Let’s start unpacking this.
"I don’t understand how people could be offended by Luftrauser’s graphic style."
The first step is realizing you might not understand someone else’s position but can respect them for having it. That’s basic empathy. You don’t have to agree with them, but given your life experiences are different from this other person, it’s possible to, at least, realize they have a reason for it.
Now, let’s look at what Elizabeth Simins (a terrific artist whose work you might be familiar with on Kotaku) and Rob Dubbin (a writer on The Colbert Report) originally said. From what I understand, Simins started publicly talking about this issue, and Dubbin later came to her defense.
Simins does not ask for developer Vlambeer to change the way Luftrausers looks, but simply raises the question about whether its aesthetic could be reasonably seen as leveraging nazi imagery in a way that’s been glossed over because the game is so damn fun to play. (Which it is.) This is what we call criticism, and it’s especially important to be critical of that which we love. That’s often the hardest.
A few hours later, Dubbin weighed in on Twitter, as well.
A-ha. Dubbin underscores the subtext of the aesthetic content in Luftrausers: maybe we’ve become desensitized to nazi imagery as a culture, likely in a way less true in Jewish circles for…obvious reasons. This big picture cultural question isn’t easy to digest but worth asking.
Vlambeer doesn’t have to respond to this. Dubbin and Simins expressed their opinions, and that could have easily been the end of this. But Rami Ismail has proven himself to be an intensely empathetic figure who is OK listening to the opinions of others, even if it’s critical of his own work. It’s not easy to acknowledge criticism, and even harder to grant it any merit.
Yet, Ismail does exactly this in a blog post. There’s far too much to quote, but here’s the part that underscores what I’m talking about:
"We do have to accept that our game could make some people uncomfortable. We’re extremely sad about that, and we sincerely apologise for that discomfort.
The fact is that no interpretation of a game is ‘wrong’. When you create something, you leave certain implications of what you’re making. We can leave our idea of what it is in there, and for us, the game is about superweapons. We think everybody who plays LUFTRAUSERS can feel that.
But even more so in an interactive medium, we do have to accept that no way of reading those implications is ‘false’ – that if someone reads between the lines where we weren’t writing, those voids can be filled by the player, or someone else. If we accept there’s no wrong interpretation of a work, we also have to accept that some of those interpretations could not be along the lines of what we’re trying to create.”
From there, Ismail goes on to explain why he disagrees with Dubbin and Simins, even while acknowledging their opinion is a valid interpretation. That line is so critically important to having a reasonable, nuanced dialogue about difficult subjects, and it’s the part we often miss out on.
It often feels people confuse “criticism” with “censorship” in a way that is never intended when those speaking up are explaining their views.
It is unlikely Luftrausers will undergo any major aesthetic change as a result of what Simins and Dubbin said, but the conclusion of this exchange brings a better understanding of what Vlambeer intended by creating Luftrausers. No one has to agree with either side, but our understanding of Luftrausers’ place in game culture was deepened.
That’s not controversy. That’s criticism, and I wish we had way more of it.