Ubisoft Printed The Wrong Versions Of South Park Game For Germany, Forgetting To Remove The Swastikas

from the wait,-we're-still-doing-this? dept

With the release of the latest South Park video game, titled The Stick Of Truth, we recently remarked on how silly the attempted censorship of the game will be for releases outside of North America. The reason, of course, is that the full version of the game is and will be available for download outside of the approved channels. While most of the censorship stories revolve around some of the more sophomoric jokes in the game, which I of course love, leave it to Germany to teach us how fickle the sensibilities of some governments are.

Apparently the game was supposed to be released in the land whose motto is “Unity and Justice and Freedom” this week, but that’s been delayed because the game’s publisher, Ubisoft, accidentally produced copies of the game for Germany that still include images of the Nazi swastika. Such images, as you might be aware, are verboten.

Users are posting on Steam’s forums that the German (and Austrian) versions of the game have been hit with an 11th-hour delay. The reason? That those versions contain “an unconstitutional symbol”, and mean the game’s release in those two markets is TBA.

Let me say this first: I get you, Germany. The embarrassment over the systematic murder of an enormous Jewish, homosexual, and gypsy population isn’t the kind of sting that goes away easily. But here’s a piece of advice: limiting symbols and speech in this manner isn’t productive and certainly isn’t in the spirit of the 86a section of the Strafgesetzbuch. Attempting to limit humor regards to your own past won’t get you anywhere. Open dialogue is what admonishes fascism.

Take Americans, for example. We straight up murdered tens of thousands of Native Americans and then had the balls to refer to our policy as our “Manifest Destiny.” Now we have football teams filled with the decendents of African slaves playing under the moniker of our Native American victims so we can sell beer to everyone else. And, sure, when you really think about it that way, it isn’t funny.

But South Park is funny, and anyone that really wants to see a swastika enough to put forth a little effort in Germany can do so via a myriad of avenues, including downloading illegal copies of The Stick Of Truth. A constitutional requirement to omit parts of your history won’t do you any good and may no longer be useful to your society.

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Comments on “Ubisoft Printed The Wrong Versions Of South Park Game For Germany, Forgetting To Remove The Swastikas”

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55 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The key point may by Tim here IMO is:

limiting symbols and speech in this manner isn’t productive and certainly isn’t in the spirit of the 86a section of the Strafgesetzbuch.

From a quick reading of the translated version of this document it would appear as if the law is directly targeted at groups that would form explicitly for the intend of distributing pro-Nazi propaganda, ie trying to cut off the means of which such groups use to gain popular support.

While this law can possibly be stretched to products like the south park game (and it certainly has been stretched for this and other items) the wording of the law seems to not actually target people like the makers of South Park.

From the way this law reads the framers would have had no problem with a cartoon that made fun of the Nazi’s and their rhetoric.

Granted, something may be lost in translation.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“From a quick reading of the translated version of this document it would appear as if the law is directly targeted at groups that would form explicitly for the intend of distributing pro-Nazi propaganda, ie trying to cut off the means of which such groups use to gain popular support.”

Yes, I think everybody understands this. But that only reinforces, not negates, PaulT’s statement.

Criswell The Psychic Weatherman (profile) says:

Never forget is not the same as Never look

While I get that films like “Triumph of the Wills” can’t be shown in Germany due to its seductiveness even today, that which you resist is that which persists. South Park has never glorified Nazism but rather mocked it, and every other ism along with it. To censor it is to create an underground black market for it. There is a difference between remembering history and trying to erase it.

Megatherium says:

Re: Never forget is not the same as Never look

Actually I can watch Triumph des Willens in the comfort of my home without commentary perfectly legal. Public screenings are a different matter but are still allowed with certain restrictions.

Which just makes the ban on symbols in video games and other art seem more insane IMO.

node (profile) says:

I am of German decent and there is a confusion here as to why Nazi symbols are ‘verboten’ in Germany. The reason for it has very little to do with trying to erase or rewrite History. Compared to other countries like Austria or Japan, Germany has always acknowledged this dark chapter in its History.

