‘Wolfenstein 2’ needs to take a painfully realistic look at American racism to succeed

‘Wolfenstein 2’ needs to take a painfully realistic look at American racism to succeed
‘Wolfenstein 2’ Bethesda/YouTube
‘Wolfenstein 2’ Bethesda/YouTube
opinion
Mic invites contributors and staff to offer commentary and context about news and timely issues.

Over the weekend, I felt paralyzed by reports of racism, violence and mayhem in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. I didn’t know what to do, so I did what comes easiest: I played a video game. Specifically, I jumped back into Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, a smaller entry in the long-running Nazi-hunting shooter that I’ve been playing while I wait for Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.

I was hoping for a cathartic experience. Maybe shooting virtual Nazis might make me feel better about the real-life Nazis and white supremacists dragging this country back into the 19th century. Instead, Old Blood offered even more of an escape than I was expecting, pitting the protagonist against zombified Nazis and eventually a giant mummy that serves as the game’s final boss.

The final boss of ‘Wolfenstein: Old Blood’ is a... mummy? Horrible Gamerz Podcast/YouTube

That’s a far cry from Wolfenstein: The New Order, a video game about killing Nazis that actually takes you inside a concentration camp. And after playing through Old Blood and reflecting on what we’ve seen so far from Wolfenstein II, I’m a little worried the upcoming sequel may be too fantastical to say anything meaningful about the modern day Nazis all around us.

I’m a little worried ‘Wolfenstein II’ may be too fantastical to say anything meaningful about the modern day Nazis all around us.

Wolfenstein 2 needs to take Nazis seriously

Wolfenstein II continues the historical fiction introduced in New Order. The Nazis win World War II thanks to superior technology, and by 1961 they’ve conquered America as well. The new game takes place in a version of the United States that’s been corrupted by fascist leadership. The Klu Klux Klan walk freely in broad daylight. Sound familiar?

At least in ‘Wolfenstein II’ the white supremacists still have to hide their faces. Bethesda/Giphy

The latest entry in the Wolfenstein series has a chance to say something significant about Trump’s America, but I’m worried it won’t live up to that potential. A demo I played in July featured several moments of sharp political and cultural satire, but it also included sci-fi elements like anti-gravitational technology and an automated metal suit capable of covering the protagonist from head to toe. When you’re blasting through robot Nazis with a giant laser beam, the nuances of modern day racism tend to fly out the window.

When you’re blasting through robot Nazis with a giant laser beam, the nuances of modern day racism tend to fly out the window.

It’s probably safe to assume that Wolfenstein II will feature at least one scene where you shoot through crowds of angry KKK members, but will they be torch-wielding racists or possessed zombies? And once you make it to the final boss, will it be a stand-in for white supremacist leaders like Richard Spencer and David Duke, or some sort of evil Sasquatch under the control of a mad Nazi scientist?

I’m still hoping that Wolfenstein II leans into the modern day racism that makes it feel so necessary in 2017, but, as its October release approaches, I’m worried it will veer more towards fantasy than reality. In today’s political climate, that’s the last thing we need.

More gaming news and updates

Check out the latest from Mic, like this deep dive into the cultural origins of Gamergate. Also, be sure to read this essay about what it’s like to cosplay while black, a roundup of family-friendly games to play with your kids and our interview with Adi Shankar, producer of the animated Castlevania Netflix series.