Germany Lifts Ban on Swastikas in Video Games

In a decision made by German entertainment standards company USK, an authority that describes itself as being “voluntarily established by the games industry,” symbols that stand under the categorization of being ‘unconstitutional’ will no longer require censorship in order to be released in the country. Most prominently, the focus has previously been on disallowing the use of symbols that echo Germany’s dark past during the reign of national socialism, but games that feature visuals of symbols such as the swastika will now be simply subject to the same level of rating as others of its kind before being approved for the public.

Some may have found it strange that Germany, a country that is known for taking a firm stand against resurgences of its past political climate, would place heavy restrictions on a game series such as Wolfenstein. However, a movie of arguably the same sentiment, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, sold out in cinemas across the country. Famously, all obvious indicators to Nazi Germany were removed from the German release of Wolfenstein II, from the swastika down to Hitler’s mustache, until the narrative represented a fictional dictatorship to be opposed by the protagonist, not a historical one. This is about to change for future games, however- and the change comes by a shift in German attitudes, not by legislation.

German law states that the use of ‘unconstitutional’ imagery is punishable by a prison sentence. However, it adds that the use of these symbols can be legal if they are displayed in the context of education, history, art, or another use that does not constitute the semination of the ideas those symbols represent. Before now, video games were not considered under the definition of art, but changing attitudes towards the medium has resulted in a tensive introduction of previously banned themes.

The country, which has been previously infamous for heavy censorship of video games reaching their citizens from across borders, faces innumerable issues in reinforcing these laws as the industry globalizes to a further degree each year; this change in the USK’s practice doesn’t necessarily indicate a victory against censorship as a whole, rather continued evidence of the worldwide debate of video games as a medium of art dipping further towards the affirmative.