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by Hunter Pauli
NAZIS MARCH BRAZENLY in the street. The antifascists who oppose them are denounced as terrorists by the government and media. Blacks are shot or rounded up into slave labor camps. Primetime talk shows normalize far-right ideologues. White citizens shrug, fat and happy.
The United States of America in 2017 has a lot too much in common with its fictional in-game counterpart -- a Nazi-occupied America in 1961 -- in the newly released video game Wolfenstein: The New Colossus.
The latest in the classic Nazi-killing game series that began with 1981’s Castle Wolfenstein, The New Colossus sees players guide U.S. Army Captain William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz as he attempts to start a second American Revolution against the Nazis in the wake of the Third Reich’s victory in the Second World War.
[caption id=“attachment_64946” align=“alignleft” width=“300”] Gameplay from 1992’s Wolfenstein 3D[/caption]
Originally known for its camp occult take on World War II, 2014’s The New Order saw Swedish developer Machine Games reimagine the series through an emotionally intelligent B movie lens with a wounded Blazkowicz emerging from a coma in 1960 to a world ruled by Nazis. A prequel followed in 2015, and five days after Donald Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination The New Colossus was announced.
Up to this point the series had never attracted controversy beyond the boilerplate criticism all violent games get for bloodshed. Wolfenstein games were about shooting Nazis, a proud American tradition and cliche video game trope. But Trump’s victory last November destroyed the fantasy of American political moderation and drove the window of acceptable ideology deeper into right field than it’s been in modern memory.
Soon after Machine Games released the first trailer showcasing a Nazi-occupied America, an anti-fascist counter protester was deliberately killed at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA. The developers found themselves with a game on their hands more realistic and politically volatile than they had ever imagined.
Machine Games could have cut and run, delayed the launch, censored their game to be more palatable, done something to mitigate what was likely to be a very messy launch.
There’s no evidence they did anything other than lean right into the storm. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus isn’t just one of the best games of 2017, it’s a refreshing pick-me-up for anyone worried by a media climate bending more reactionary by the day.
And best of all, the blonde-haired blue-eyed power fantasy killing machine protagonist is a goddamn Jew.
Jewish gamers have always celebrated B.J. Blazkowicz as an obvious paragon of the Jewish revenge fantasy a la Inglorious Basterds, regardless of those who have said his features are emblematic of an Aryan ubermensch -- something the reboot’s unwitting Nazis have also pointed out, typically just before the player plants a chunk of metal in their brain stem.
Many of us who grew up playing the Wolfenstein series have venerated B.J. as a Jewish hero, but there’s never really been any proof. That is, until Blazkowicz’s mother Zofia recites the HaMotzi in one of The New Colossus’ first flashbacks. The game later reveals Blazkowicz’s violent antisemite father sold out his wife (and his creditors) to occupying Nazis in exchange for the lavish ranch life he never had as a failed pre-war businessman. She dies in a New Mexico concentration camp, he gets what’s coming.
B.J. doesn’t confront his Jewish identity in the game, and neither does his mother nor Set Roth, the Primo Levi-Albert Einstein mashup character who provides the game some of its cleverest conceits. In Wolfenstein’s alternate timeline, the German victory in World War II comes from a massive technological leap of the Nazi war machine courtesy of a reverse engineered vault of ancient Jewish superweapons. For thousands of years an ancient order of Kabbalistic tinkerers (like Pythagoreans, but Yiddish and successful) has been crafting technological marvels so advanced they seem like space magic, all in an effort to get closer to God through pure creation. Roth, the last of these inventors, says the devices were never intended to be used, and locked away underground until the Nazis uncovered a cache during the Holocaust.
It’s a tongue-in-cheek fuck you to the antisemitic canard claiming a cabal of Jews is secretly engineering world events from their underground lair. “Yes we Jews are all-powerful, secretive and ancient, but no, we aren’t controlling the world. We could, but this isn’t about you, this is about God, please leave us alone we are very busy.” The idea is also a parting shot to the denigration of Einstein’s “Jewish science,” the inherent superiority of the master race, and the quality of German engineering.
[caption id=“attachment_64947” align=“alignright” width=“260”] The original B.J.[/caption]
The only people to obsess over Blazkowicz’s Jewishness more than gentile video game pundits are Wolfenstein’s Nazis, with who else but a syphilitic geriatric Adolph Hitler being the first to explicitly bring it up. Blazkowicz meets a vomiting piss-covered Fuhrer on an undercover heist mission to Venus while disguised as a Hollywood actor auditioning for the role of B.J. “Terror Billy” Blazkowicz for the Reich’s upcoming propaganda magnum opus. Blazkowicz gets the part, and the other aspiring actors are personally executed by a pathetic Hitler, including a thinly-veiled Ronald Reagan that Der Fuhrer can tell is obviously an undercover Jew sent to kill him. An American game developer would likely never publish a game this bold.
