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Hanukkah Special — Day Two | Theme & Core Experience

Yesterday, on the first day of Hanukkah, we sounded out the historical context of the Hanukkah story, thereby eliminating a historical combat or strategy game. Now we will turn to the meaning or meanings that Hanukkah has acquired over time, from the Talmud until today, to find our purposeful/educational game’s theme and its core experience in one of the four dimensions, i.e., Game Mechanics, Ludology, Cinematology, or Narratology.

Let’s start with a micro-primer about how modern Judaism evolved, so we can get a better, deeper understanding of Hanukkah. As with most culturally important topics, mistakes will be made without such an understanding.

Now, there is no such thing as a “Judeo-Christian tradition.” That Christians have killed Jews with abandon for almost two millennia should already give you a hint that such a “tradition” is nonsensical to the highest degree. And while that should certainly suffice, it goes even deeper than that.

On the one hand, not only did the earliest Christians establish and evolve their own religious procedures and liturgies to differentiate themselves from the Jews. With the exception of the “Famous Ten Rules,” these early Christians also hurriedly ditched the Jewish mitzvoth, i.e., commandments, like the kosher rules and a few hundred others, to make their new religion more attractive to non-Jews. (Spoiler: it worked.)

On the other hand, after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple, resettlement and migration, Jewish traditions evolved considerably throughout the diaspora. Judaism today isn’t the Judaism from around the time of Caesar Augustus, as Christianity today isn’t the Christianity of the Apostolic Age.

Finally, and here’s the kicker, major parts if not the major part of what has shaped modern Judaism from the early Roman Empire onward has developed in Egypt, North Africa, Israel under Ottoman rule, and, prominently, what we now call Iraq, first under Sasanian and then under Muslim rule, not in Europe under Christian rule. And this comes around to bite those who proclaim a “Judeo-Christian tradition,” because the only thing they proclaim is an artificial positioning of Jews and Christians against Muslims, under whose rule and in whose societies many of the modern Jewish traditions actually evolved. If someone proclaims “Judeo-Christian tradition” or “Judeo-Christian values,” it might just be ignorance. But in most cases you can be pretty sure it’s deliberately Islamophobic and a blatant instrumentalization of the Jewish experience.

How is this important for Hanukkah and our game?

As we know from yesterday’s historical overview, Hanukkah as the Miracle of the Lights festival is not a Jewish tradition from pre-diaspora Israel, and it’s certainly not a festival Christians should celebrate to “connect with their Jewish roots” or something along these lines. Because Hanukkah isn’t part of these roots! Rabbi Yeshua, whether he was an actual individual or a composite character created from revolutionary, messianic rabbinical leaders who clearly existed at the time, certainly celebrated Pesach, or Passover, but he certainly didn’t celebrate Hanukkah. (Or Christmas, for that matter.)

Thus, as Christians celebrating Hanukkah as welcome guests with Jewish friends is great and wonderful but Christians celebrating a “Christian Hanukkah” is not, this gives us our first tangible design parameter: if we want to make the game playable for everybody, we have to design it in a way that non-Jewish players can partake in it as welcome guests without having to “play-act” Jewish rituals. We will pick up on this tomorrow, on the third day of Hanukkah, as we explore possible target audiences and the game’s unique selling proposition, or USP.

Now, let’s feed that back into our search for the game’s possible theme and the dimension into which its core experience should fall. What meaning or meanings has Hanukkah acquired over the last one and a half millennia?

In brief, the most important aspect of lighting the Hanukkah candles is visual recognition, which encompasses standing up for what’s right and serving as a beacon of hope.

More in-depth, visual recognition of the Hanukkah lights, according to Talmudic commentators, is important to aid clear recognition of the respective day of the festival, as indicated by the number of lit candles, and in terms of “publicizing the miracle” for everyone to see. As a consequence, the Hanukkiah—the Hanukkah menorah or lamp—should be visible from the street by positioning it at the outer doorway or, in most cases nowadays, the window closest to the street. In “times of danger,” though, the Hanukkiah is lit privately, not publicly, and we will get back to that tomorrow, on the third day of Hanukkah.

Tied to this visual recognition through public display is, as mentioned, the grit to stand up and fight for what’s right, and the light of the candles as a beacon of hope in the dark. In other words, if we stand up for what’s right and if we are a beacon of hope for others, we might “miraculously” persist and even succeed against overwhelming odds.

Thus, “hope” seems to be a central and very important aspect, and we can use this for our game’s theme. It’s a good choice because “hope” can generate a rich, emotional palette of motifs for all kinds of design decisions, to be tackled during day four through seven.

Then, into which dimension should the game’s core experience fall—Game Mechanics, Ludology, Cinematology, or Narratology? In other words, should the game’s core experience be its rule system, its player interactions, its aesthetics, or its narrative? The theme can’t help us here in our decision because the very reason for the existence of a theme is that it can facilitate design decisions across all possible aspects of the game.

Game Mechanics we can eliminate right off the bat because an extensive and/or innovative rule system, heavy on strategy or tactics, or similar, would not be a good fit for our game. Then, a game heavy on aesthetics with a core experience in the Cinematology dimension is certainly possible, but doesn’t connect closely enough to Hanukkah in substantial and tangible ways. Next, Narratology as a core experience would give us a lot of trouble. On the one hand, the original Hanukkah narrative wouldn’t carry us too far. On the other hand, a brand new, thrilling story might lead us too far astray from our original goal to make a game specifically about Hanukkah. That leaves Ludology. And, lo and behold, there’s a lot of Hanukkah stuff that fits right into it! The lighting of the candles in particular has very strong ritual elements, as to when you have to do what and how and on which day, and that docks straightaway into the Ludology dimension with its focus on player interaction.

To sum it up, we know that our game about Hanukkah must be playable for non-Jewish players without having to “play-act” Jewish rituals; its theme for design decisions is “hope”; and its core experience falls into the ludological dimension, focusing on player–game and perhaps player–player interaction.

That’s it for today.

Tomorrow, we’ll be taking all that we’ve got so far and find the target audience or audiences for our game and the game’s USP, i.e., what can make this game different from all other games!

See you tomorrow. Happy Hanukkah!

→ Day Three
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