Kingdom Come, Wolfenstein 2 and the Myth of “Keeping Politics Out of Games”

There is no connective tissue between Kingdom Come and Wolfenstein 2. One is a realistic take on a relatively unexplored time period, placing players in 15th century Bohemia and tasking them with living out life as a relatively inconsequential member of its populace, while the other sees players portraying BJ Blazkowicz as he shoves his boot up Nazi asses in an alternate reality where Germany won the Second World War.

Yet despite there being a very limited number of comparisons that can be made between the two games, some have decided to pit their sales against one another as though they share the same audience. The news that Kingdom Come may have outsold Wolfenstein 2 on Steam (according to SteamSpy) has attracted more than a few “hurrahs” from certain sects of the internet. So what’s the deal?

Wolfenstein 2‘s advertising campaign used US political turmoil to market the game. The rise of fascism in America saw Bethesda releasing trailers with slogans such as “Make America Nazi-Free Again,” “Not My America” and “No More Nazis.” There were references to the video of alt-right leader Richard Spencer being punched by a protestor, and the anti-far-right message inevitably struck a nerve.

Wolfenstein 2 Nazi Officer

While the game itself didn’t particularly dive into current events, the marketing campaign alone was enough to upset Trump supporters, alt-righters, and GamerGate followers, all of whom had various reasons for their displeasure. Some were upset that the marketing had supposedly conflated Trump supporters with Nazis, while others were offended by Bethesda twisting anti-Trump slogans such as “Not My President,” or because Bethesda was actively courting their left-wing opponents.

On the other hand, Kingdom Come director Daniel Vavra was one of few vocal GamerGate supporters in the industry, having championed the anti-progressive group since its inception in 2014. Vavra also became known for being a divisive personality on social media, rubbing shoulders with GamerGate supporters and right-wing personalities on Twitter, and currying favor with a crowd that was becoming an increasing headache for left-leaning types.

With many of Vavra’s supporters falling in the camp who bemoan increased representation of minorities in media, something which has repeatedly been referred to as “forced diversity,” Kingdom Come‘s complete lack of people of color has inevitably raised suspicions. For his part, Vavra claims that the lack of people of color is as a result of them simply not existing in 15th century Bohemia, which is reportedly backed up by the historians who worked with Warhorse Studios to bring the game to life. There are other historians who have argued against this stance, though this is a topic that can be left to those more knowledgeable than I in regards to Czech history. The reality is that people questioned Kingdom Come‘s lack of people of color precisely because Vavra, a man whose support lies in circles that flirt with the far-right, was behind the game.

Like most people who cover this industry, I’ve come to know GamerGate as that group who will shout at me on Twitter if I express a liberal opinion about a video game. Though it’s impossible to speak for the group as a collective, the rule of thumb seems to be that if you aren’t directly pandering to them, you’re their sworn enemy and you want to kill all video games with your bare hands. Except for Gone Home, because we all like that one as it has a lesbian in it, apparently.

I also know GamerGate as that group who claim that they very much do not want politics in their games, with politics meaning anything from outwardly championing diversity through to directly referencing current events. Politics in this sense has become a catch-all phrase for left-leaning creators using the medium to tell their stories, with those who do so being criticized for using their game to “push an agenda.” It doesn’t require much reading between the lines to figure out that really what these people don’t want is to see left-wingers and their left-wing opinions, and in the championing of Vavra and Kingdom Come‘s success over Wolfenstein 2, the reality becomes even clearer.

It’s true that right-wingers and Conservatives aren’t really explicitly represented by video games. While there are undoubtedly Conservatives in the gaming industry, and the medium’s gung-ho attitude to guns and war is about as right-wing ‘Murica Fuck Yeah as it gets, to some it could feel as though the left-wing is more openly favored. However, the truth is that when a group such as GamerGate’s most pressing political matter is centered around “forced diversity,” it’s unlikely you’re going to get many game publishers on board with that particular fight. Most video games accused of being too “political” aren’t called as such because they’re trying to get players to vote Democrat, but rather because they feature different races and genders to the typical straight, white male and they champion this representation.

Which brings us back to Kingdom Come and Wolfenstein 2. A group that tells itself that it doesn’t want politics in its games is now celebrating a game’s success precisely because of one of its creator’s politics. Regardless of whether or not Kingdom Come is deliberately exclusionary, Vavra’s alignment with a group that argues against increased representation in games, and subsequent response to criticism of Kingdom Come by plainly stating that “there were no black people” in the game’s setting, has seen him hailed as a hero. Meanwhile, the great liberal hope that was Wolfenstein 2 has been defeated by a game it wasn’t in active competition with, nor shared any similarities with whatsoever. With all this being clear as day, can this finally be the moment when video games’ right-wing stops pretending that it wants politics out of its games?