The New Yorker Likes Certain Video Games

From even just its title, “Call of Duty, Wolfenstein, and the Joy of Killing Virtual Nazis”, you know what to expect from Simon Parkin’s piece in the The New Yorker (ahem).

There is the not insignificant dose of anti-German animus accompanying his review of Call of Duty: WWII:

Like its forebears, Call of Duty: WWII is more a theme-park ride than a depiction of the true chaos of war: you follow the drama along clearly defined rails, shooting the targets as they pop up, always listening for the telltale “ting” (reminiscent of a hotel concierge’s bell) that indicates an empty clip. Much of the game is delivered with the blunt spectacle of an action movie. In one scene, you chase a train full of Nazis while hanging out the window of a Volkswagen Kübelwagen. (Was there ever a more satisfying make of car to proclaim in a pantomime German accent?) But there are also more ponderous and thoughtful interludes, a fairly recent development in the series. In another scene, set in a frozen Belgian forest on the eve of the Battle of the Bulge, you thoughtfully place a case of ammunition beneath a squad-mate’s Christmas tree, which sags under the weight of its tin-can baubles. Then there’s the game’s epilogue, which, via a tour of an abandoned concentration camp, attempts to acknowledge the horrors of the Holocaust in the rather challenging context of a video game that, elsewhere, includes zombie Nazis.

Then, the real fun (if you consider ongoing efforts to normalize violence against the Alt-Right as fun) begins, with Parkin’s “review” of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus:

Where Call of Duty: WWII focusses on the personal and politically vanilla motivations of its onscreen characters, another new game, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, deals explicitly with the theme ofresistance. Like Philip K. Dick’s novel “The Man in the High Castle,” it imagines an alternative reality in which Hitler has won the war and invaded the United States. Jack-booted German officers and hood-wearing Klansmen patrol the streets of America by day, and the game goes out of its way to portray them not as mere pop-up targets for the trigger-happy but as cruel, morally decrepit deviants who must be stopped because of what they stand for. This gives Wolfenstein II a resonance with the contemporary political landscape that its creators couldn’t have imagined when they began development. The recent rise of nationalism in Europe and North America has emboldened the far right to such an extent that conservative pizza-makers feel the need to publicly demand that Fascists stop buying their products. Thanks to the movement’s successful co-opting of young, disenfranchised men—a big video-game demographic—the use of Nazis as cannon fodder feels, ludicrously, somehow transgressive and confrontational.

Project much?

If Call of Duty’s marketing has stopped short of making explicit its resonance with contemporary events, Wolfenstein II has followed through. A viral campaign staged on Twitter encouraged players to “punch Nazis,” a dig at the white nationalist Richard Spencer, who was famously punched on Inauguration Day, and at the many white-liberal think pieces that have since suggested that reasoned debate is the appropriate response to an ideology premised on violent racial exclusion. The game’s tagline, “Make America Nazi-Free Again,” makes clear its developers’ feelings on Donald Trump. (Curiously, Trump’s brother Robert serves on the board of directors at ZeniMax, Wolfenstein II’s publisher.) The game itself apparently received some last-minute updates before it was released, including a newspaper interview with a “dapper young KKK leader,” another Spencer reference. Was this a cynical publisher’s attempt to profit from a few memes? Maybe. But if these games manage, even ambiently, to communicate why the Allied forces fought Fascism, as well as how and where they fought it, their status is surely elevated from slick shooting galleries to something morally instructive.

There is a flicker of hope in the piece’s last paragraph, which faintly alludes to the continuing blowback P.C. is experiencing in the gaming world:

For now, the culture war rages. Thousands of players who claim to want their games to be politics-free have taken the political action of “review-bombing” Wolfenstein II and Call of Duty: WWII in online stores, leaving disgruntled reviews in an effort to damage each game’s aggregate score and thereby hurt the developers financially. V-Day, it seems, is still some ways off.

For the likes of Simon Parkin, V-Day will only arrive when any and all strains of white identity are eradicated, once and forever.

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