The reason the Nazi symbols are forbidden is simply to make it illegal and deny modern Neo-nazi and right wing nationalist groups to use those symbols.

The problem with 86A isn’t that is forbids these symbols, but that is somewhat unclear and can be a matter of interpretation of what is verboten.

Neo-nazi groups themselves use that to their advantage.
A typical example found in right wings artwork for example was the number 88. 8=H 88=HH or Heil Hitler. Since that’s a pretty clear example of Nazi symbolism, the 88 is now forbidden. So Neo-nazi magazine etc. now get around this by using 87+1 or 2*44.

These groups show a definite desire to use Nazi symbolism in today’s world and 86A exists to deny them the use of these symbols.

Nothing about this has anything to do with trying to rewrite History.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m no expert on German law, but it strikes me as a case of conflict between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.

The spirit of the law might well be to prevent neo-Nazis and similar group from utilising the imagery and thus gaining power through the old propaganda. But, nobody in their right mind would claim that an American videogame based on a cartoon is trying to recruit or propagandise for right wing hate groups. In fact, as I understand it, it’s quite the opposite – the use of the symbol in the game is clear parody and mocking those groups. By your own admission, the letter of the law makes even this distinction unclear and thus people will have to err on the side of censorship – meaning that it’s effectively verboten and banned from any public discussion.

So, while the spirit of the law may well not be to rewrite history and prevent open discussion, the letter of the law seems to be having that effect. This is why it’s dangerous to codify any restrictions on freedom within law – even the most noble law in spirit can be misused or have unintended consequences depending on how it’s written.

node (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I certainly don’t deny that the law is badly written in places and as these things usually go also somewhat prone to abuse. Naturally this will result in some very debatable consequences like here in the case of the South Park game.

I could however argue that it’s exactly cases like this where there are clear and high-profile unintended consequences that actually help to generate dialog on the uses and definitions of 86A.

I am much less certain that throwing out the whole of 86A on the basis of a case like this is the right way to go either. There are some clear reasons for and benefits from a law such as 86A and repealing it entirely sounds too much like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Especially here in Techdirt the shout of censorship has a tendency limit the possibility of weighing the merits of a certain situation more closely. It’s easy, it plays to the crowd, but it’s ultimately a cop-out.

Honestly, I guess my main complaint is simply that I tend to hold Techdirt to higher standards.

Lurker Keith says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

All Germany would have to do is amend the law to permit making fun of Nazis using the Swastika for strictly entertainment purposes. That would prevent propaganda, political use, & kill the hate message; while allowing parody. Granted, it would require politicians to remember how to carefully write simply worded laws that don’t have double meanings, but they should be doing that anyway.

The law probably ought to explain things in more detail & go further, but that’s probably the best compromise that should have a chance to get passed.

Kate says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“Strictly entertainment” is shockingly easy to abuse. For example, that would open up the opportunity for Neo-Nazi bands to use the swastika in their merchandising; music is just entertainment, after all, right? What node said is really important. This isn’t about silencing discussion of the past, it’s about continuing problems with Nazi ideology in the present. I know there’s a conflict between this solution and American ideals of free speech, but given the history, it’s understandable.

Lurker Keith says:

Re: Re: Re:3 You missed some details

I never said the exception should be “strictly entertainment”. I said the exception should be “making fun of Nazis using the Swastika for strictly entertainment purposes”.

The making fun of Nazis part would tend to undermine the message, so few, if anyone, would take it seriously.

& even if they managed to get a serious message in there, it wouldn’t be covered by this. The Nazi message would still be illegal. Either the entire thing is about making fun of them or it isn’t covered.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

That’s a lazy way of banning these groups. Instead of going after the groups themselves or their ideology, which would take real work since the boundaries of what is and what isn’t allowed can be fuzzy and ill-defined, go after some proxy which is associated with the group, and which can be strictly defined (the shape of a swastika is very simple to describe, for instance; you can point to something and say “this is a swastika” and “this isn’t a swastika”).

