Video games don’t exist in their own bubble floating away from the rest of the world. Many people wish that they would, and that their sole purpose would be to help players “escape” reality without making them think about the wider world, but insisting that every game remains apolitical is a fruitless endeavor. It becomes even more fruitless when you insist that Wolfenstein 2, a game which depicts America under the control of the Nazi army after losing World War II, shouldn’t include politics.
Bethesda has come under fire from certain quarters of the internet as a result of Wolfenstein 2‘s marketing campaign, which has not-so-subtly drawn comparisons between the plot of the upcoming game and the current politics of real-world America. A recent ad campaign for the game came complete with the slogan”Make America Nazi-Free Again,” a play on Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again.” They’ve also included “#NotMyAmerica,” a nod to the #NotMyPresident hashtag started by those against Trump’s presidency.
The discussion surrounding this campaign has gone one of two ways — those supporting it have commended Bethesda for not shying away from addressing the elephant in the room, while detractors have condemned the publisher for making comparisons between Trump supporters and Nazis. But in a post-Charlottesville world, how could Bethesda have possibly overlooked neo-Nazis’ horrifying and very real presence in America, in their game specifically about Nazis taking over America?
Wolfenstein 2: Keeping politics in gaming
It’s unclear exactly how much Wolfenstein 2 will draw comparisons with modern politics, though a conversation between two Nazi guards in a preview build of the game indicates that developers Machine Games have at least touched upon the current climate in the US. The below video features the exasperated Nazis expressing dismay at their opponents violently responding to their fascist regime, a dig at the “so much for the tolerant left” discourse that has been derided by left-wingers over the past year:
The final game may only include a smattering of modern references such as the one above, but considering recent events regarding the rise of extreme right-wing views in the US, how could a new Wolfenstein game set in America possibly overlook these issues? Nazis aren’t a cartoon evil or a work of fiction, nor do they solely belong in our history books. They were and continue to be real, and they have recently been galvanized by exclusionary politics. If Bethesda and Machine Games were to have overlooked this in their game about Nazis taking control of America, it would have been a decision borne of equal parts cowardice, ignorance and utter disrespect of American history.
I understand the argument for using video games solely as a means of escapism. I even wrote about my own experience with that in Animal Crossing. But players who were looking for undiluted escapism in a game with a core premise that centers around killing Nazis, and who honestly expected politics to somehow be kept out of the game, should probably consider reevaluating what they believe does / does not constitute political commentary. Wolfenstein has always been political, even back when neo-Nazis didn’t feel compelled to march through the streets brandishing tiki torches.
Trump supporters who believe that Bethesda is unfairly tarring them with the same brush as actual Nazis should look at the Charlottesville riots for clarity. It is undeniable that there exists actual neo-Nazis and white supremacists who have used the “Make America Great Again” banner to peddle their beliefs, and those who continue to claim that Charlottesville was solely occupied by peaceful protesters during that August weekend need only watch the harrowing VICE documentary to plainly see that this wasn’t the case. How could Bethesda and Machine Games see footage of fascists in 2017 marching through American streets chanting “Jews will not replace us,” and then continue quietly working on their game about Nazis invading America without addressing it?
Instead of ducking their heads and hoping that Wolfenstein 2‘s central premise of Nazis in America would fly under the radar, Bethesda have opted to steer into the skid. There’s no word yet on just how much Wolfenstein 2 will touch upon these issues, but their marketing campaign has indicated that the game will at least be cognizant of current events and how its plot draws alarming comparisons to the real-world rise of fascism in the West.
Now I’m not insisting that Bethesda is embarking upon a noble moral crusade here. While in this day and age it takes an unfortunate amount of bravery for a company to even address the issue of white nationalism in America, this is still a marketing campaign. Even if they’re ostensibly fighting the good fight, they’re still doing so with the intention of shifting more copies of their game by appealing to a very clear audience — people who want to shoot the shit out of Nazis. But I am suggesting that those who find themselves appalled by the notion that Bethesda or Machine Games might use their game about fictional Nazis in America to talk about real Nazis in America — whether that be in-game or through their advertising — are almost certainly not the target audience for this game. And honestly, those who find a publisher acknowledging fascism in the US more shocking than actual fascism probably have a lot more to be concerned about than a video game.