The white nationalist alt-right is upset about Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, a game about fighting Nazis who control America in an alternate 1961. No one is surprised by this reaction, and coverage of it is one part schadenfreude, one part reminder that the new white supremacy hasn’t strayed far from its horrific roots. While these reminders are useful, the fact that Bethesda made racists mad is less interesting than watching the entire saga play out in the trailer’s YouTube comment section.
Like many unmoderated comment sections, the Wolfenstein II trailer is the purest argument against the notion that a marketplace of ideas will improve the world. It’s a free-for-all between people who don’t know or care about each other, can’t figure out who’s serious, and are having their entire debate under a video about a man named “B.J. Blazkowicz” who’s been fighting cyborg Nazis since before many of them were born.
Warning: graphic hate speech and offensive language ahead.
The saddest thing about Wolfenstein’s YouTube comments isn’t the offended white supremacists. It’s the fact that in 2017 you can write “I can’t wait to kill some Nazis in a video game” as though that’s a meaningful political stance — which is exactly what a lot of the most popular comments are about. The second saddest thing is that you’ll be proven right by someone named “Pepe Von Europa.”
Of course, the offended white supremacists are there, too, like this one, who appears to find the notion of Nazis losing a war unrealistic.
And a lot of racists are very upset about the fact that the game includes a black female character.
Beyond the overt slurs, you get dogwhistles like “Black Lives Matter overtone,” which is usually code for “acknowledging that racism in America exists.”
A few people were spoiling to take the alt-right / antifa street fights of the past few months online.
But who’s serious here? To some extent it doesn’t matter — an ironic Nazi is still a Nazi. But Poe’s Law is out in full force, so things that seem like obvious mockeries of the alt-right get taken for the real article as well.
Fortunately, some people got on the same Nazi-killing page after a while.
This confusion matters, because people use these comments to gauge the influence of the alt-right, and a parody that falls flat isn’t the same as someone using “it’s a joke” to say something they really believe. When I went to check a comment calling Nazis “a bunch of people you disagree with,” I saw a follow-up apparently disavowing the statement — both posts seem to have disappeared since then, so I’ve followed up with the user on Reddit to clarify.
And not every dumb statement about Nazis is part of a white supremacist resurgence. “Never mind Nazis, what about communism?” isn’t an alt-right position, it’s an embarrassingly canned old-school conservative talking point. And, as another commenter points out, not a great one in video games.
Even the replies from apparent national socialists are more complicated than “Bethesda made the alt-right mad.” Nazis have guilty pleasures, too, I guess.
Sometimes you find a little oasis of meaningful criticism, like this takedown of Nazis having a monopoly on national pride.
And the vast majority of people who responded to Pepe Von Europa found him ridiculous.
But really, the best lesson you can take out of the past days of Wolfenstein commentary is that most people aren’t Nazis, which is a depressingly low bar. Overall, this is a pretty good summary of events.
We’re hoping to get a chance to try Wolfenstein II at E3. Hopefully we’ll find fighting the Nazis there a lot more satisfying.