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The Alt-Right are complaining about Nazis being killed in video games

What could their problem be?

The use of minorities as stock villains is something that has plagued entertainment media for years. Now that political correctness has gone thankfully mad, it has become less acceptable to lean on generic brown terrorists, effeminate criminal masterminds or scheming mandarins when finding adversaries for an action hero to plow through. Video games may have lagged behind somewhat but many developers do at least make some effort to to avoid stereotyping.

There is one notable exception, however. One beleaguered minority that seemingly has no voice in wider society. Nobody to stand up and say, "Enough. Leave these poor people alone, you MONSTERS."

I'm talking, of course, about Nazis.

Yes, the proud Aryans (and affiliates) of the Alt-Right are sick of being the go-to target for self-righteous good-guys. Why should they be treated as scum, fit only for vigorous fragging and expertly chained combos? Where is the respect? The simple human decency?

And what has triggered these snowflake stormtroopers? A vicious piece of anti-Nazi propaganda in the form of a trailer for Bethesda's latest game - Wolfenstein: The New Colossus.

A brief history of shooting Nazis in the face

There are many, many games that involve the punching, stabbing, shooting and general doing-in of members of the National Socialist party. From the Indiana Jones point-and-click adventures to the full-on assault of Medal of Honour, with plenty of oddities like the superhero antics of Freedom Force vs the Third Reich in between. The gold standard of Nazi-harm, however, is the Wolfenstein series.

Starting in 1981, with the 2D Castle Wolfenstein, the series put you in the shoes of all-American bruiser BJ Blazkowicz, deep behind enemy lines and on a largely stealth-based mission to infiltrate the titular, Nazi-occupied castle. By 1992, the series found its groove with Wolfenstein 3d - one of the earliest first-person shooters and the template for pretty much every game in that genre to this day.

After shooting your way through the primitively-rendered 3D castle, you would finally do battle with a cybernetically-enhanced MECHA-HITLER, thus cementing the franchise's reputation for cold-edged realism.

Later reboots gave us Return To Castle Wolfenstein and simply 'Wolfenstein', both of which featured multiplayer Nazi-duffing as well as a load of occult bits and bobs, because the Nazis were definitely into that, no matter what David Duke says. There was even a Wolfenstein role-playing game for (non-smart)phones, allowing turn-based Nazi foiling you could carry around in your pocket.

Which brings us to the most recent iterations of the Wolfenstein experience. 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order and this year’s entrant, Wolfenstein: The New Colossus. These games take place in an alternate reality, a 1960s in which the Nazis defeated the Allies and took over the world. Only you, a revived BJ Blazkowitz, can lead the fightback and kick the ascendant fascists right in the crease of their impeccable uniforms.

Why now?

I’m not here to debate the ethics of video game violence. You can see first-person shooters as a malign influence on our Pop Kids or as a harmless exhaust pipe for pent-up frustrations or as anything else you like. I’m easy. The recent outpouring of Alt-Right  anger does raise one important question, though. Given the fact that we are now well into the fourth decade of digital Nazi slaughter, why is it only now that games like this have put the far right on the defensive?

Reactions to the New Colossus trailer have been mainly positive, with fans of The New Order relishing the chance to get back to that game’s formula of fast-paced action and light puzzle solving. The game resembles a glossier, Nazi-themed Half Life 2 sequel as much as anything.

Among the criticisms from the Alt-Right  are accusations that the game is ‘racist’ to white people. The evidence for this seems to lie in a black woman character who at one point refers to our man BJ as ‘white boy’.

As YouTuber “Bob Ross” comments, “That black Afro whore calling that white man a white boy... More racist agenda against white people.”

An anonymous commenter to 4Chan has seen through the real agenda behind the game. “Bethesda jews are trying to destroy gaming industry with political correctness fagottry.”

Ultimately, as YouTube commenter Bobby Johnson puts it, “Why are people hating nazis? You should be hating muslims who are terrorizing, murduring, and raping europeans. And the jews”

Wise, if poorly spelled, words, I’m sure you will agree.

No, the real issue with Wolfenstein: The New Colossus isn’t that it strikes a markedly more critical tone against the would-be Master race. The explosions may get bigger and the guns louder with every new game but the Wolfenstein formula is the same as it ever was.

The problem is Trump’s brand of populist, easily consumed, fascism-lite. The problem is the dark corners of the net that put the Alt in Alt-Right . The problem is simply that, more than ever, there are now self-identifying Nazis who are willing to peer out from under their stones, hold up their hands at about 45 degrees and cry foul.

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Lol enforcement: meet the man policing online joke theft

A story of revenge, retweets, and Kale Salad. 

A man walks into a bar and he tells a joke. The man next to him laughs – and then he tells the same joke. The man next to him, in turn, repeats the joke. That bar’s name is Twitter.

If you’ve been on the social network for more than five minutes, you’ll notice that joke theft is rampant on the site. Search, for example, for a popular tweet this week (“did everyone just forget about the part of 2016 when literal clowns would chase people with knives in public and nobody really did anything” – 153,000 retweets) and you’ll see it has been copied 53 times in the last three days.

One instance of plagiarism, however, is unlike the others. Its perpetrator is the meme account @dory and its quick Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V has over 3,500 retweets. This account frequently copies the viral posts of Twitter users and passes them off – word for word – as its own. Many similar accounts do the same, including @CWGirl and @FatJew, and many make money by promoting advertising messages to their large number of followers. Twitter joke theft, then, is profitable.

