Many people use gaming to escape the stresses, trials and tribulations that accompany everyday life. The headlines that plague society have more or less been vacant from the digital gaming space and culture that we as gamers take part in. Unfortunately it was only a matter of time that the gaming community started to experience the slow bleed in of the real world. Needless to say I don’t need to elaborate on the current state of this country for anyone reading this to understand. The disconcerting nature of certain groups of people forcing their way into societal normality has found itself onto gamings doorstep. How would gamers and creators alike react to such activity?
Before Wolfenstein 2 was ever released stories began to seep into games and nerd culture proving it wasn’t insusceptible to political and social driven issues. With signs of racism and bigotry coming in the form of groups of people voicing outrage over black lead characters in franchises such as Star Wars and Battlefield. As well as well known gaming personalities showcasing their racism for the gaming world to see. Unfortunately just as many who despised these actions supported them if not more and painted a grim picture of what the world in general had become. Which in turn presents the opportunity for developers to take advantage of their artistic voice and deliver a message. I’m not speaking of the kind of message that involves a gaming developers or publishers official twitter account retweeting in support of the latest cause. Actually using their medium to take a stance and show the bravery to have little concern over splitting the audience and shy away from towing the line. Machine Games demonstrated such behavior with Wolfenstein 2 and the story it told and ideals they presented front and center.
As an audience we were none the wiser of what type of story and themes that Machine Games was going to take with Wolfenstein 2. Based off the initial reveal of gameplay we were treated to what looked to be a fun romp through brutal gunplay and violent deaths of attacking nazis. That assessment still stands true today but it wasn’t until the release of the story trailer that a picture began to be painted on subject matter and how heavy or light the angle was being taken. Of course as with the black leads in Star Wars and Battlefield, almost immediately people jumped to voice their discontent over characters and story alike. Which was not surprising when just a month or so earlier actual nazis, nazi symbolism and ideologies littered the streets during a protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. Even with the backlash that Machine Games and Bethesda may or may not have expected they showed resolve and stood behind their product. Doubling down when asked about it in interviews and assuming from the game that was released, never editing themselves to appease the masses.
While Wolfenstein 2’s story won’t go down as the best video game narrative ever told, it’s message will stand the test of time. It’s relevance to current happenings in the world make it stand out even more. The ever present theme of patriotism and racist ideology consistently runs parallel to simply what is right and what is wrong. Drawing a line in the sand marking what will and will not be accepted societal behavior, whether it be in the game world or real one. Early on an example of a very common topic of interest as it relates to origins of racism is shown off within the father son dynamic. B.J.s father spouts racially charged language and prejudices towards his son regarding his Jewish mother and African Americans. This consistent exposure to bigotry as a young child in relation to how B.J. developed and made decisions regarding race paints a few narratives. The first being the obvious, that racism is taught, it isn’t something that anyone is born with. The second part of is that even living in such a toxic environment an individual can make the decision what they feel is right or wrong no matter the type of influences that surround them. As great of a backstory this added to B.J. to really flesh out the character, the measure of his moral compass isn’t quite where Wolfenstein 2 hangs its hat. The characterizations and ideologies on display point a finger at white supremacy and the people who fall on either side of it. What’s significant is that Machine Games developed a group of characters, all with differing backgrounds that came together to stand up for what is right. Even more so is the strong black female character in Grace that makes its own statement. No matter how over the top Wolfenstein can get or how cartoonish and stereotypical sometimes characters feel, just below the surface always lies a subtext. One that generates opinions and discussions that should be had among a maturing games industry.
As a human being the subject matter that Machine Games touched on makes me proud that there are people willing to use their platform to make a statement such as the one in Wolfenstein 2. On a more personal level it hits a little closer to home as my wife is black and we have two biracial children being raised in a world that isn’t at its most shining moment of acceptance. Although I understand that the developers at Machine could have produced their game without any notion it would gain the attention it did for its underlying message. The world tended to align itself and create parallels with what was given to us inside the game. For this I’m glad it did. I believe this along with other titles that aren’t afraid to say something out of turn is a great use of platform and direction to take gaming. I can only hope others, such as the upcoming Far Cry 5 are bold enough and unwavering in the face of the masses continue to deliver messages that matter without compromise.