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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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Technology can change the world – provided we have a measure of democracy, too

You could say we need a technological revolution for the many, not the few. 

Over the last five decades, the American Consumer Technology Association’s annual jamboree has grown to become the world’s largest tech show: attracting over 190,000 visitors and 4000 companies, with 7,460 reporters filing 59,969 reports over the course of four days in Las Vegas. In the process, it has achieved an almost mythical status – from unveiling the first-ever home VCR (Philips 1970) to Bill Gates’ resignation from Microsoft in 2006, and has included cameo appearances by the likes of Jay-Z and Barack Obama.

As a fully qualified geek (Electrical Engineering degree, 20 years in tech – before it was cool) and the shadow minister for Industrial Strategy Science and Innovation, I couldn’t resist seizing the opportunity to venture to Las Vegas while on a family holiday to the US’ west coast; hoping, against all hope, to see the progressive future of a technology-enabled, more equal world.

If only.

But I did emerge with a renewed conviction that technology can solve our problems – if we use it to do so.

In some ways, the most remarkable thing about the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was the way it demonstrated how technology has taken over our entire world. CES was a car show in the middle of a health show, which happened to be around the corner from a home show, which was adjacent to a sports show that was next to an entertainment show. Just about every sector was represented.

Nissan had a huge stand for their new autonomous vehicle showcasing the ‘Brain-Vehicle Interface’, as did Philips for their new sleep enhancing devices, and Huawei for their connected home. In 2018, technology can be used as an enabling platform to aid just about everything. And in a world where near enough everything is politicised, technology is very political.

But this was not evident from CES: not from the stands, neither the keynotes, nor the participants. There were few speakers from civic society nor governments, and those politicians who attended – such as Donald Trump’s Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao – talked only of their ‘excitement’ at the sunlit uplands technology could guide us to. The show existed in its own, largely self-sufficient world. While Ford created an entire street to show off its autonomous cars, there was no reference to who would pay for the road, pavements, lamp-posts and guttering if only robots worked.

And as a politician rather than an engineer, it is the societal impact that matters most to me. One realisation brought about by my visit is that I have greatly under-estimated the consequences of driverless vehicles: communications, parking, urban layout, and public transport are all likely to be deeply impacted. The automobile industry is working to position cars as your personal moving office-cum-front room-cum-hotel-cum-lecture theatre; where you can work, maintain personal and social relationships, unwind and learn – all while going from A to B. How will crowded, under-funded public transport compete?

At the show, Nissan launched its Brain-to-Vehicle technology, which reads the driver’s brainwaves to determine when the car’s intelligence should intervene. Although I'm personally unsure about the inclusion of brain surveillance in the driving experience, it may well be the next logical step as we increasingly give up our data in return for ‘free’ services. Certainly the anthropologists at Nissan argued that this was the very definition of assisted artificial intelligence.

Fortunately, autonomous vehicles are not the only way to get around. Improvements in battery technology mean that – between electric scooters capable of folding away into airplane carry on, and electric bikes with the power of motorcycles – personal mobility has become a market in its own right.

Personal health and sport were also big themes at the event. Philips has brought back the night cap, which not only looks far more fetching than the Victorian original, but is now also capable of lulling you gently into a slumber before monitoring the quality of your sleep. Orcam’s discrete camera-glasses for the visually impaired can read text and recognise people, whilst L’Oréal’s UV Sense is a sensor small enough to be worn comfortably on your fingernail that detects ultraviolet exposure.

One aspect of the show that has remained largely unchanged is its demographics. Whilst the glossy adverts on the walls depict women and BME people using technology, those actually designing it were, with a few exceptions, male and largely white. As always, there were no queues for the women’s loos and while there were not any ‘F1 girls’, the gender balance was improved largely by attractive women, who were not engineers, being employed to ‘explain’ technological advances.

Weeks later, the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos was also dominated by technology, which the Prime Minister used as a fig leaf to cover the absence of vision for Brexit. Lacking in both the CES and Davos, was any sense that the interests of the many had any significant stake in what was going on. We need a Labour government to help change that.

Chi Onwurah is the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, and the shadow minister for industrial strategy.