Disaster as entertainment – and what’s wrong with that?

There’s a new game coming out called Titanic: Honor & Glory, and it’s basically a real-time simulation of the sinking of the Titanic. You’re walking around the ship for two and a half hours as the water steadily rises, and your goal is to — well, do something. Get off the friggin’ boat. Or sink. Whatever.

Point is, it puts you in the situation. And it’s a pretty damn ambitious project, but one that actually sounds like a cool idea.

Okay, I know what someone’s going to say: “There’s nothing ‘cool’ about tragedy. I mean, what’s next? A game that lets you experience the tsunami and impending nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011? A game that lets you run around the World Trade Center in September, 2001, before and after the planes hit? A game that lets you be an astronaut aboard the Challenger shuttle in 1986 before it exploded?”

Yes. All of those things. They are tragic, yes, but they’re also important historical events.

If you want to get people interested in history, you have to do more than tell history. You have to show history. You have to let people experience history, if only vicariously through movies, books, and, yes, games.

Guess you won't be needing this first class swimming pool soon.
Guess you won’t be needing this first class swimming pool soon.

Let’s get over ourselves here. Just because it’s a game does not mean it’s a children’s toy. Games are perfectly viable mediums for teaching history by letting you experience what it was like.

The days of “edutainment” are a dead fish, anyway. As any teacher of any subject knows, the best way to get anyone interested in something is to make it fun!

I’m not saying being aboard a sinking ship while thousands die around you is “fun” — but it certainly makes the experience more tangible. And it’s a simulation, for crying out loud. You can have fun with a simulation.

You don’t see anyone going apeshit when you blow up a rocket or the entire launchpad in Kerbal Space Program, or when you blow up a million stars and send the known galaxy spiralling into a black hole in Universe Sandbox. Sure, these are not historical events, but they are just as tragic if you want to look at ’em that way.

Depicted: tragedy.
Depicted: tragedy.

Likewise, you don’t see anyone losing their minds over movies like Schindler’s List or Selma for being fictional depictions of real-life events.

So I applaud the makes of Titanic: Honor & Glory for their efforts. It is a cool idea, and I hope to see more of the sort in the future. I’ve always wanted to surf down a two hundred foot tidal wave on the bloated corpses of my loved ones.

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