Wolfenstein II is about killing Nazis. It’s been a discussion in the court of public opinion lately on whether or not it’s tolerant in society to enact violence on a potential threat to society, while still in it’s hypothetical/theoretical stages. Simplified “is it okay to punch Nazis”. Wolfenstein II answers this question for you. Of course it is.
Wolfenstein II is produced by Machine Games and published by Bethesda Softworks. You play as a Jewish super soldier recovering from the events of the first game: bringing the fight to the Nazis who took over the United States, and inciting a revolution. The first twenty minutes of the game are as brutal visually as it is emotionally. It was nominated and won several awards, key to this article is the Best Action Game awarded by the 2017 Game awards.
As a concept, righteous fury is the term used for actions done in anger that despite being done in anger, are good. For too long has media embraced the overarching theme that angry rage-monsters are villains simply because they fell victim to the emotion. (See Star Wars as a prime example.) There have been some pretty decent cases: the Hulk springing to mind, immediately followed by The Punisher and The Doomslayer . The track that Wolfenstein II takes is interesting in that it never outright declares that you as a character (living through BJ Blazkowicz) need to understand that you as a person are acting in the worlds best interest; it just shows you the things you need to know and then points you towards the Nazi horde.
To avoid spoilers I’ll link to this great article from Polygon: Wolfenstein II′s first ten minutes bludgeon the player with cruelty. It does a fantastic job of illustrating exactly how Machine Games built the first ten minutes to stoke the emotions it wants from the player.
Your father beats your mother. He shoots your dog after trying to force you to. By all measures, this man is one mean bastard. He’s racist. He’s about as ignorant and deplorable as they come. He’s also American. This is the America that gave in to the Germans, that rolled over at let the Reich rule them while maintaining the racial status quo in America. The only difference is that the German occupation allows it to happen in the open, and the bigots are in positions of power. This is the America that Wolfenstein II is asking you to save, and it shows you this in the first 10 minutes. It reminds you that the Nazis are cruel, unfeeling, almost sociopathic in their evil. It gives examples of abuse, micro-aggressions that lead to violence, and the outright inhumanity of a Nazi doctrine. All while showing you an American home.
As a player, I’m not ashamed to say that I paused the game in the first ten minutes and tried to look up a way to kill my dad. That’s how hard you are hit emotionally when playing the opening, and it really colors how you play from that point on. Suddenly, they aren’t faceless Nazi enemies. They are the Nazis that killed your friends, your family, that perpetrate a message of violence against non-Aryan people, and you as a player get to embrace the rage that rises when fighting them. You understand why Blazkowicz, a Jewish American citizen, still fights even when physically and mentally broken, because he is fueled by rage given purpose. The game’s message of hyper-violence and over the top action gets some emotional justification that the audience can feel, immediately, given the emotions evoked in them by the opening.
I imagine this emotional journey you take as BJ is meant to feel cathartic as you play through the remainder of the game. The first level for instance, reminds the player that BJ is physically broken, but can still dish out all the punishment he needs to. Once you get past the wheelchair, that limited mobility (and the frustration you feel with it) gives way to brutal sneak kills and outright insane gunfights. You feel awesome while doing it as well, with none of the Death Star guilt (What if that storm trooper had friends! It wasn’t his fault Vader was an asshole!).
All in all, I really like Wolfenstein II. And I like that they emotionally manipulate the player to embrace the anger and rage they feel at the injustice portrayed as a virtual experience. It’s one of the best games of 2017, and a masterstroke in story-telling for videogames.
This article originally was originally posted to Blake’s Backlog.
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