Video game swastikas create unease in Germany

Poser to history: A screenshot of Through the Darkest of Times , featuring officers wearing the Nazi swastika, in Berlin.

Poser to history: A screenshot of Through the Darkest of Times , featuring officers wearing the Nazi swastika, in Berlin.   | Photo Credit: JOHN MACDOUGALL

It has stirred up a debate if it is an advance for artistic freedom or poses a new danger of radicalisation

The first video game to depict Germany’s 1933-45 Nazi era uncensored, showing the swastika and Adolf Hitler, has stirred up debate over whether it’s an advance for artistic freedom or a new danger of radicalisation.

Through the Darkest of Times was presented this week at Gamescom, Europe’s biggest trade fair for interactive games and entertainment.

Players slip into the boots of members of the “Red Orchestra”, a network of groups who resisted the Nazis before and during Second World War with support from the Soviet Union.

In previous games, the black swastika on a white-and-red background was replaced with other symbols like triangles, to comply with a German law that generally bans such “anti-constitutional” symbols.

The German edition of last year’s alternative-history blockbuster Wolfenstein 2 had renamed Hitler and sheared off his signature moustache.

But now regulations have eased and the virtual Nazis wear their authentic symbol on their armbands, and their leader’s facial hair and name have been reinstated. “Developers used to be afraid to say what they were talking about, they just made up fantasies,” said Joerg Friedrich, one of the developers of the new game.

“Hitler wasn’t named Hitler but Heiler and had no moustache, there were no more Jews... That’s problematic, because an entire facet of history has simply been hushed up.”

Broken taboo

Since early August, the taboo has been broken in Germany. Pressure from publishers and video game players finally convinced Germany’s entertainment software self-regulation body USK to grant the art form the same freedoms afforded to cinema or theatre. Others argue that the swastika should remain taboo, fearing real-world consequences.

“We shouldn’t play with swastikas,” Family Affairs Minister Franziska Giffey told the Funke newspaper group.

Germans above all must “always be conscious of their particular historical responsibility, even today”, she added.

Stefan Mannes, who runs an online information portal on the Third Reich named “The Future Needs Remembrance”, was blunter.

He asked how one could explain to youths who are exposed to swastikas in video games “that they’ll be prosecuted if they spray one on a wall?”

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Printable version | Jun 6, 2020 5:32:23 PM |

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