Extra Credits is a channel and show I promote often since they have interesting topics for filler posts or occasionally something I build an article and commentary of my own around. I also enjoy their spin-off shows Extra Sci-Fi and Extra Mythology thought I don’t really follow Extra History. I still enjoy the channel and encourage everyone to check it out.
However, a recent episode has gotten them in hot water with even their own audience. In the episode “Stop Normalizing Nazis–Socially Conscious Game Design” the team took to task games where you play as Nazis and terrorists in multiplayer, or at least when you don’t have the choice to. I do understand the backlash and both sides of this issue aren’t completely wrong. Let’s see what they actually said and then see how they responded.
I’ve heard that whomever runs their social media side was rather dismissive of complaints and a bit nasty about it, but there is nothing in their community tab and it’s probably long since buried on social media since that was a week ago. What I do know is that it might have made matters worse, so they added to their pinned post to try and be clear on the issue. There were understandable complaints about how this was approached but let’s see what the crew actually had to say. For the record I waited to see if they were going to do a full clarification video this week but they didn’t, so this what we have to work with.
Hey folks, so this one seems to have struck a nerve. We encourage discussion about the topic, and there is some fair criticism of the video out there. However, I wanted to address some of the comments that seemed to have misunderstood some aspects of the video.
1) We never said that playing as a Nazi turns you into a Nazi. That’s not how that works. That’s not how any of this works. However, there is plenty of research about how art & media can shift people’s perspectives. This is not a good or bad thing, this is just a natural effect of culture. Please look up the Overton Window or heck, you can watch our video on Propaganda Games over here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UP4_bMhZ4gA So no. Playing a nazi doesn’t magically transform you into a nazi. No one is saying that.
This was the biggest concern. If you look in the comment you’ll see things like “Grand Theft Auto turned me into a carjacker that kills his prostitute to get the money back” or “playing Kirby caused me to want to eat people”, a joke but one with an honest history to the sarcasm. Anti-gamers like the infamous Jack Thompson or senators like Joe Lieberman and Hilary Clinton made these same comments about “violent video games” so the gaming community cringes when someone accuses a game of “normalizing” Nazis or terrorists. I think the point they were trying to make is that it makes them look like every other video game villain group you fight. I don’t think this necessarily leaves them open to propaganda by neo-Nazis or Isis any more than playing Dungeons And Dragons opens kids to the occult.
That’s not to say that some games out there, even unintentionally, can’t be twisted by evil groups looking to promote their cause. However, Call Of Duty isn’t a propaganda piece (if it were the campaign/story mode should most likely favor the allies) and if you play through the campaigns they are treated as evil. The multiplayer still plays like a “war game” situation but I do understand that some people may not want to play as the bad guys based on real bad guys, leading to their next point.
2) We never said that games should NEVER let you play as Nazis or terrorists for that matter. If you need the exact time stamp, it’s at 4:47 . There’s a lot of potential for some really interesting or impactful games that put the players in the boots of people or in control of systems that have done incredible harm. But it can’t be done thoughtlessly or just as a skin on top of mechanics, devoid of context.
They have a point there. Especially among Jewish people (because it’s often treated like only the Jews were the victims of the Nazi kill boner, when homosexuals and Christians were also targets–the “rainbow triangle” I once heard used to be how the Nazis marked gays) not having the choice to not play as Nazis or extremist Muslim groups (or for that matter Germans and non-extremist Muslims who may not want to play the worst aspect of their respective origin or religion) isn’t a good thing for them. The solution I heard was “well then don’t play the game”, which in this case means don’t play the multiplayer. That’s fine if you’re me and don’t play multiplayer anyway (the closest I come is the occasional retreat into Second Life, which doesn’t run on my computer that well anymore so I play less often than I used to) but if you want to play with your friends you’re limiting their games of choice and they may feel bad about that no matter how understanding their friends are. And what do you if you go to a LAN party and that’s what they’re playing.
Heck, I have trouble playing a supervillain, a fake evil, which makes playing Ultimate Spider-Man difficult because I’m forced to play as Venom and draining the lifeforce of the innocent is not something I’m comfortable with. Except when fighting Ultimate Wolverine. If I hate the guy in the main universe and the Ultimate version was a bigger jerk imagine how much I hate that character. Also imagine how hard it would be for me to play a real life evil when I can’t even play a fictional one without feeling bad.
However, I think most people playing a World War II based game at least know Nazis are bad people. Even today the name is so ingrained with “evil” that both liberals and conservatives have both used and been accused of being like the Nazis, when the real Nazis catered to the worst aspects of fascism (as if there was a good aspect) and socialism. I think people forget that the Nazi way of thinking wasn’t just “be evil and kill all the Jews”. There were important aspects to Adolph Hitler’s worldview beyond this that made the Nazi party evil and why they were a major threat. I’m not sure even the Neo-Nazis realize this at this point.
