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Wolfenstein Twitter Controversy, Explained

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Images show online responses to Wolfenstein in 2017, complaining the game's anti-Nazi themes were too "political."

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On December 5 2022, a popular post to Reddit’s r/WhitePeopleTwitter addressed the “Wolfenstein” video game franchise — more specifically, purported complaints that the game had become overtly “political”:

…dafuq? from WhitePeopleTwitter

Three replies to one Wolfenstein tweet were combined into one image, all three were dated October 5 2017. At the top of all three, @Wolfenstein tweeted “Make America Nazi-Free Again,” with the hashtags #NoMoreNazis and #Wolf2.

From left to right, three responses were as follows:

[@ironyispoison]: Oh wow, what a clever marketing trick: tapping into hysterical leftist power fantasy. So current. So subtly political. Wow. Go fuckyourselfs

[@ckhttp]: way to make it political, not buyin

[@LeviDeRosier]: Cool. Didn’t know Bethesda teamed with SJWs and ANTIFA!

On Reddit, the original poster (or OP) responded to a since-deleted comment, which context indicated was likely a question about the lag between the date on the tweets (October 5 2017) and its appearance on Reddit on December 5 2022:

No, my husband found this on Imgur and sent it to me. I didn’t know how old it was as I’ve never played the games.

In another comment, the submitter added:

[An unspecified post or comment was removed because] I pissed off a Neonazi and they got me perma-banned. I’m back apparently after I appealed.

An Imgur account shared the 2017 screenshots on December 5 2022, in a post titled “Remember when the new Wolfenstein game came out and all the Nazis got butthurt?”

It was not immediately clear whether the post to Reddit or the Imgur post had appeared first. In any event, the screenshots generated search interest. On December 6 2022, “Wolfenstein Twitter” had a “Breakout” measure of search popularity on Google Trends. Broadly, the recirculating screenshots involved context about the “Wolfenstein” franchise, the timing of the replies, and gaming discourse.

What is ‘Wolfenstein’?

A Wikipedia entry for the “Wolfenstein” franchise had the best rundown of the history and plots of the games that we could find. It explained:

Wolfenstein is a series of World War II video games originally developed by Muse Software. The majority of the games follow William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, an American Army captain and his fight against the Axis powers. Earlier titles are centered around Nazis attempting to harness supernatural and occult forces, while later games are set in an alternate history in which Axis powers won World War II.

[…]

Castle Wolfenstein was developed by American programmer Silas Warner, along with Dale Gray and George Varndell, and published in 1981 by his company M.U.S.E. Inc. (later known as Muse Software). Warner is cited as a pioneer in the early eras of video gaming, especially in the stealth genre.

Castle Wolfenstein was initially conceptualized by Warner after he saw the 1961 British-American war film The Guns of Navarone, which follows the efforts of an Allied commando unit as they attempt to destroy a seemingly impregnable German fortress. That same day Warner, played the multi-directional shooter arcade game, Berzerk, in which the player navigates through a maze with laser-shooting robots. After playing the game, Warner thought about taking the design of Berzerk and replacing the robots with Nazis. He eventually settled on the idea of a game based on the arcade shoot ’em up genre, where players dodge enemies with the intent of killing them, but instead changing the objective to escape the enemy guards and their castle, not necessarily to kill and destroy them; this made shooting guards simply a means to an end and not an end in itself.

Twelve iterations of “Wolfenstein” were put out between 1981 and 2019, and the tweets aligned with 2017’s release, “Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.”

‘Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus’

“Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus” was released on October 27 2017, during a year that forced many to think about Nazis, other white supremacist movements, and fascism in general. In August 2017, the deadly “Unite the Right” rally made re-emerging Nazi ideologies much more difficult to ignore:

Some white nationalists and right-wing protesters who have converged on Charlottesville, Virginia, have been using a Nazi rallying cry.

