The Price Wolfenstein 2 Had To Pay To Get Around Germany's Anti-Nazi Laws Was Removing A Mustache

from the yes-that-mustache dept

The last time we talked about Germany’s Strafgesetzbuch law, specifically section 86a that prohibits the display of Nazi symbols, iconography, or historical figures with few exceptions, was when Ubisoft accidentally sent the country versions of a South Park video game chock full of swastikas. I feel much the same today about the law as I did then: I get why the law was created, but it’s probably time for it to be retired. While the law does make room for Nazi symbols to be displayed for the purposes of art and education, too often those exceptions are either not actually adhered to in real-world examples, while those that might be able to fit their work within those exceptions don’t bother trying, too chilled by the law that limits their speech. Coupling that along with the simple fact that German citizens who really want to see Nazi symbols don’t have to work particularly hard to circumvent the law resolves the whole matter as being somewhat silly.

And it produces silly results. For instance, the latest game in the Wolfenstein series got around the law with what appears to be the minimum amount of effort possible.

The German Strafgesetzbuch section 86a outlaws the use of Nazi symbols as part of the denazification of the country post World War II. This law covers not only symbols like the swastika, but gestures like the Nazi salute. It doesn’t explicitly prohibit depictions of Adolf Hitler, but nevertheless, Hitler’s appearance in Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus has been censored: they took his mustache off.

Other than barely changing the Nazi symbols in the game and removing Hitler’s initials from what looks to be a monogrammed smoking jacket, that’s pretty much it. Compliance with the law resulted in the removal of a ‘stache. Meanwhile, anyone playing the game with it’s World War 2 themes will know exactly who they are seeing: Hitler.

When a law, well-meaning or not, requires its citizens to be criminally stupid for it to be of benefit, it should be obvious that the law is broken. And it would take someone without a functioning brain to play this scene in this specific game and not realize that Hitler was on the screen. That makes the law useless at anything other than forcing us to notice how much Hitler could have looked just like our own Uncle Larry and causing us to have to deal with that reality.

Again, I understand why the law was created. Even so, it’s time to sunset it.

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Comments on “The Price Wolfenstein 2 Had To Pay To Get Around Germany's Anti-Nazi Laws Was Removing A Mustache”

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orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Are video games art?

I don’t think anyone has bothered to challenge the decisions (or perceived climate, since most of this seems to be self censoring in advance). Probably because the beyond-overused Nazis bring roughly nothing to games, so the more naziesque bits are easily removed or “disguised” enough to please the censors who don’t really seem to care either. (Policing “content gets stupid, yeah?) If it were at all important or integral, surely someone would defend their art. They throw enough money to lawyers and DRM and takedown notice farms for all manner of other pointless things. (Speaking generally, that is. I don’t follow the proclivities of every particular publisher.)

Maybe write your congresscritters, and they can send someone to have a word with Germany about how we no longer demand they figuratively blow up ever swastika that wanders past.

What is exceptionally odd is the cases (the majority?) where the Nazis are clearly the enemy to be destroyed. Not sure why that promotes naziism, but then, documenting human rights abuses and war atrocities seems to get erased from public platforms as “supporting terrorism”, so what do i know?

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Are video games art?

I don’t think anyone has bothered to challenge the decisions

Bethesda could totally challenge the law with Wolfenstein II. Shit, given the clear anti-Nazi message of the game, Bethesda could even win. It likely chooses not to take up that challenge because easy censorship is cheaper than a hard-fought legal battle. Clip a moustache here, change a few symbols there, and voilà—a game that insults the intelligence of, but is also legal to sell in, an entire given country.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Are video games art?

Back in 2010 there was a reboot for Medal of Honor where American operators fought the Taliban. Except there was a multiplayer component so a small number of people pitched a huge fit about how it glorified terrorists and simulated killing AMERICAN SOLDIERS!

So they changed their name to Opposing Forces and everything was kosher again.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The game uses Nazi symbolism to express a single idea: The Nazis and their sympathizers within the United States (e.g., the Ku Klux Klan) are evil. The marketing for the game—including interviews with various developers who worked on it—made a point of advertising how this game wants you to kill those Nazis. The entire storyline around this game, its immediate predecessor, and every other game in the Wolfenstein franchise focuses on a single, easily-expressed idea: “Kill every last goddamned Nazi that comes into your line of sight.” Hell, the only remotely sympathetic character who is aligned with the Nazis in Wolfenstein II betrays and denounces the Nazis within the first hour of the story, then joins the anti-Nazi resistance for the rest of the game, then delivers a brief-yet-awesome speech late in the game about her not being a Nazi any more.

You could argue that the “what if” idea of “the Nazis won the war” could offend Holocaust survivors, their descendants, and Jewish people in general. I could even be convinced to agree with you in principle. Much like the whole “what if the Confederacy won” idea, the “Nazis won” idea reeks of indulgence in the idea of a world where White supremacy rules all and “undesirables” become a permanent oppressed underclass. Wolfenstein II largely avoids that indulgence by portraying the Nazis as absolute monsters—and by setting you up as someone who wants to kill every last Nazi in the entire world. (And beyond. Oops; spoilers!)

I understand—and respect—your opinion on this matter. That said, I believe in the unfettered freedom to express ideas that could offend others; that includes using rhetoric and symbolism that could offend even within a proper context. Wolfenstein II has every right to exist in its original, unedited form—and Germans should have every right to play it in that form.

David says:

Re: Re: Re:

The problem with making Nazi symbols to stand for people you kill indiscriminately as evil is that pretty much the whole of Germany fought under those symbols, some more, some less willingly. Telling the holocaust survivors that the right course of action would have been to genocide Germans is not likely making anybody happy.

"The Nazis" did not occupy the German country but the Germans’ hearts. This is a shameful part of their history that they are intent not to have repeated. Germany did not suffer "under the Nazis" but suffered being Nazis (cf Willy Brandt in Warsaw).

A good starting step for a former drunk is not to have any alcohol in the house. Regarding alcohol as evil is certainly helping in that regard.

Hollywood treats Nazis/Germans and their symbols as boilerplate for simplistic evil useful as an antagonistic force in a story, similar to Halloween or Zombie costumes.

This is more complex in Europe, and most complex in Germany.

Applying American recipes here is of dubious value, and actually the Denazification recipes were to a good degree cooked up with American help: the former GDR under Russian authority chose to employ a larger amount of cognitive dissonance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“I know this is hard to grasp for americans, but out constitution values humam dignity over freedom of speech. And these sympols are just to offensive for survivors and their heirs.”

No, you value “control” over human dignity. Still have not gotten rid of all of your silly little painters dictatorial vices eh? Maybe we should just go one step further and ban any economic trade with or news mention of the nation that brought that shit stain into the world?

I wonder how many people just hear the word Germany/Germans and think about that shit stain and become instantly traumatized? I say, in the interest of human dignity, we should not not let you people ever talk again, that way no one will ever be traumatized by your ilk again.


If you scrub history and what happened you are going to repeat it…. or wait, is that what you are after? A repeat of that? Go figure…

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

“That makes the law useless at anything other than forcing us to notice how much Hitler could have looked just like our own Uncle Larry…”

It was a popular style at the time. My wife’s grandfather had one. (My wife is the daughter of two Survivors so, yeah, Jews were wearing them too.) “Great Uncle Larry” might have been wearing a toothbrush moustache himself.

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