Video Games In Germany Can Now Maybe Kinda Sometimes Have Swastikas

from the winning-is-weird dept

As you likely know, Germany has some very restrictive laws surrounding how and when Nazi iconography can appear in the country. This has resulted in a heavily-policed artistic community, particularly when it comes to video games, which has produced some fairly funny happenings about games accidentally going to Germany chock full of Nazi stuff and other funny happenings in which the game makers make a show of doing as little as possible to get around the law. In the realm of other media, such as movies, the German government has put in place a review process to make sure that the use of Nazi symbols furthers the artistic or historical accuracy of the entertainment. Video games have not had such a review system. And, look, on some level this sort of attempt by Germany to restrict the use of these hateful symbols is understandable. The kind of global embarrassment that comes with committing the worst genocide in history is the sort of thing that leaves a mark. But we’ve also pointed out that these German laws aren’t so much stamping out fascist thought as they are putting the government’s collective head in the sand as some kind of grand virtue signal to the planet.

Which is why it’s at least a tepid step forward that Germany has revised its position and will now allow Nazi iconography in some video games, some of the time, on a case by case basis.

The government has moved from a blanket ban on swastikas and Hitler moustaches to a case-by-case basis, which will be administered by the USK, Germany’s ratings board.

The official release with the news gives the specifics:

When games that depict symbols of unconstitutional organisations are submitted to the USK for an age rating, the USK committees can now assess them on a case-by-case basis to decide whether the ‘social adequacy clause’ (Sozialadäquanzklausel, as laid out in section 86, subsection (3) of the German Criminal Code) applies. In this context, ‘social adequacy’ means that symbols of unconstitutional organisations can be used in games in individual cases, as long as those symbols serve an artistic or scientific purpose, or depict current or historical events.

Again, the big shift here is actually one of cultural importance, which is the German government will now consider video games as an artistic form, which they undoubtedly are. Movies and television have had a similar review process in place for years, but games were left out. And, as the gaming art form continues to gain ground as the preferred entertainment medium, it was impossible for the German government to ignore this forever. So, while it seems odd to declare a victory in which more swastikas will be seen by the German public, this is much more to do with an acknowledgement of culture than cheering on the Third Reich.

Felix Falk, Managing Director of the German Games Industry Association, says:

This new decision is an important step for games in Germany. We have long campaigned for games to finally be permitted to play an equal role in social discourse, without exception. Computer and video games have been recognised as a cultural medium for many years now, and this latest decision consistently cements that recognition in terms of the use of unconstitutional symbols as well.

It remains to be seen whether or not older games like Wolfenstein will resubmit the original forms of its games for inclusion in all of this, but at least the German government will no longer act as though it can pretend that Nazis were never a thing.

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Comments on “Video Games In Germany Can Now Maybe Kinda Sometimes Have Swastikas”

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PaulT (profile) says:

I can certainly understand the reasoning behind these bans, but there’s two major problems in my eyes. One is that, whenever something is banned it becomes more desirable to many people. With my own experience – banning and heavily cutting movies during the video nasties era just made them into a collectible list for underground traders. It *increased* interest in movies that they were trying to suppress, most of which are long forgotten elsewhere but remain collectable to this day in the UK. I could imagine that the kinds of people the ban is meant to keep the iconography away from are just obtaining it elsewhere anyway, with greater fervour than if the bans was not there.

The second is that the worst you can do is make people forget history, as per the old saying, lest we repeat it. The use of iconography was a very important part of the Nazi movement, and it should be remembered how they used and corrupted symbols. Stopping people from being aware of those things in context, while making them potentially more alluring to those in the know through censorship seems to be a mistake.

Plus, unless I’m very much mistaken there aren’t really any mainstream videogames where the iconography is used in a positive manner. Hiding something that only ever has a negative context seems counterproductive.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:


unless I’m very much mistaken there aren’t really any mainstream videogames where the iconography is used in a positive manner

I cannot recall any mainstream game, in this or any generation, that has ever used Nazi iconography in a “Nazis are good” sort of way. Even World War II games with multiplayer tend to avoid the “Nazis vs. Allied Forces” concept for that specific mode.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yeah, which is why the “games is art” ruling discussed in the article is so important. I dislike the thought crime feel that there is some arbiter deciding what portrayal of Nazi iconography is okay. But it is not an outright ban. Lifting the ban on games, to some level, reduces the very concerns you have. As well, the symbol is shown in educational settings.

I feel like your statement here is addressing the various problematic VG bans during the outright ban period rather than really discussing the content of the article, in which Germany has moved toward less censorship and more allowed, contextual use of the iconography.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is good news. Since history tends to repeat itself, banning depiction of historical events removes one of the checks against said repetition: cultural awareness.

We live in a time where most of the people who lived through WWII as adults are dead or dying, and there are a number of younger people who want to revise history to fit their own narrative (role of Poland/Italy in the war, role of Naziism, views on the holocaust, etc).

Kids these days get a lot of their first exposure to the historical issues via video games, and it sets the filters through which they absorb further knowledge.

So kudos to the German government for recognizing this.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: banning depictions of Nazi symbolism

There’s a clear exception in the German law banning Nazi Symbolism for historic references, such as in the movie Downfall.

As for the holocaust, Germany will reverently show you the documents from the Third Reich specifying which persons were processed and how. Their paperwork was pretty fastidious, and German historians are keen to not forget the atrocities committed by their state and people.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: banning depictions of Nazi symbolism

“There’s a clear exception in the German law banning Nazi Symbolism for historic references, such as in the movie Downfall.”

But, apparently not previously applicable to videogames, hence the notable aspect of this news.

As for the Holocaust and the war in general – they are certainly not proud of it and most Germans I’ve met are fully aware, it’s not like the Chinese and trying to hide Tiananmen Square from history. But, they are somewhat cagey about symbolism and the risk of attracting neo-Nazis. A few years ago, I was on a tour of Berlin and we were taken to where Hitler’s final bunker was. It’s now a car park next to an apartment building. The guide was very careful to tell us that not only had they deliberately not left any markings to represent the spot, anyone spotted doing a Nazi salute nearby would be arrested on sight.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Not previously applicable to videogames

Oh no. Germany in it’s grand tradition of legislature whimsy decided that video games are legally not art.

I’m pretty sure they also excluded video games from having any cultural value as well, but I’m not sure how legally solid that is.

When I was doing graphic design for grognardian WWII-era wargames (these days called spreadsheet wargames — they focus on micromanaging logistics), I had to blur, replace or stealth all the swastikas on German emblems, medals and insignias that were used in the games. Historical pictures were okay, if they were clearly in a historical picture, and not a rendering.

And yes, with some exceptions the people of Germany are repentant about the Holocaust, not proud, but the events of the Third Reich attract armchair historians (and a few professional ones) that are interested in how it happened (and maybe how to prevent similar events from happening again).

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: "Nazis have free speech too"

Not in Europe, and especially not in Germany. They’re all really sore / embarrassed about the whole holocaust affair.

Antifa is actually a continuation of the same sentiment. It started out a run of cells in Europe that then expanded into the states. But they believe that fascism and its elements are such a threat to society that it transcends human rights.

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