It’s like you had a cult you desired to ban, and instead of banning the cult or their beliefs, you noticed the cult’s members liked to cut their beards into a particular shape, and simply banned cutting one’s beard into that shape. It’s a simple feel-good measure which does nothing against the real issue.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re:

@ node:
well, by golly, you’re richtig ! !!
The They ™ are only trying to re-write the PRESENT…
oh, so that’s okay, then…

(w-a-i-t a minute, don’t the present become the past become his story ? ? ? hmmm, maybe this hasn’t been thought all the way through… snicker)

all these idiotic so-called ‘hate laws’, etc, are, well, IDIOTIC:
NOT only egregious censorship for no good reason…
NOT only striesanding the very stupid crap they are stupidly trying to hide…
NOT only giving it some sort of underground legitimacy…
BUT also not stopping ‘hate’…

HOW the fuck can you stop ‘hate’, and -something never discussed- WHY THE FUCK would you want to: IT MAKES NO HUMAN SENSE: without hate, there is no love, without the FREEDOM to hate, YOU ARE NOT FREE ! ! !

hate is an emotion, not an action…
dog damn, i hates me some idiots, and they are fucking EVERYWHERE…

node (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

@art guerilla

Once I managed to remove the static and I boiled down this diatribe to:

“It doesn’t stop the hate”, which I didn’t say and actually agree with, and “It give these symbols some sort of underground legitimacy”, which I actually don’t disagree with either, I find myself reluctantly agreeing with you on content.

Of course this addresses none of the issues that I mentioned earlier, namely that the article fails to deal with any of the subtleties involved.

Beyond that, your comment illustrates very nicely my point about the militant cry of censorship actually blocking any real discussion of these subtleties.

node (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Well, with the help of some of the other people that have commented here…

The fact that this case has actually very little to do with censorship.

Look at:
Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2014 @ 5:03am
Games not being art. The nazi symbolisms are allowed in a lot of contexts.

My reply as the the fact the current laws on both sides of the pond still need to catch up to the realities of digital life would also have been a perfectly viable angle for this story. Certainly here on techdirt.

Further down:
DCL, Mar 6th, 2014 @ 8:27am

Very briefly paraphrased: It’s legal to own, but not to import or sell in Germany. Again, the cry of censorship makes it easy to ignore the details of what’s going on.

Simply crying censorship is a strawman. It’s putting your fingers in your ears and shouting “lalallala”.

Dark Helmet, Timothy usually does a better job.
This article is doing exactly the same piss poor job that techdirt often accuses others off doing when dealing with the intersection of law and technology, and I’m calling techdirt out on this.

I’ve been lurking on this site for the last 5 years or so and I’ve very rarely commented, but this article simply does not adhere to the high standards I hold techdirt to and that is usually exhibits.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“The fact that this case has actually very little to do with censorship.”

I don’t understand this. It looks to me like this has everything to do with censorship. Are we using the same definition of the word?

All of those comments you point out don’t actually do much to point out what the subtleties are. Yes, they point out subtleties, but I don’t see the relevance of them with regards to whether or not this is censorship.

For the record, I’m not debating you here — I genuinely don’t understand what you’re saying.

node (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

@John Fenderson

For me using the word censorship in this case is using a very large blunt object on a much more intricate matter.

It’s easy to use and the sheeple will go: Yes censorship is baaaahaad and contentedly lean back in their disapproval and nobody is forced to use their ounce of grey matter for even an instant.

It serves to achieve not at thing, it doesn’t help to accurately define the problem or what’s behind it and it certainly doesn’t do a thing to improve the situation.

We come here and read articles and commentary on techdirt to understand a little more about what’s going on in this intersection of law and technology. Simply dismissing something as censorship and letting it go at that simply doesn’t do it for me. I want more.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

I think very few people here believe that “all censorship is bad”. I certainly don’t. But even if censorship is justified, it is no less censorship, and it does come with a cost. It helps nothing to pretend otherwise.

I do, however, fail to see why this particular censorship is acceptable. A case could have been (and was) made for it shortly after the end of WW2, but not anymore.

node (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

I’m uncomfortable with the use of the term censorship in this case at least partially since it’s very indirect. Yes, maybe you could make the argument that even indirect censorship is censorship, and yes this doesn’t necessarily excuse it.

