The developers of Sonderkommando Revolt, the video game set amidst a violent prisoner uprising in a Nazi concentration camp, reads like exploitative revenge fantasy. But its creator says the team behind the first-person shooter makes no political statement and has no agenda. It's "blast the Nazis fun," its maker says.
Sonderkommando Revolt project lead Maxim "Doomjedi" Genis says his team of artists, coders and writers is simply trying to make an action game only for the challenge, for the fun, to entertain a singularly focused community of homebrew game creators—even if others think its content should never be in a video game.
Genis and the rest of Team Raycast are "Wolf3D" modders, changing the graphics and scenarios of first-person shooter Wolfenstein 3D into an experience that's sometimes wholly different. Sonderkommando Revolt flips the real-world event its based upon, turning a Jewish prisoner into an unstoppable SS-killing machine.
"We didn't discuss among the team any other subjects and never brought our personal views into this mod," Genis tells Kotaku. "There was no need for it, as the mod was a plain 'blast the Nazis' fun, like so many other commercial games and mods. We all just made 'another [Wolfenstein 3D] mod', nothing more."
Genis says setting the game in the concentration camp Auschwitz was "an interesting creative challenge to partly recreate a world that was very different than our everyday life, [different] than anything we know." As "Doomjedi," he has been involved in other Wolfenstein 3D mods, including the more tame Femstein, the story of Russian secret agent Max Titov and his battle against an army of Amazonian women who take over the earth.
"[The] modding community in general has no political or other agendas, and those who know modding community well as I do, know that we make those mods first for the fun and creativity of making it," Genis says. "All the respectful modders I know would make mods even if no one would ever see or play them, as modding is a philosophy, is a way of life — life of creation, challenge, imagination."
Genis himself is a Ukrainian-born Jew living in Israel. He stresses that the rest of Team Raycast is comprised of "different people from different countries, ages and traditions whose only common ground is the love for Wolf3D modding."
"Team member's political, religious and other views, views of Holocaust," Genis says was "never discussed or leaked into the mod itself. We just didn't care about it, it's not part of Wolf3D modding."
The sensitive nature of Sonderkommando Revolt's setting has resulted in mixed reaction outside of Wolfenstein modding circles. Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a museum focusing on the Holocaust, worries that games like Sonderkommando Revolt can be harmful to people's understanding of history.
"What happens if this is the only thing a young person gets to know about the holocaust or a concentration camp?" he told Kotaku.
"When you speak to survivors of the Holocaust, you quickly learn they have difficulty transmitting the horrors that they went through," Rabbi Cooper said when asked for comment about the game. "I don't think even the best combination of game developers would ever be successful [at doing so]. This is not an issue that should be reduced to a game."
Genis believes reception to the game was "totally blown out of proportion" and that Sonderkommando Revolt was—despite its historical setting—never designed to "teach anyone [anything] regarding the real camp or the real events."
"We have many other resources to do that," he says.
"The mod, though based on some real events as an inspiration, has a plot of its own and shouldn't be linked to any particular real set of events or particular persons," Genis believes, in spite of Sonderkommando Revolt's clear ties to history. "I have nothing in this mod to show disrespect to my people and their suffering at the time. I didn't want to offend anyone in this mod. I'm not only a Jew myself, [and] not only believe I was a Jew in the Holocaust, but I'm also a spiritual person."
Genis wrote via e-mail that he was partly inspired to create Sonderkommando Revolt based on his spiritual convictions. The game maker believes that, in a previous incarnation of his life, he was imprisoned as a Jew by the Nazis, served as a Sonderkommando in a concentration camp and died before the events of 1944 that prompted the creation of the mod.
The project leader stresses that his personal religious beliefs are not shared by his team. He writes that he doesn't want the mod to be "provocative in that area either."
Genis says his only intention was to create a fun Wolfenstein 3D mod, to "change the outcome to [a] more optimistic one to the character I was there, not to court controversy.
"I'm going to give the person who made it the best intentions," Rabbi Cooper added, after learning of Genis' goals. "Let's respect what he's saying and what his motivations are, but I believe it's simply a topic that doesn't really belong in a game."
Regardless of the online reaction to Sonderkommando Revolt, the game will be released on January 1, 2011, according to its creators.