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Video games keep complicating JFK’s death

And they’re changing how we view history

Simone de Rochefort has been producing & hosting YouTube videos for Polygon since 2016. She co-directed the upcoming documentary The Great Game: The Making of Spycraft.

Many, many games explore history. But when a game gets into John F. Kennedy’s assassination, you just know it’s gonna get weird.

In case you missed it, President Kennedy was fatally shot in 1963 while riding in a motorcade in Dallas. The assassination was shocking — it happened in front of huge crowds, and footage of it was widely disseminated.

The gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, was arrested. Two days later, he was killed by a local man named Jack Ruby.

Simple enough. But here’s the thing. Sixty years later, the Kennedy assassination is still fodder for lots of theories that question that simple sequence of events. A 2012 Gallup poll showed that eight in 10 Americans believe that Kennedy’s death was part of a conspiracy.

The video games that engage with the assassination tend to get goofy with those theories. A Mafia 3 post-credits scene sees a disturbed CIA agent taking dramatic, deadly revenge on the senators he believes colluded in the assassination — in the middle of a televised hearing.

A major plot point of Call of Duty: Black Ops is the did-he/didn’t-he question of whether the brainwashed player character was involved in Kennedy’s death.

Then there are games like the infamous JFK Reloaded, which ostensibly asks players to recreate the assassination in exact detail — but most often results in goofy ragdoll pratfalls and car crashes.

I interviewed Carrie Andersen, Ph.D., who wrote an academic paper on video game representations of Kennedy’s assassination, about the effect of these games and why the assassination still captivates people 60 years later. Check out the video, and remember to subscribe to Polygon on YouTube to stay up to date on all our latest stories.

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