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About the Story
The Game Formerly Known as Hidden Nazi Mode was, in fact, formerly known as Hidden Nazi Mode. As such it was a failed experiment, detailed in the accompanying essay. In this release the Nazi mode has been removed, and what remains is, as the subtitle says, "a cute game for unattended young children". It involves bunnies and lots of hints.
Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: September 11, 2010
Current Version: 1
Development System: Inform 7
Forgiveness Rating: Merciful
Translated to German in Das Spiel, zuvor bekannt als Verborgener Nazi-Modus, by Victor Gijsbers
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Number of Reviews: 6
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Sometimes Victor Gijsbers gives you everything you need to understand one of his works within the context of the work itself (The Baron, Fate) and sometimes you can't get the full picture without external information (Vampires). So when Victor releases a game on September 11th called The Game Formerly Known as Hidden Nazi Mode, and it contains both source code and an accompanying essay explaining his original goals, I find it hard to believe that this is merely the well-packaged remnants of a failed experiment.
So once we get past the cute cover-art bunny that has a vague resemblance to a certain WW II leader, what do we have? Emily Short has already analyzed the apparent argument posed by the game as released: if TGFKAHNM has truly had its hidden Nazi mode stripped out, how would we really know? Sure, we can inspect the source he provided -- even build it ourselves -- but since a compiled version was included, how can we know that version was built from the source that's in front of us? Could I7 source be obfuscated sufficiently to hide this material in plain sight, even with access to the source? Probably. In fact, it would be theoretically possible for an IF compiler to include a "Hidden Nazi Mode" that injected objectionable material into otherwise unobjectionable source text.
This line of argument risks being taken to sophomoric extremes, however. Emily correctly boils this down to an issue of trust; at some point you have to trust your toolchain, or trust the author(s) of the games you choose to play. Or not. Either way, you make a decision to play or not, and that decision may or may not turn out to have been wise.
But let's go beyond the surface argument. Victor didn't have to release this game with the title he did, nor with the essay that spelled out what was originally in the game. He particularly didn't have to do so and also release a precompiled version of the game.
What if Victor had simply released the source code to a game called Fluffy Bunny Friends, saying only that it was, perhaps, a mildly interesting experiment with integrated personalization and tutorials? But for the highly suspicious circumstance that it would be Victor Gijsbers releasing a game called Fluffy Bunny Friends, would anyone have spent time scouring the game for hidden anti-Semitic content? Had he also provided a compiled version, would anyone have seriously entertained the notion that the compiled version of Fluffy Bunny Friends might not correlate precisely to the provided source? I don't think so. In my opinion, it's fair to say that his intentional choice of title, intentional inclusion of the backstory essay, intentional inclusion of a compiled version of the program, and the possibly intentional choice of September 11 as the publication date all add up to a package deliberately semiotically charged with threat.
And indeed, when you are thus sensitized, there are certainly plenty of unsettling things to find. The prominent challah bread and other traditional Jewish food that is described as "not being appealing to you". The bookcase, filled with books by Jewish authors. Ignoring all the external, non-game context, these are arguably neutral references; it's certainly not inherently wrong to set a rabbit hunt game in a Jewish neighborhood, and not everyone likes rice pudding. But you as a human player can't actually ignore everything outside of the game, and so instead these same details of setting and description take on a darker character in the light of what you bring into the game. Even the personal references by the narrator seem somehow oppressive, and the mere act of searching for and feeding cute little bunnies takes on sinister overtones.
TGFKAHNM is amusingly subtitled as a "game for unattended children". Let's assume that there is no actual programmed hidden Nazi mode -- that Victor played fair with us. You could put this game down in front of a child who didn't know what the word "Nazi" meant, and they would have an enjoyable few minutes searching for bunnies and feeding them carrots, and never connect that experience with anything beyond that. Those of us who do understand the references and symbology Victor uses, though, can't help but become sensitized, and subsequently perceive the exact same game in the light of that sensitization -- literally, we have pre-judged it, and that prejudice colors our perceptions. And in that respect, the hidden Nazi mode is real after all, but it's inside our own heads.
