|A lunatic Chaplin imitator
and his greatest fans
|First as tragedy
|Then as farce
|Actually, it's about ethics in ...
“”One of the many advantages of Nazis is that you don't have to justify shit. "Hey, this guy's a Nazi; would you like to drown him in his own piss?" the game might ask. "Sorry, did you say something? I was busy drowning a Nazi in his own piss," we might reply. But despite that, New Order puts the effort into making hating Nazis feel fresh again. One of the first things we do is watch a soldier shoot a room full of hospital patients before we stab him right up the lebensraum, and the principal villains only need to smile and play card games to become infinitely hateable.
|—Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
The older titles
It started in 1981 with two games developed by Muse Software, titled Castle Wolfenstein and Beyond Castle Wolfenstein. They were some of the very first stealth games and played from a top-down perspective as opposed to the later entries. They were inspired by the movie (and book) called "The Guns of Navarone".
id Software era
id Software in 1992 decided to soft-reboot the franchise by using the expired trademark to the word and borrowing plenty of the setting to make what is considered to be the popularizer of the first-person shooter genre. It was met with plenty of controversy over its violent content, but it is generally well regarded as a game. Sequels and spin-offs were to follow, but they generally had little to say apart from: "Here's William 'B.J.' Blazkowicz. Here are some Nazis. Would you like to kill them?". Notably, id tied Wolfenstein 3D in with Commander Keen, a relatively well made platform game, by making Keen the grandson of William "B.J." Blazkowicz. The only reason to know this is to infiltrate nerds.
The prequel, Spear of Destiny, incorporates some supernatural elements, with Hitler having the Nazis steal the titular spear in the belief it will make him invincible. Allied HQ and BJ himself are skeptical of this, but he is sent to steal it back anyway, in the hopes its loss will send Hitler off the deep end. Once BJ kills a heavily-armored soldier guarding the spear and grabs it, however, he finds himself having to battle a demon called the Angel of Death to prove he is worthy to wield it.
The interesting stuff
The second reboot
In 2001, the franchise received its second reboot and biggest departure from the real world, this time developed first by Gray Matter Interactive (later became Treyarch, who has since predominantly created Call of Duty titles), then in 2009, Raven Software for Activision Blizzard. In this timeline, William "B.J." Blazkowicz is an agent for the Allies set to disrupt the Nazis (like you do), but it also includes some more fantastical elements like magic. Other things included is the hint that Blazkowicz is of Jewish heritage, making the Nazi killing all the more justified. The 2001 title, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, was very well received, garnering an 88 for the PC version, which was the biggest-selling one. The 2009 title, simply called Wolfenstein, was critically much less well regarded as the highest scoring version, the PC version, garnered a 74 average on Metacritic based on 41 reviews and it didn't sell too hotly, but it signified the beginning of a new era and possible third reboot. (What followed used elements from the two titles that preceded it, suggesting it was a sequel, but there are many elements that don't necessarily correspond with it, suggesting it's another reboot. It can probably work either way.) What would come next in 2014 is Wolfenstein: The New Order, a game of critical acclaim for its storytelling and developed by Machine Games for Bethesda Softworks, now also the owners of id Software. It fully flips the narrative as Blazkowicz fails on a mission to kill a Nazi scientist (General Wilhelm "Deathshead" Strasse, who figured in the past two games) and with his technology allows the Nazis to take over the world. About the only controversy Wolfenstein: The New Order received was in Britain where an MP complained about the presence of "The Beatles" in-game as "Die Käfer". A prequel expansion pack titled Wolfenstein: The Old Blood was also released to mixed reception. What would come next is even more interesting...
