As you likely know, Germany has some very restrictive laws surrounding how and when Nazi iconography can appear in the country. This has resulted in a heavily-policed artistic community, particularly when it comes to video games, which has produced some fairly funny happenings about games accidentally going to Germany chock full of Nazi stuff and other funny happenings in which the game makers make a show of doing as little as possible to get around the law. In the realm of other media, such as movies, the German government has put in place a review process to make sure that the use of Nazi symbols furthers the artistic or historical accuracy of the entertainment. Video games have not had such a review system. And, look, on some level this sort of attempt by Germany to restrict the use of these hateful symbols is understandable. The kind of global embarrassment that comes with committing the worst genocide in history is the sort of thing that leaves a mark. But we’ve also pointed out that these German laws aren’t so much stamping out fascist thought as they are putting the government’s collective head in the sand as some kind of grand virtue signal to the planet.
Which is why it’s at least a tepid step forward that Germany has revised its position and will now allow Nazi iconography in some video games, some of the time, on a case by case basis.
The government has moved from a blanket ban on swastikas and Hitler moustaches to a case-by-case basis, which will be administered by the USK, Germany’s ratings board.
The official release with the news gives the specifics:
When games that depict symbols of unconstitutional organisations are submitted to the USK for an age rating, the USK committees can now assess them on a case-by-case basis to decide whether the ‘social adequacy clause’ (Sozialadäquanzklausel, as laid out in section 86, subsection (3) of the German Criminal Code) applies. In this context, ‘social adequacy’ means that symbols of unconstitutional organisations can be used in games in individual cases, as long as those symbols serve an artistic or scientific purpose, or depict current or historical events.
Again, the big shift here is actually one of cultural importance, which is the German government will now consider video games as an artistic form, which they undoubtedly are. Movies and television have had a similar review process in place for years, but games were left out. And, as the gaming art form continues to gain ground as the preferred entertainment medium, it was impossible for the German government to ignore this forever. So, while it seems odd to declare a victory in which more swastikas will be seen by the German public, this is much more to do with an acknowledgement of culture than cheering on the Third Reich.
Felix Falk, Managing Director of the German Games Industry Association, says:
This new decision is an important step for games in Germany. We have long campaigned for games to finally be permitted to play an equal role in social discourse, without exception. Computer and video games have been recognised as a cultural medium for many years now, and this latest decision consistently cements that recognition in terms of the use of unconstitutional symbols as well.
It remains to be seen whether or not older games like Wolfenstein will resubmit the original forms of its games for inclusion in all of this, but at least the German government will no longer act as though it can pretend that Nazis were never a thing.
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