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Hanukkah Special — Day One | Intel

Usually, everything starts with a game idea. From there, you can proceed, step for step, maybe along the Ludotronics paradigm, until you have a pitchable concept—no matter whether it’s a publisher pitch, an in-house pitch, or a war cry to assemble a crackerjack team for your indie title. Now what if someone—a customer, a publisher—approaches you not with an idea, but with a topic?

Along the eight days of Hanukkah, of which today is the first, let’s sketch a game concept about Hanukkah as an exercise.

Surely, “Hanukkah” isn’t a game idea, it’s a topic. And to develop a game idea, the first thing we have to do is research, or intel. Primarily not to get things right, though that’s also an important point. Rather, to gather all available angles and aspects to develop ideas for the most interesting and most enjoyable game that can be created. So that’s the task for today, gathering intel. Let’s begin with a question.

Was the Miracle of the Lights a miracle?

No.

As Carl Sagan put it, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” and there is no historical evidence whatsoever of the miracle part.

There is, of course, evidence of the Maccabean revolt against the Hellenistic rule of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes; how the Maccabean troops took control of Jerusalem and the Second Temple; and the temple’s subsequent purification and rededication. All this is supposed to have happened around 164 BCE.

General historical evidence for the revolt as such is offered by the usual suspects, i.e., Flavius Josephus (who doesn’t usually excel in reliability) and Livy (much better). Sadly, Appian of Alexandria (often underrated) has nothing of note to say on this topic.

Next, there are the books 1 Maccabees, which only survives in Greek translations, and 2 Maccabees, originally written in Greek, from about 130 BCE and 125 BCE, respectively. (Both of which can be found in some versions of the Christian Bible, but are not part of the Jewish Tanakh, mind.) They go into a lot of detail with regard to the revolt, and 1 Maccabees describes how the temple was cleansed and new holy vessels put on a new altar, how the fire and the lamps were lit, and how the rededication of the temple then was celebrated for eight days. At least, now, we have someone who celebrated something!

Then, there’s some Rabbinic evidence of that festival, but it’s sketchy, to say the least. The original Aramaic text from the Megillat Ta’anit, first century CE, mentions Hanukkah as a festival that is eight days long and that’s it. Equally, mentions of Hanukkah from the late second century CE in the Mishna don’t cough up any details either.

Finally, the very first mention of the “light miracle” can be found in the Babylonian Talmud’s Gemara part, dating to around 500 CE, a whopping 660 years after the event it purportedly describes. Here, at last, we find our familiar story: how the Maccabees took control of the temple, how there was just enough consecrated oil left to keep the temple’s menorah lit for one day, and how that fire miraculously burned for the full eight days it took to press and consecrate a fresh batch of oil.

What do we make of this, conceptually? We can’t know yet, but we can be pretty sure that we should not aim at a (pseudo-)historical game about the Maccabees who, say, heroically defeat the Seleucids and are rewarded with a miracle or some such. Besides the event’s general historical sketchiness, there’s some evidence that the Maccabees instituted their own reign of terror afterwards, particularly against hellenized Jews, with a Punisher-sized bodycount.

Under this circumstances, we should eliminate both a (pseudo-)historical fantasy hack-’n’-slash fest and a historically inspired strategy game, as these would probably become largely generic instead of tightly linked to the Festival of Lights.

For the next step, tomorrow on the second day of Hanukkah, we will try and dig into the meaning of Hanukkah, as it has developed over the centuries, from the Talmudic period until today, and see if it can inspire a potential theme and a core playing experience in one of the four dimensions Game Mechanics, Ludology, Narratology, or Cinematology.

See you tomorrow. Happy Hanukkah!

→ Day Two

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