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
The latest release in the series, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, was first teased via a command prompt at E3 2016. Unfortunately at this time, the rise of the alt-right and Donald Trump made this a strange time for the game to exist. The game was then officially announced the following year at E3 2017, featuring the United States taken over by Nazis becoming the American Territories. The leader of the American resistance is a black woman named Grace Walker (who had a baby with a white man), with other supporting characters being a Jewish mystic and a Communist, and once again Blazkowicz himself being of Jewish and Polish heritage. If we hold the phone, this game also says that Blazkowicz is Jewish himself, not just ancestry. There's also a disturbing scene in 1919 (via flashback) set in Mesquite, Texas where BJ's dad Rip abuses him and Zofia (BJ's mother) before forcing BJ to kill the family dog. Rip just so happens to be a good ol' fashioned white supremacist and social Darwinist who "cares about the white man", says "the old and the weak are doomed" and hates blacks (he uses "nigger" twice), gays (he tells BJ to "straighten the queer") and Jews (despite being married to one, he stills mocks them by calling her a "smart mouth goddamned Jew"). It turns out that the reason for all of this cruelty is BJ was (gasp!) friends with an African American girl named Billie.
The game also features the Ku Klux Klan in a minor antagonist role (being regarded even by the Nazis as worthless fodder), black slavery is back, and its promotional campaign features such lovely Nazi-themed American programs such as "Trust in Brother" (a parody of 1950s sitcoms such as Leave It To Beaver), "Blitzmensch" (a parody of Adam West and Burt Ward's Batman), "German or Else" (a parody of 1960s game shows such as To Tell the Truth and Jeopardy!) and "America: The New Order" (which is a parody of propaganda films such as Triumph of the Will). With the cauldron of alt-righters being a permutation of Gamergaters and the election of Trump to the presidency, there was backlash over the game from the deepest bowels of the internet who think the game historically about killing Nazis is racist towards white people.
Even though the player character is white. To their absolute credit, MachineGames never once thought of backing down with their marketing and among many things that were said was a knockoff of "Make America Great Again" with "Make America Nazi-Free Again" and a later video where you punch a Nazi for just being a Nazi. The backlash by the crying alt-right Trump supporters was intense, really illustrating the rise of sympathies to Nazism and white supremacism in the United States against a video game, of all things.
Adolf Hitler himself makes a show-stopping appearance on the surface of Venus being portrayed as an addled old man and practically worshipped despite doing some super obnoxious things like stopping mid-rant to piss blood in the ice bucket in full view of everyone else in the room, declaring a familiar-looking actor to be a Jewish spy and shooting him in the face, and mistaking his assistant for his mother and burying his head into her bosom for comfort. The game's canon takes place in 1961, which makes Hitler 72 and he seems to be suffering from old-age dementia and possibly even the side effects of his real-world drug addiction.
Like all games in Germany, Nazi imagery wasn't allowed in the version released there. Among other things, the developers censored the aforementioned Hitler by changing his title and removing his mustache, and changed all mentions of "jews" into "traitors" or similar words. However, these changes altered the game's content to the point where it started resembling Holocaust denial, meaning the laws made to prevent downplaying the events of WWII had done just that. This caused Germany to re-examine their laws, and later add video games to the list of media where Nazi symbolism was okay as long as it's in historical or educational context.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood, a sequel with William and Anna's twin daughters set in 1980 after the second American revolution, was released in 2019. Female protagonists on a search-and-rescue mission in Paris with powered armor for their father? How could anyone hate this as a story concept? It was decried as a major disappointment from New Order's satisfying gameplay and interesting story, since it changed to a multiplayer focused Borderlands clone.
- "Wolfenstein for PC Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved December 27, 2017.
- Sung, Lydia (September 11, 2009). "Wolfenstein combined sales barely break 100k". Neoseeker. Retrieved December 27, 2017.
- "William J. Blazkowicz". Retrieved January 14, 2018.
- "imagine seeing the words "no more nazis" and reacting like this". Retrieved January 14, 2018.
- "The Alt-Right Thinks 'Wolfenstein: The New Colossus' Is Racist to White People". Retrieved January 14, 2018.
- "'Wolfenstein II' shows us that Nazis were an American problem all along". Retrieved January 14, 2018.