- Related Games:
- Battlefield 5
EA recently revealed a new skin for Battlefield 5, the latest entry in its FPS series, allowing players to assume the role of ‘Wilhelm Franke,’ a fictional character who will soon become available as an Elite avatar in the game’s multiplayer mode. However, a swift Google of Wilhelm Franke reveals that the name is also shared by a very real anti-fascist, who was a member of Germany’s Social Democratic Party and was arrested by the Gestapo for organizing meetings with his comrades under totalitarian Nazi rule. This presented a problem for EA, which responded by claiming its World War 2 game wasn’t making a “political statement,” and that it would change the Elite character’s name. But EA distancing itself from the real WW2 is a statement in and of itself.
The claim from EA regarding the supposed apolitical nature of Battlefield 5, via Vice, leans on the game not using swastikas as evidence of its lack of politics. “Wilhelm Franke, whose name we’re changing is not a Nazi, but a German soldier similar to ones we already have in the game,” a portion of the statement reads. “In Battlefield 5, we’re not making any political statements in relation to the real-life events of WW2 and there are no swastikas in the game.”
EA added that it didn’t mean “any disrespect” to the real-life Wilhelm — who was killed in Dresden air raids alongside his family in 1945 — by using his name for the Nazi avatar. The fictional Wilhelm is shown sporting an Iron Cross in Battlefield 5‘s latest trailer, a German military medal that was discontinued after WW2 due to the Nazis’ utilization of it.
EA attempting to distance itself from the “real-life events of WW2” in a game about WW2 is a transparent effort to dilute the tragedy of the war in order to make it marketable. Despite its assertions, EA simply saying that it’s avoiding making any political statements doesn’t mean that it actually is. Even if Nazis are more accurately represented in its single-player mode, circumnavigating the fascism that was at the heart of World War 2 for the sake of microtransactions is a statement.
Any form of media tackling the subject of World War 2 arguably has a moral responsibility to reflect the atrocities of that war. Video games haven’t always been so wary of letting players assume the role of Nazis in multiplayer shooters, but the rise of microtransactions means that publishers look to fill their games with sellable cosmetics and in-game items. This is ethically dubious in games about real-world conflict.
Whenever a developer tackles a real war, it’s placed in the compromising position of attempting to honor the events of that war while still making it entertaining for its players. In Battlefield 5‘s multiplayer, there’s the inherent issue of players fighting as Nazis against the Allied forces. To avoid the optics of players virtually dressing up as fascists, EA and developer DICE decided to remove swastikas and instead labeled them the non-descript German army.
They aren’t the first to do this, with Activision and Sledgehammer going down the same road for Call of Duty: WW2‘s multiplayer and its Allied and Axis — not Nazi — forces, but at least a somewhat reasonable explanation was offered in that instance.
“Including Nazi symbols wouldn’t bring honor, nor be appropriate, without the rich history of a WW2 story to ground their context in multiplayer,” Sledgehammer co-founder Michael Condrey told Forbes ahead of CoD WW2‘s release. Of course, there was also the issue of allowing players to change the race and gender of their German soldiers, with CoD WW2 being criticized for introducing black and female soldiers to the fascist Axis forces.
However, in the case of this latest statement from EA, it reads as though the company wants to be able to sell DLC like the Elite Wilhelm Franke avatar without having to literally sell players Nazi skins. EA pointed out how Battlefield 5 doesn’t call its Nazis by their real name, and that the skin instead represents a non-Nazi German soldier who just so happens to be fighting in WW2 against the Allies while wearing an Iron Cross. Right.
From the trailer debuting the-Nazi-formerly-known-as-Wilhelm (viewable above), it’s clear that the character is intended to look “cool.” He wears a Phantom of the Opera-esque mask and trenchcoat. He stands against a backdrop of explosions without so much as flinching. He mows down (Allied) soldiers with ease. In the context of a DLC character, this is standard fare, but in the context of a DLC character who is a Nazi in everything but name — not so much.
It’s made even more questionable when considering the current political climate. White nationalism on the rise, with the crypto-fascism previously relegated to anonymous online message boards spilling out into the real world via the likes of the alt-right. This isn’t a distant threat; the Nazis of WW2 may be gone, but their beliefs aren’t. A game about WW2 trying to gloss over the politics of the Nazis in order to sell a cool-looking character is a political statement in 2019, even if the swastikas have been airbrushed out.
With Battlefield 5 and Wilhelm, EA and DICE are appropriating history to an uncomfortable degree. While removing the fascism of World War 2 in a video game in order to make it a plain ‘good guys vs. bad guys’ story is questionable enough, EA stating that it’s avoiding the politics of World War Bloody Two in order to feel better about making a Nazi a microtransaction is another thing entirely.
When you click on a retail link, we might earn a commission that helps us support the site. Learn more here.