Video shows some of the protesters shouting “blood and soil,” a phrase invoking the Nazi philosophy of “Blut und Boden.” The ideology stressed that ethnic identity is based on only blood descent and the territory in which an individual lives – and it celebrated rural farmers and peasants as virtuous Germans.

The group gathered to protest Charlottesville’s plan to remove relics of its Confederate past, such as a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

An article in technology news site The Verge observed contemporary parallels in the course of “press preview” gameplay. In that analysis, The Verge contrasted in-game dialogue with then-ongoing debates over punching Nazis — backlash not associated with previous “Wolfenstein” games — and acknowledged that the events of 2017 added a novel measure of political relevance:

Midway through the recent press preview of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, I (as protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz) found myself sneaking around a secret base in Nazi-occupied 1960s America, getting ready to stow away on a train to Area 51. On the catwalk across from me, I heard a couple of heavily armed soldiers lamenting the state of the American resistance.

“I have no sympathy for terrorists,” one of them complained in German. “How can they promote violence toward us, just because we hold a different point of view?” His partner commiserated: “You’re right, Karl. Acts of violence are never okay. Never.” Karl kept going, indignant. “What kind of society would this be if I were to kill anyone who does not subscribe to my viewpoint?” I politely let his partner finish the conversation before stabbing them both.

The game might take place half a century ago, but this little exchange is a clear riff on contemporary internet politics — specifically, the exhaustive debate over whether or not it was okay for an anti-fascist protestor to punch white nationalist Richard Spencer unprovoked. It’s a real, canonical cousin to the satirical Wolfenstein 3-D mod that needles Blazkowicz with moral questions about Nazi-killing, and an almost verbatim echo of a YouTube comment calling The New Colossus “a game where you kill a bunch of people you disagree with.” (Its author confirmed to me that he’d been trying to parody angry alt-right trolls, but some other commenters seemed dead serious.)

On October 16 2017, Rolling Stone published an interview with Pete Hines, Vice President of Marketing at Bethesda Softworks (the publisher of “Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.”) The interview was prefaced with a brief description of Bethesda’s pre-launch marketing:

But the game’s marketing seems to be increasingly leaning into the reality of a United States struggling with the Alt-Right and tiki torch-bearing Nazis marching down streets. Most recently, the Twitter account posted a video showing an in-game Nazi being punched in the face and declaring that there is only one side.

An initial question addressed whether events like the August 2017 Unite the Right rally influenced development of the game — which, again, was previewed by members of the press before the event occurred. Hines explained the development timeline, adding that the release was “an opportunity to take a stand against these events”:

I should remind you that the “obvious” parallels you reference are, in fact, a pretty recent thing. The release date for the game was set in stone months prior to its E3 unveiling, and even further removed from the events of Charlottesville. The game and its content were well along the path to completion, and no one from MachineGames or Bethesda could have predicted Nazis marching down American streets in 2017. Even talking about it now seems ludicrous. From a marketing standpoint, we certainly saw an opportunity to take a stand against these events while also talking about the game we’re making, which is about killing Nazis and overthrowing their rule in the U.S.

[…]

Our hope is that any notion of Nazis and Nazism is gone, which has always been our stance.

In subsequent responses, Hines repeatedly reiterated that the game has always been predicated on the evils of Nazism:

We weren’t going to hide from the fact our game is about killing Nazis and freeing the U.S. from their rule, and if we can reference current events as part of talking about the game, so be it. Nazis are evil. We aren’t afraid to remind people of that.

[…]

… The New Colossus was not written to be a commentary on current events, because no one – at MachineGames or at Bethesda – could predict what would happen.

That said, we did use references to recent events in our social media to highlight parallels between what’s taking place in the game and what’s happening in our country. But ultimately the marketing and the game are about the same, simple message: Nazis are bad, and in Wolf II you get to kick their asses and it’s fun. There are actual Nazis marching openly on the streets of The United States of America in 2017. [Main character] BJ would not be OK with that – we are not ok with that — and the marketing reflects that attitude. When you have an opportunity to take a public stand against Nazis emerging in America, that’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up.