It’s a game company that to market their game in Germany has to make a change to a couple of textures or sprite in their game in order to market (sell it directly) in Germany. It doesn’t take away from the content of the game. It doesn’t influence the message of the game in any great way, and it’s not attentionally target at this game in particular.

Focusing on this single aspect of being censorship, even if it could be defined as a case of censorship in the broadest sense, seems to do a disservice to the actual facts.

It’s less of a question of whether censorship in any form is acceptable or not (arguments could be made for both sides). Whether the argument of censorship really serves the facts of this story is the point I’m concerned about.

In my opinion it’s a very broad brush in this case that manages to hide other aspects that are similarly relevant and interesting.

I do believe that reaching for censorship is the wrong approach in 99 out of a hundred cases, but in this case it simply isn’t direct censorship.

It’s a company that has to adapt to a particular local law, and that is a situation every big game developer faces any time they release a large AAA title. Maybe the details in this case are a little juicier than in most cases, but that doesn’t really make this case special to me.

For me, it’s less a question of whether censorship is acceptable in this case or any other, than a question of whether the angle of censorship is really the best angle to approach a story that has many more interesting facets.
My concern is that using the angle of censorship, while at least partially true, tends to mask other aspect of this story that would give it more depth and would have been just as interesting, albeit maybe less sensationalist.

Techdirt should be a place to discuss the merits of any given story without having to resort to button pushing key phrases. In my mind the approach to this story is just too close to a ‘big media’ approach. Reading it on techdirt makes me a little uncomfortable.

[Disclaimer: A little wordy and posted after the consumption of half a bottle of good red.]

Anonymous Coward says:

The problem isn’t that the swastika is always forbidden and censored, the problem is that it’s only used in specific contexts: art, historic documentation/education and so on – for example, the Indiana Jones films are perfectly fine, legal and uncensored.

Currently, games are classified as toys in Germany, not art. Hence, they can’t use it. If you allow toys to use it, then you’ll immediately get neo-Nazi groups selling flags as “toys” (much like adult “toys” are often sold as “novelty item”).

So yeah, this is a sprit of the law vs. letter of the law thing, but it’s a bit of a corner case and no games publisher had the initiative to try and push “games as art” on a legal level yet.

node (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This is a great comment and it shows that the issue simply isn’t as cut and dried as some hope.

The abuse of 86A happens on both sides. By those that would want to have the law do more than it should as well as by those trying to skirt the law by following the letter rather than its spirit.

In pratice this means that unless you want to write something incredibly dense and exhaustive the size of a phonebook, the application of a law such as this often comes down to jurisprudence and unfortunately sometimes something like the South Park game gets caught in the cross-fire.

For me the issue here is less specifically with 86A, rather than with the fact that a lot of law in both theory and practice is still very much trying to catch up to the digital age and the idea of a video game as art falls somewhat into this category.

scotts13 (profile) says:

Native Americans

“Now we have football teams filled with the decendents of African slaves playing under the moniker of our Native American victims so we can sell beer to everyone else.”

Can’t see how you missed it, but the use of Native American names has become quite controversial and it diminishing quickly. More of a “used to” than a “now.”

azuravian (profile) says:

Re: Native Americans

Since when is it a “used to”. Yes, there has been some headway in changing mascots, but it’s far from over.

NFL: Washington Redskins and Kansas City Chiefs
MLB: Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians
NHL: Chicago Blackhawks

These are just in major league sports. There are multiple others at the college or minor league pro level.

