This morning I got into a conversation with +Tracy Barnett on twitter about the difficulty screen from Wolfenstein: The New Order which he felt was problematic. After a brief exchange on twitter I asked if he would mind writing out his position on Google+ since twitter is absolutely the worst place to have a discussion about anything more complex than 140 characters can convey (which you can read here). I'd like to take this opportunity to respond to him and to expand upon some points that he raises.
|B.J. Blazkowicz from Wolfenstein: the New Order|
"Let's start with the picture of the main character first. Square-jawed, blonde-haired, looks muscular. In short, everything a "real man" is supposed to be. That kind of image implicitly tells you that this is the kind of man you want doing your shooting for you. It denies the possibility that any other kind of man could do that. It's an assumption that you can't choose another image for your protagonist, so this is your man. He's an ideal, both in terms of looks, and of action. His face says "I'm strong and I'm violent."
(As an aside, he also looks really Aryan, which in a Nazi-shooting game is problematic in and of itself. But as that's not what this article is about, we move on.)" - Tracy Barnett
|Arnold, B.J. Blazkowicz from Wolfenstein 3D, and B.J. Blazkowicz from Wolfenstein: the New Order|
Actually B.J. Blazkowicz, the main character in most Wolfenstein games and in this one in particular, is clearly designed to look like an action movie star (most likely Arnold Schwarzenegger) from the late 1980s - early 1990s. The popularity of the action genre was at its height during this time with movies like Commando (1985), Predator (1987), Terminator (1984), and Terminator II (1991) coming out and dominating the box office, each with Arnold in the main role. So there is little surprise that when Wolfenstien 3D came out in 1992 that the main character in this series of games has a similar look (as did the main character in Doom and the countless clones that would come after) to the biggest action movie star of the time.
Not to pick apart your analysis of the character but I must take issue with the idea that the long established image of B.J. ". . . denies the possibility that any other kind of man could do that." While B.J. is the main character of the game there are soldiers of a variety of body shapes and characteristics throughout the game who not only fight the Nazis and survive, but that save your life on multiple occasions. Yes you do look like the same character who has been the center of the franchise for over twenty years; but that shouldn't be any more a problem than Sonic, Mario, Link, or any other series of games using the same main character in each iteration of the series.
Let's move on to what really seemed to bother Tracy about the difficulty screen: the names of the difficulty settings. In this version of the game ZeniMax Media chose to pay homage to the breakthrough Wolfenstein 3D, which launched the entire genre of first person shooters along with their cheesy catchphrases and over the top violence. The menu items in this version are nearly identical with Wolfenstein 3D with one additional term, Uber.
As you can see from the grouping of difficulty screens the Wolfenstein 3D had all the same settings except for Uber and contained the same sort of pictures to express the difficulty level of each setting - including the bonnet and pacifier that graces the current Can I Play, Daddy? setting. For Tracy these titles and their accompanying pictures express a larger cultural narrative around what it means to be a Man which he goes on about at some length. However I don't see that being expressed in the titles. Rather it continues on a long tradition in first person shooter games, which Wolfenstein 3D started, where the game is challenging the player's skill on every level from level select where the mind games begin to the actual game where the player's skills are put to the test.
The other thing that we discussed on twitter was the violence associated with this sort of game. For Tracy, and I don't think I'm putting words into his mouth here, that violence as the only way to deal with Nazis is a problem. Now Tracy didn't have the benefit of having played the game or even of having watched a play through of the game to give him a greater understanding of what's happening in the game and why killing Nazis in this context is a good and necessary thing. He didn't realize that the Nazis in this alternative timeline are still portrayed as the sort of people who attempted to exterminate Jews from the planet and that rape and murdered their way across the world. He wasn't aware that the Nazis murder a whole hospital of mentally deficients early in the story. He didn't know that the game builds a relationship between you and a diverse group of characters who the Nazis are constantly trying to kill (and in some cases succeed). But still, they're fucking Nazis.
Nazis are not good people who were defending their homeland from an aggressive force allied against them. They invaded other countries, murdered millions of civilians, performed grotesque human experiments (which are mirrored in the game), and in general behaved in the worst way possible for human beings to act. They are portrayed accurately in the game with people being forced into the party and soldiers gleefully murdering anyone not of the right racial stock. So is killing them the only way to deal with Nazis?
If you'd like to watch some of the actual game, which is a lot of fun if you're into first person shooters, then click on the video below by +Jesse Cox. Jesse's play through of the game is enjoyable and he has a fantastic personality that keeps you coming back through each of the videos in the series. He's done a lot of great play throughs since he started his channel and I cannot recommend him highly enough as he's a clever player with a quick wit.