Creator explains thinking behind controversial Lidice web "game"

06-09-2006

A new internet "game" called Total Burn-out of Lidice has been making a lot of headlines in recent days. The title refers to the 1942 razing of the Czech village of Lidice and the massacre of its inhabitants, one of the worst single atrocities of World War II. Visitors to the site are given the mission of burning the village down, with 10 points for killing a Czech, or 50 if they are trying to escape. It seems to be in shocking bad taste, but it actually has a serious purpose - attempt to start and you are asked "What are you playing at?! This is not a game but reality". This is followed by a link to the Lidice Memorial website. Its creator is Jan Binar, the head of the Czech branch of advertising agency McCann Erickson. I asked him what he was trying to achieve.

"The idea was - we were shocked that a lot of teenagers and young people don't know Lidice at all. They spend a lot of time in front of the computer, so what we wanted to do was use their world of computer games where everything is possible and shock them, and intrigue them to go and see Lidice, a place where real horror happened."

What reason do you have for thinking that young people today don't know about the massacre?

"There is a lot of research available that shows that anything that is older than ten years is an unknown entity to a gross proportion of teenagers."

And do you think they really need to be shocked into thinking about history and events like the massacre of Lidice?

"No, I think if the media in general and the education community would themselves focus on places like Lidice or Terezin, or any other places reminding us of history, we wouldn't need to shock anyone. It is only when you create and provoke a discussion on the subject that discussion in fact takes place."

There has been some negative reaction. I know one survivor of the 1942 massacre of Lidice, the local mayor Vaclav Zelenka, described it as "perverse". What's your reaction to what he says?

"I do apologise if we hurt any feelings - that wasn't the intention. The intention was to invite teenagers, talk to them in their language, and provoke them into knowing at least what Lidice is, perhaps grabbing a book, reading a bit about history. Because, as we all know, if people forget about history it can repeat itself."

Otherwise what has been the general reaction to the game?

"I think the general reaction from the community that I am in is one of surprise and...liking. Because people understand that the point comes across very clearly when you see the click-rate going from zero to...I think 12,000 was the last count. In two days this is a lot of visitors for one web page and this is a lot of publicity for Lidice and for the good things that are happening in Lidice now."

The website Total Burn-out of Lidice leads to the Lidice Memorial site - do you know if their site has had more visitors in recent days?

"I didn't check, but I would presume so."

Did you discuss this issue with them at much length before launching the site? I mean people from Lidice's memorial.

"We shared it even with the people who were creating the multi-media exhibition. Of course they were shocked at first. But then we managed to convince them that this was the most efficient approach, given there is no money for the project and if they want to bring Lidice back into the lives of teenagers in the Czech Republic."

The "game" can be found www.totalburnout.cz

06-09-2006