a clear connection between the second, our game, and the third part, which is currently being developed at full speed – the performance THE FUTURE IS YOURS. Both parts negotiate topics based on the phenomenon of NS forced labor. We already covered the greater ground in May with the first project ON THE OTHER SIDE. The context is more of a formal one because it is also a playful setup. It is a theatrical simulation game in a hall, but in this case, it deals with an extremely digital topic: radicalization on the Internet. For us, of course, there is a clear link between remembrance and responsibility, on the one hand, and the anti-democratic tendencies we are facing today, on the other. Here, these parts connect, whereas the second and third parts are closer to each other in terms of content. There, however, the form is completely different: the project is participatory, is thus developed with a group of lay actors, and is less a real theater play than a kind of performative installation.

An interview of the EVZ Foundation with:

Florian Heller:  Digital Dramatic Advisor, Theater der jungen Welt
Sebastian Quack: Artist, Game Designer and Curator

The Game

Finding ideal places to work and live in the future via telepathic vibe scan – that's the concept of the new Leipzig-based startup vibezig. But how to deal with memories that appear in places previously thought to be historically unencumbered?

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The Magazine

The Lost History magazine on the MIRROR // MIRROR project deals with the extent and traces of Nazi forced labor in Leipzig – with impulses for new forms of remembrance.

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The Project

In a time when it remains crucial to take a clear stand against oblivion and relativization, the Theater der Jungen Welt Leipzig (TDJW) is developing the three-part project MIRROR // MIRROR over the course of one year.

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