THE GENOCIDAL DEPRAVITY of Wolfenstein’s Nazis is also a marked departure from the depiction of Nazis in most games. Of the hundreds of World War II video games developed over the years, few have ever addressed the underlying reasons all these Nazis need shooting. Most World War II shooter portray Nazi soldiers as functionally equal to their American counterparts -- just fighting for the wrong side. (Significantly, the new Call of Duty game departs from this by giving its Nazi villains an antisemitic motivation.) But the Wolfenstein reboots have made a point of depicting Nazi atrocities, justifying the player’s brutality in a way few games do.
African Americans figure prominently in the resistance to Wolfenstein’s Nazis. This shouldn’t surprise you. Popular history has all but completely depoliticized the contributions of African Americans in the fight against fascism. Most Americans have heard of the Tuskegee Airmen, fewer could name one of the many less publicized segregated combat or engineer units. For most contemporary Americans, the predecessors to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, an African American legion who fought against the Nationalists in Spain and Italians in Ethiopia is a complete unknown.
Perhaps more than any other piece of pop culture, Wolfenstein fights the erasure of black leftists. Wolfenstein’s black cast includes a Namibian anti-fascist freedom fighter and arbeitslager escapee, the radiation-scarred remnant of New York’s pre-war Black Revolutionary Army, and a Big Easy anarchist who plays that most entartete of kunst, American jazz. As The New Colossus makes clear, these characters were fighting fascism in America long before the Nazis showed up.
Wolfenstein doesn’t back down from the racist American imperialism that directly inspired Nazi policies.
“The racially pure and still unmixed German has risen to become master of the American continent, and he will remain the master, as long as he does not fall victim to racial pollution,” is not a heavy-handed throwaway line from Wolfenstein, but a quote from chapter 11 of Mein Kampf.
In Wolfenstein, the Manifest Destiny myth that inspired Lebensraum is taken to its natural conclusion at victorious German settlers colonize the vast American West, while the enactment of the Nazi’s Nuremberg Laws is made easy by the simple expansion and intensification of pre-existing Jim Crow laws to every state in the union.
While Blazkowicz follows the patriotic national historiography that Americans have always opposed fascist ideals like slavery and racial inequality, the American radicals he finds himself fighting alongside are anything but unquestioning patriots.
The Nazis may rule America in Wolfenstein, but they do so by resurrecting particular American evils. Slavery has made a coast to coast comeback, and the Ku Klux Klan rules Dixie again, this time as willing Nazi puppets too stupid to correctly say “thank you” in German. The game may invoke the lofty populist ideals of liberty and revolution, but it doesn’t shy away from the reality that an America founded by traitorous slavers and genocidaires is still ruled by their ideas. Wolfenstein’s anti-fascist heroes aren’t trying to make America great again with their revolution, they’re trying to make it good for the first time. The rest of the game’s resistance characters are as diverse as the concentration camps they escaped from: Romani, lesbians, the mentally and physically disabled, Nisei, communists, Poles, artists, intellectuals and anti-fascist Germans.
IT BEING 2017, there has of course been massive online backlash from the notoriously reactionary gaming community against the developers for glorifying SJW violence against white families and ruining gaming, or whatever. Shooting Nazis -- that most primordial of game genres and a hallmark of postwar Western pop culture and identity -- has become controversial in America. The developer’s #MakeAmericaNaziFreeAgain advertising campaign poured gasoline on the fire, as did the ads reenacting Richard Spencer getting his jaw reset in-game. An in-game collaborationist newspaper (copies of which you can view in-game, providing color to the fictional world) also satirizes the Mother Jones profile that catapulted Spencer to the national spotlight last year, with a headline reading “Meet the Dapper Young KKK Leader With a Message of Hope.”
Unsurprisingly, review aggregators like Steam are full of extremely negative scores. Complaints that the game feels a little short and the pacing falls apart at the end are accurate, but that’s true of most games and isn’t enough to rationalize tarnishing the entire experience. Most professional critics who don’t write for outlets like The Daily Shoah or Breitbart still rated the game highly. More likely is that for every 0/10 review Wolfenstein review denouncing the ZOG, or BLM there’s another 0/10 review written in identical spirit but complaining about technical specs or “political violence,” as if there’s a different kind.
Anticipating the rightward drift of American discourse, the developers addressed crudely masked critiques of anti-fascist self-defense early in the game as two chatty Nazi stormtroopers decry the violence of Blazkowicz and his fellow “terrorists.”
“Violence only begets violence,” one Nazi says before changing the discussion to the upcoming liquidation of the New Orleans Ghetto without skipping a beat. “Maybe we’ll be in the same deathsquad? I hope so!”
Hunter Pauli is a Montana-based investigative reporter and writer.