A November 2 2017 analysis from The Verge (“Wolfenstein II turns killing Nazis into uplifting political commentary”) referenced what appeared to be the tweet in the screenshots, published on October 5 2017:

A video not visible in the screenshots was added to the tweet; the same clip was shared to Facebook on the same date. It began with a Nazi flag and jackbooted soldiers marching, with the words “not my America” concluding the clip.

On October 15 2017, the official Wolfenstein account tweeted (and shared to Facebook) a similar video, along with the text “There is only one side. #NoMoreNazis #Wolf2.” Text on the screen read bookended a Nazi getting punched, and read “if you are a Nazi, GTFO”:

Of the two, the second’s usage of “there is only one side” apparently referenced an extremely controversial remark made by former United States President Donald Trump on August 15 2017 in response to the violent Unite the Right rally that month. Trump stated that “you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides,” a comment widely construed as condoning the violence perpetrated by white supremacists in Charlottesville.

Wolfenstein Twitter Replies

All three of the responses depicted in the screenshot were not retrievable as of December 6 2022.

One of the accounts, @ironyispoison, apparently locked their tweets on October 5 2017:

Another account, @ckhttp, also locked their tweets. All three of the tweets were originally embedded in a Bleeding Cool piece about the Twitter thread, including the third user — showing their existence, if not their intent (such as parody).

Nevertheless, seemingly sincere replies of the same description remained on both Twitter and Facebook threads. On the October 5 2017 tweet and Facebook post, replies included the following:

“Well glad I can not purchase this game anymore and save $60, thanks!”

“so you’re saying you want genocide of the Nazis? genocide sounds like a pretty Nazi-like idea to me”

“Wow that’s a big statement, you’ll loose a lot of gamers over this all because you wanted to make a political statement.”

“Well, even Bethesda catered to the trendy bandwagon of Social Justice, the name-calling arsenal of failing leftists.”

“I was waiting to see when they would try and bring politics about this game and make it a right vs left thing and here it is”

“Just because someone voted for Donald Trump that makes them a nazi?you guys are f****** stupid. Im all about killing nazis and loved all the previous games but if they go political then Ill pass on this title. ✌”

Some replies on the second tweet and Facebook post were similar:

“You need to stay out of social politics, it doesn’t end well when businesses push a narrative instead of a product. And you’re victimising of the innocent decedents of all those German soldiers who fought in the war. They weren’t involved and dont deserve this targetted abuse”

“congratulations you just promoted genocide and got as bad as nazis, the people you’re trying to be so different from”

“Obviously implying that Trump supporters are Nazis. Definitely not buying your game now, which sucks cause I hate Nazis and liked shooting them.”

Replies of the excerpted here were in the minority, and far outnumbered by people commending the marketing campaign. However, the three in the screenshot led to locked accounts, creating the possibility that users sympathizing with Nazis deleted or restricted their original comments.

At least one account appeared to infer that the clips implied that Trump supporters were Nazis, suggesting that several of the replies were a function of the same interpretation.

Summary

On December 5 2022, “Wolfenstein” Twitter screenshots were shared to Reddit and Imgur, possibly due to the post on the latter reminiscing about “when the new Wolfenstein game came out and all the Nazis got butthurt” in 2017. Three tweets seen in the screenshot appeared to exist based on residual embeds in an October 2017 entertainment news item. “Wolfenstein” (and its anti-Nazi themes) dated back to 1981 — but the release of “Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus” coincided with several real-life events. A July 2017 pre-release analysis from The Verge contrasted gameplay with an “exhaustive debate over whether or not it was okay for an anti-fascist protestor to punch white nationalist Richard Spencer unprovoked.” After the Unite the Right rally in August 2017, Bethesda marketing vice president Pete Hines explained that the events of that year had been highly unpredictable, adding that the developer “certainly saw an opportunity to take a stand against these events while also talking about the game we’re making, which is about killing Nazis and overthrowing their rule in the U.S.”