3) For those saying that it’s just a game and we shouldn’t think too hard about it, I feel like perhaps it might be important to introduce ourselves. Hi, we’re Extra Credits! Our tag line, for a very long time, was “Because Games Matter” It’s something we fundamentally believe and if you don’t, that’s okay! But then our content might not be for you, cause thinking hard about games is kind of our schtick.
“Overthinking” is a slippery slope at times. It can be fun and a good comedy source provided the other party doesn’t declare it fact. For example a joke article entitled “Man Of Steel, Woman Of Kleenex” tried to make the case that Lois couldn’t handle…consummating a romance with Superman. Unfortunately some folks take that seriously as part of their argument against Clark Kent and Lois Lane getting together, pointing instead to Wonder Woman, which DC made happen in the New 52. That’s a whole other discussion. My point is people took that as fact, even making it a “reality” in the movie Hancock, and serves as an example of negative overthinking for comedic purposes, an unintentional side effect.
Then you have people who bring us negative overthinking as a by-product or on purpose to cause trouble. You decided for yourself which Anita Sarkeesian is but her overthinking of how women are portrayed in games and attacking them for it is a prime example. While occasionally she has a good point she often goes too far and makes a fool of herself with the majority of gamers out there.
That said, overthinking does have it’s positive as well. It does make for a good thought exercise to explore the potential failings of a message, or a plot point that is crucial to making the story coherent but never really utilized properly. It can also be fun. The aforementioned Superman/Lois Lane essay was intended to be comical. Cracked used to be pretty good at comedic overthinking and CinemaSins’s overthinking is both comedic and a good thought exercise. Done right, like Sarkeesian thinks she does, you can actually find the flaws beyond the surface and make a better game or story.
4) Our writing staff is the same, and we’ve always talked about politics in games and our other videos. If this comes as a surprise to you, or you think there’s been a large shift in our thinking, I’d invite you to take a look at some of our older episodes. We live in a time where Neo-Nazis exist and they’ve seemed to have increasingly found a home in gaming communities. This isn’t something we can turn a blind eye anymore, and it’s important to consider what we as game designers can do to try and make things better.
As said, there have been some very valid critiques of the video that we greatly appreciate. Most important to us is to start talking about these topics and to have conversations about design.
I have not heard of Neo-Nazis gaining a foothold in gaming communities. Also again the term “Nazi” is being thrown around, especially by the far-left nowadays against not just the far-right but anyone conservative or even just “not liberal enough” by the group that calls themselves Social Justice Warriors. If anything is normalizing “Nazi” it’s the use in political rhetoric. I remember a time when in discussions of fiction and fictional villains evoking Hitler or the Nazis was considered an immediate “you lose the discussion” because it had been overdone. Now politics is bring it back as both sides accuse each other of being Nazis by pointing out parts of their platform the other side supposedly believes whether they do or not.
Speaking of politics they have often discussed politics, but while I have on occasion disagreed with their viewpoints in that area at least their inclusion isn’t forced into the discussion, and only happens when it’s important to the topic at hand. There’s few if any attacks on or even promotion of any one particular politician or point of view. They welcome opposing viewpoints to have an open discussion, which is hard to find on the internet or even on college campuses these days. Meanwhile I’ve seen other reviews discussing something without political or social commentary suddenly drop a “Trump sucks” joke out of nowhere and it pulls me out of the review and serves no point in the discussion at all other than they want to slam someone they disagree with politically. I haven’t been able to avoid political comments in this article either and I usually try my hardest to avoid doing so, since I want to focus on the end product and its quality versus its enjoyment. I not only welcome opposing perspectives but often go against the grain, like my defense of the GoBots or just wait until I get to something like Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue or anything that came out while I was growing up. Like I said in the last video, my childhood favorites are constantly looked down upon by the reviewers of today.
In summary I understand the critiques against the video and some I agree with but they aren’t completely wrong either. If someone isn’t comfortable playing as a Nazi or some stand-in for Al-Qaeda or ISIS/ISIL (I don’t know what they stand for but I’ve seen both translations used) they shouldn’t have to and it isn’t fair to make them. That said, I don’t think this opens people up to being normalized when it comes to terrorists or Neo-Nazis or anything else, no more than games where you play mobsters, drug dealers, and other criminals where that life is actually made to look glamorous and “sexy” or also played for laughs. I’m not a fan of either, but unless it’s an actual propaganda game I don’t see it doing any more damage than those games, perhaps even less when you see who the villain is in the actual story campaign I don’t see it causing the same damage. It isn’t glamorizing to have to be the bad guys in a multiplayer game. It’s not promoting the Nazi view, nor is it weakening anyone’s view of what a Nazi or terrorist is.
We have political rhetoric and extremist views for stuff like that.