The game here is a cutesy piece about finding rabbits and feeding them carrots. It takes maybe five minutes to play. Probably the most interesting thing about it is the way it has tutorial commentary folded in with the gameplay, an approach that might work for other larger and more serious games (especially if the tutorial comments could be turned off).
As the title suggests, there was originally going to be a hidden mode in the game that would spew nastiness of some sort. Instead the game now comes with an essay about why open source is important for games that are going to be assigned for classroom use, so that teachers can be sure they're not giving their students something that might be triggered into showing inappropriate content.
I can see the concern, but am not completely convinced that this is practical. Unless the teacher is not only going to read and understand the source but recompile the game himself, he can't be absolutely certain that the compiled version he's given was actually generated by the same source code.
(For that matter, I find myself wondering whether this is an elaborate double-bluff on Victor's part and there *is* a further hidden mode to the game, and the included source code is truncated from what he actually compiled. If so, I didn't find it.)
So some amount of trust is probably required somewhere along the line, either in the author himself or in the community that has provided feedback about the game file.
During a random spelunk through the IFDB one might, maybe, be intrigued by a work titled "The Game Formerly Known as Hidden Nazi Mode." One might, even without the benefit of a review, download said work based on the odd mouthful of a title. However, that is not how anyone is likely to find this one, given that the author is Victor Gijsbers, a fellow who has posted ninety reviews to IFDB. Said reviews are typically thoughtful and, at least, in my imagination, suggest that he is observant, insightful, and serious about IF as both entertainment and art. Mr. Gijsbers is also the author of nine works published on IFDB, works that are, in-turn, described as "provocative," "challenging," etc.
My reason for the wind-up, here, is that the body of Mr. Gijsbers commentary and published IF, and our awareness of it, is one of the many things that the player will inevitably bring to what would be, without context, a rather ridiculous and lightly implemented bit of fluff. "The Game Formerly Known as Hidden Nazi Mode," and the experience of playing it, is entirely dependent upon this context. Said context includes the title, our understanding of the author, our knowledge of history, and, most important, the brief essay that accompanies the game. In fact, the essay, which is not interactive at all, is the main thing at work here. The document is a sort of shaggy-dog story about a hidden "feature" that has since been removed from the game. Since, if we believe the essay, the "feature" (the titular "Nazi Mode") was the purpose and throbbing heart of the work, the player is confronted with a piece of software which is now "heartless"--to play it is to be aware at all times of what is not there. The setting becomes a place where people once, we are told, played at being Nazis (in secret, no less!)--an unsettling proposition even if "the game did automatically stop itself before the worst happened."
The "game," such as it is, contains (retains?) tiny details that would not even be worth note, as another reviewer suggests, without the established context. However, the strangely underpopulated locales, the search for "scared, hungry" creatures, the secret room, the once-banned German composers, Jewish Authors, the identified foods, and the secret room all gently suggest to the player that something is going on here, or that it has already happened. Examining an alley, for instance, affords the response: "Who knows what you might find in there?"
Who knows, indeed.
I have given this piece four stars based upon the strength of the concept, and for affording an arresting illustration of the fact that we often bring more to art than the art itself has within it. Matt Wigdahl's review is on point, and identifies the central issues quite effectively.
Mr. Gijsbers suggested in a review of a game regarding Tarot that the practice, while not magical at all, affords the participant an opportunity for deep introspection, as inspired by archetypal or universal symbolism. I find myself doing the same thing here, with bunnies.
The essay itself could benefit from some tightening up here and there, but that does little to diminish what is ultimately a terribly clever statement about the relationship between a work of art and its audience. Some tweaks would easily put "...Formerly..." in five-star territory for me.
Sure, this piece might come off as a stunt, but it's a thought-provoking one that hints at something true about IF and art generally. In my case, reading the reviews of the game took more time than playing it.
Perhaps it is not recommended for, as the author puts it, "seasoned adventurers," but "The Game Formerly Known as Hidden Nazi Mode" is easily worth a half hour for any serious reader of IF. Strong post-IF IF.
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