Trig­ger Happy

Shoot first, ask ques­tions later

EDGE - - DISPATCHES PERSPECTIVE - STEVEN POOLE Steven Poole’s Trig­ger Happy 2.o is now avail­able from Ama­zon. Visit him on­line at www.steven­

The choice of en­emy in a videogame is al­ways a po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion. And it al­ways re­flects so­ci­ety’s con­tem­po­rary fears. For a long time it was per­fectly ac­cept­able, of course, to gun down thou­sands of vaguely Mid­dle Eastern brown peo­ple in the tent­pole games of the mil­i­tary-en­ter­tain­ment com­plex, be­cause the ‘ war on ter­ror’ had con­vinced us that such peo­ple were in­her­ently bad and de­served to be shot in the face. Then, for a while, it was Rus­sians, be­cause ev­ery­one was hav­ing a mo­ment of Cold War nos­tal­gia and hum­ming ‘99 Red Bal­loons’ gen­tly to them­selves. But grad­u­ally a ma­jor­ity con­sen­sus seemed to take hold that de­mon­is­ing ac­tu­ally ex­ist­ing cul­tural groups in videogames and rep­re­sent­ing them as noth­ing more than can­non fod­der was, y’know, bad?

Hence, per­haps, the glo­ri­ous resur­gence of the zom­bie game over the past decade­and-a-half. Noth­ing to be done with zom­bies. You can’t rea­son with them; they’re al­ready dead; they just need to be shot so they stay dead. And, cru­cially, there is no po­lit­i­cally vo­cal con­stituency of zom­bies around in the real world to com­plain about their be­lit­tling por­trayal. So the zom­bie (along with the alien) is the per­fect en­emy, be­ing po­lit­i­cally neu­tral (which is not to say that such games are not very of­ten, even most of the time, po­lit­i­cal al­le­gories).

The same has long been true, of course, of Nazis. His­tor­i­cal vil­lains of pretty much the only war of the 20th cen­tury that ev­ery­one can agree was a just war, Nazis have al­ways made ex­cel­lent videogame en­e­mies. You get the right­eous thrill of vir­tu­ally par­tic­i­pat­ing in an ex­cit­ing moral en­ter­prise (de­feat­ing Nazis); you get the camp thrill of all those as­so­ci­a­tions with clas­sic se­cond-world-war movies; and – let’s ad­mit it – Nazis, in those Hugo Boss uni­forms, look pretty cool. So no one has ever com­plained about Nazis be­ing por­trayed as the en­emy in videogames. Un­til now, that is. The lat­est game to pro­mote it­self as a way to pre­tend to kill Nazis has at­tracted com­plaints from ac­tual Nazis. What a world!

To be fair, the de­vel­op­ers were de­lib­er­ately trolling the Nazis. The Twit­ter ac­count of Wolfen­stein II en­cour­aged play­ers to “Make Amer­ica Nazi-Free Again”, ac­com­pa­nied by a video of masked Nazis march­ing through US streets, with the words ‘Not My Amer­ica’ su­per­im­posed. This, it turned out, re­ally up­set some peo­ple. It was “a hys­ter­i­cal left­ist power fan­tasy”, said one. An­other claimed that there are “more black power/pan­ther racists in Amer­i­can [sic] than Nazis”. An­other ad­vised Bethesda to make a state­ment clar­i­fy­ing that they didn’t “hate Trump or free­dom”. (In what uni­verse a game about rid­ding Amer­ica of Nazis could be a game about hat­ing free­dom was, per­haps bless­edly, left un­ex­plained.) And one dude whined: “Can you at least TRY to be sub­tle with your BS pro­pa­ganda?” So here we are, in a place where say­ing Nazis are bad is ‘pro­pa­ganda’, be­cause ap­par­ently there are peo­ple who sin­cerely think Nazis are good.

Of course, there’s an ar­gu­ment to be had about whether we should call the far-right ac­tivists who feel so em­bold­ened by Trump’s vic­tory ac­tual ‘Nazis’. After all, this por­trays them as a for­eign el­e­ment that has some­how in­fil­trated Amer­ica, rather than an in­her­ently Amer­i­can phe­nom­e­non: the Ku Klux Klan be­gan in the 19th cen­tury, and Amer­i­can think­ing on racist eu­gen­ics ac­tu­ally in­spired the Nazis them­selves. Mind you, when peo­ple com­plain about a videogame that says Nazis are bad, it is mighty tempt­ing to in­fer that they re­ally do iden­tify as Nazis, the poor lit­tle vul­ner­a­ble things.

One might ask, to de­ploy the alt-right’s own lan­guage, when ex­actly did Nazis become such snowflakes, ca­pa­ble of hav­ing their feel­ings hurt by a fan­tasy videogame? But that, I think, would be the wrong ap­proach. This on­line ker­fuf­fle may seem po­lit­i­cally de­press­ing, but what it re­ally proves is the power of cul­ture and art to chal­lenge world­views. If peo­ple didn’t care how they were rep­re­sented in videogames, as they clearly do care how they are rep­re­sented in films and books, then it would show that elec­tronic en­ter­tain­ment was not taken as se­ri­ously. On the other hand, when a game about how it is a good idea to kill Nazis so they don’t take over Amer­ica causes a real con­tro­versy among peo­ple who se­cretly think that Amer­ica re­ally should be taken over by Nazis, then we know that games have power. And if they have power, they can be a force for good. Now, where’s my con­troller?

When ex­actly did Nazis become such snowflakes, ca­pa­ble of hav­ing their feel­ings hurt by a videogame?

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