Rob Dubbin at the Awl has written a comprehensive account of what is wrong with Secret Hitler. I agree with his critique but I want to highlight one issue in particular.
I tried ignoring Secret Hitler but their design notes kept making their way into my twitter. I skimmed through them and found them to be well put together. The last one about illustration and graphic design however convinced me that the game goes well beyond just bad taste.
The problem is that the identity cards for fascist players in the game (shown below) display them als lizards where the liberal identities are shown as human. Fascists are inhuman, get it?
This is simplistic and immoral. If it’s not obvious why, here are three reasons:
- Depicting certain groups of people like vile animals is a way of objectifying them and an excuse to exterminate them. One of the lessons of history is that we don’t produce this kind of propaganda.
- Depicting the fascists as animals is not a reversal that makes it all right. The fascist of my fascist is still a fascist.
- Depicting fascists as intrinsically different from other people and easily recognizable as such is a deeply wrong and misleading fantasy.
This way of thinking is part of an ongoing trivialization of fascism and spreading it is harmful.
As Rob Dubbin says in his piece:
There should be a high bar for invoking this person, and there should be such a thing as falling well short of it.
The people making Secret Hitler are obviously intelligent, skilled and have vast resources at their disposal. I can only guess why they would make a game about this topic and then do it so poorly.