In 2015, Twitter promised to clamp down on the unchecked plagiarism on its site. “This Tweet from [user] has been withheld in response to a report from the copyright holder,” read a message meant to replace stolen jokes on the site. It’s likely a message you’ve never seen.

Dissatisfied with this solution, one man took it upon himself to fight the thieves. 

“I'm a like happy internet kind of guy,” says Samir Mezrahi, a 34-year-old from New York who runs the Twitter account @KaleSalad. For the last six months, Mezrahi has used the account to source and retweet the original writers of Twitter jokes. Starting with a few hundred followers at the end of December 2016, Mezrahi had jumped to 50,000 followers by January 2017. Over 82,000 people now follow his account.  

“I've always been a big fan of like viral tweets and great tweets,” explains Mezrahi, over the sound of his children watching cartoons in the background. “A lot of people were fed up with the meme accounts so it’s just like a good opportunity to reward creators and people.”

Samir Mezrahi, owner of @KaleSalad

I had expected Mezrahi to be a teen. In actual fact he is a father of three and an ex-Buzzfeed employee, who speaks in a calm monotone, yet is enthusiastic about sharing the best content on Twitter. Though at first sourcing original tweets for Kale Salad was hard work, people now approach Mezrahi for help.

“People still reach out to me looking for vindication and just that kind of, I don’t know, that kind of acknowledgement that they were the originals. Because all so often the meme accounts are much larger and their tweets do better than the stolen tweet.”

But just why does having a tweet stolen suck so much? In the grand scheme of things, does it matter? Did everyone just forget about the part of 2016 when literal clowns would chase people with knives in public and nobody really did anything?

Meryl O’Rourke is a comedian and writer who tweets at @MerylORourke, and now has a copyright symbol (©) after her Twitter name. In the past she has had her jokes stolen and reposted, unattributed, on Facebook and Twitter and hopes this symbol will go some way to protecting her work.

“It’s hard to explain how it felt... as a struggling writer you’re always waiting for anything that looks like recognition as it could lead to your break,” she explains. “When your work gains momentum you feel like your opportunity ran off without you.

“Twitter is a test of a writer’s skill. To spend time choosing exactly the right words to convey your meaning with no nuance or explanation, and ensure popularity and a chuckle, in the space of only 140 characters – that’s hard work.”

However, Mezrahi has found not everyone is bothered by their tweets being stolen. I found the same man I reached out to with a stolen tweet who said he didn’t want to speak to me because it felt too “first world problems” to complain. Writers like O’Rourke are naturally more annoyed than random teenagers, who Mezrahi says are normally actually pleased about the theft.

“If you go to [a teenager’s] timeline it’s always the same thing. They’re replying to all their friends saying like ‘I’m famous’, they’re retweeting the meme accounts saying like ‘I did it’… they don’t mind as much it seems. It’s kind of like a badge of honour to them.”

Sometimes, people even ask Kale Salad to unretweet their posts. College students with scholarships, in particular, might not actually want to go viral – or some viral tweets may accidentally include personal information. On the whole, however, people are grateful for his work.

Yet the Kale Salad account does have unintended consequences. Mezrahi has now been blocked by the major meme accounts that frequently steal jokes, meaning he had to create alternate accounts to view their content. But just because he can’t see them doesn’t mean they don’t see him – and he has noticed that these accounts now actually come to his profile to steal jokes he has retweeted, in a strange role-reversal.

“There are definitely times when they're picking up things that I just retweeted, like I know they're like looking at me too,” he says. “It feels like vindicated or validated that they come to me.”

Mezrahi now works in social media on a freelance basis, but would be open to making Kale Salad profitable. Earlier this year he set up an account on Patreon – a site that allows fans to pay their favourite creators. Some people didn’t approve of this, tweeting to say he is “just retweeting tweets”. So far, Mezrahi has three patrons who pay him $50 (£39) a month.

“I mean I spend a certain amount of time on this and I think it’s a pretty good service, so I've been thinking about monetisation and thought that might be a route,” he explains. He believes he is providing an important service by “amplifying” creators, and he didn’t want to make money in less transparent ways, such as by posting sponsored advertisements on his account. Yet although many online love Kale Salad, they don’t, as of yet, want to pay him.

“Twitter should buy my account because I’m doing a good thing that people like every day,” he muses.

Many might still be sceptical of the value of a joke vigilante. For those whose jokes aren’t their bread or butter, tweet theft may seem like a very minimal problem. And although it arguably is, it’s still incredibly annoying. Writing in Playboy, Rob Fee explains it best:

“How upsetting is it when you tell a joke quietly in a group of friends, then someone else says it louder and gets a huge laugh? Now imagine your friend following you every day listening for more jokes because people started throwing money at him every time he repeated what you said. Also, that friend quit his job because he made enough to live comfortably by telling your jokes louder than you can. Odds are, you’d quickly decide to find new friends.”

For now, then, Kale Salad will continue his work as the unpaid internet police. “As long as people like the service, I don’t mind doing it. If that's a year or two years or what we'll see how the account goes,” he says.

“Twitter is fun and I like the fun days on the internet and I like to help contribute to that.

“The internet is for fun and not all the sadness that’s often there.”

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

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