In video games, you kill Nazis. That’s what we do. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (read my review) doesn’t try to disrupt or examine this. The latest shooter from developer Machine Games treats Nazis like zombies, aliens, or robots — or the same way games have always treated Nazis. But Machine Games uses our history with Nazis in games to take a political stance that is modern and relative to today.
Wolfenstein II brings Nazis to America in an alternate-history sci-fi world. These villains are as cartoony and over-the-top in their evil as Mecha-Hitler, the half-human/half-robot boss, from the original Wolfenstein 3D. That’s a formula that has worked for the series, and Machine Games doesn’t screw with it. Instead, the studio makes its point by asking how certain kinds of Americans would respond if Nazis were in control. Everyone always says how they would’ve fought Hitler and his kind if they had been in Germany in the 1930s and ’40s, but The New Colossus has its doubts about certain people.
The setup of Wolfenstein II means that the real villains are not Germany’s National Socialist party. They are more like a force of nature — evil made manifest. So who are the actual villains? Well, you’ll spot them throughout the game. They are the Americans who are comfortable with their new overlords or even embrace them and their ideals.
Rip Blaskowicz, the father of Wolfenstein hero BJ Blaskowicz, is Machine’s primary vehicle for conveying its politics. In the video above, you can see the first 60 minutes of The New Colossus, and this is where the story sets up Rip as a bitter, violent racist who blames his financial problems on black and Jewish people (but he’s not a bigot — he just has economic anxiety). Those people include Zofia, his wife and BJ’s mother, who is Jewish (Rip is not Jewish, according to in-game lore. His family was Polish, and they immigrated to Texas). In a series of flashbacks, Rip beats BJ, his wife, and the family dog. When the dog fights back, Rip puts a shotgun in your hands and tells you to kill the pet.
Rip is evil before the Nazis arrive, and that’s the point. In America, the white supremacists were inside of us all along. He’s the kind of guy that would have supported Jim Crow laws or would have donned a white hood to burn a cross in a black family’s yard.
When Hitler’s forces do arrive in The New Colossus’s United States, you find out that Rip is, of course, thrilled. It’s a reminder that no matter how many thousands of video game Nazis you kill, we’re going to have to deal with the people who would welcome them while everyone else is fighting to survive.