Trevor says:

Re: Re: Native Americans

The reason they are going after the “Redskins” as opposed to the Chiefs, Braves, Indians, and Blackhawks, is that “Redskins” was a racist term used to described Native Americans, whereas the others were badges of honor certain groups of Native Americans gave themselves. Blackhawks, Braves, Chiefs, etc. were honored warriors, but Redskins was just a slur.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Native Americans

ahhh, and there’s the rub, if not the nub:
you can ONLY refer to ______ (fill in the blank) POSITIVELY, NEVER ‘negatively’ (and there won’t be any problem in determining that, either), oh, well there goes free speech as a concept…

here’s the thing, IF someone/anyone wants to name THERE THING THAT THEY OWN WHATEVER they want to, they should…

baseball team, widget product for sale, restaurant, services, etc, whatever…
name it WHATEVER the fuck you want…

THEN, it is up to US -as the public- as to whether we patronize that baseball team/product/restaurant/whatever, based on WHATEVER criteria WE -as individuals and collectively- want to decide upon…
you are ‘offended’ by the name ?
(really? i seriously doubt it, but let’s pwetend…)
okay, don’t go to the ballfield, buy the product, eat at the restaurant…
seems simple enough to me…
EVERYONE has more freedom under this method, only there are those who wish to child-proof the world who will not be happy they can’t IMPOSE THEIR MORALS ON EVERYONE ELSE…

azuravian (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Native Americans

Just so I understand, are you implying that part of this freedom does NOT include the right to urge them to change their name.

I agree with you, in theory, that a company should be able to run themselves as they see fit and we, the people, should determine how well they perform in their business. However, I would argue that in addition to not frequenting their establishment, part of my rights would include doing whatever I can to influence them to change their product.

zip says:

Let’s not forget that the ban on Swastikas and everything else Nazi-related was put in place by the American occupation authorities in Germany.

Similarly, statues and images of Saddam Hussein were destroyed, and anything related to the outlawed Baath Party were forbidden after Iraq was conquered by a US invasion. (Ditto for anything Taliban-related in Afghanistan after its conquest).

These symbolism bans have little to do with any kind of “remember the victims” sob story and everything to do with crushing any lingering resistance in a defeated country.

DCL says:

DE Softend versions are not hardcore censorship

My understanding (from being in meetings on the subject with game company legal teams present) is that the “bad” content cannot be SOLD to users if they are within the German border… but it is ok if they own the content and bring it in and it is ok for them to download the content while in country if they purchased elsewhere.

I don’t know if Ubi has that level of flexibility when it comes to distribution vs sales so results in the real world may differ.

That means that in theory if you buy the game in the US and travel to DE with it on your laptop there are no problems. But if you BUY it while in DE then you will get the non-swastika game.

So it doesn’t feel like super hardcore censorship in that owning the content doesn’t get you a trip to prison it is just you aren’t allowed to BUY the content while in Germany… still seems like an ineffective way to deal with it.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: It's not the obvious things you should worry about

Large, expansive censorship is bad, but since it’s so obvious, it’s actually not as threatening, as it’s very visible, so people can fight against it.

No, the real problem comes when it’s done more subtly, in pieces, where an entire category isn’t blocked, just a ‘part’ of it. Currently.

And maybe down the road another ‘part’ is blocked. And then after a while yet another ‘part’ is blocked, each step gradual, each time letting people get used to the ‘small additional change’ before the next one is brought about, yet ultimately leading to the same result as the large, obvious censorship.

BeeAitch (profile) says:

Re: Wow

Wow I’m glad we have a Jeff that is an expert in History sharing his opinion. Oh wait, hes [sic] not. That might be why Jeff’s opinion is so incorrect and not historically accurate that ITS [sic] not funny ether. Stick to what you know bud and stfu with what you don’t.

FTFY

NB: You might want to offer a counterargument and some historical background when you make claims like this.

America is going down very soon. says:

The joys of the EU-SSR

Germany has had no sovereignty or self governence since 1945. The banning laws were introduced by Joe Stalin and his Jewish friends (The biggest mass-murderers in history) and are still used today to imprison thousands a year for thought crimes. I suppose the hammer and sickle is freely displayable and that is all that matters.

It is weird to listen to all these piss-bowls of self righteousness commentators above patting themselves on the backs for their ethics at banning the swastika but are quite happy to sit back on their pompous backsides and say nothing about Israel eradicating the Palestinians right under their noses. Such insincere, hypocritical frauds.

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