EA is changing the name of a purchasable Nazi avatar in its online WWII shooter Battlefield V after learning the character, WIlhelm Franke, shares a name with a real-life anti-fascist resistance fighter in Nazi Germany.
In Battlefield V, Franke is a ruthless, overcoat-wearing fighter with a penchant for explosives. In a promotional video, he kills Allied fighters with a pistol before dramatically letting a man bleed out on the ground. Players can purchase the Franke avatar for about $10 worth of virtual money. As journalist Dom Schott pointed out this week, the real-life Franke was actually a resistance fighter in Dresden who was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944.
In an emailed statement, an EA spokesperson said that the company will be changing Wilhelm Franke's name and apologized for the connection to the real-life Franke.
"We’ve become aware that one of the names of our Elites, Wilhelm Franke, shares the name of a real life resistance member in Germany during the Second World War. We want to apologize as we certainly didn’t mean any disrespect to him. We are in the process now of changing the name of our Elite in the game," the statement said.
The company also claimed that Franke—who appears to be sporting an iron cross, an insignia used by Nazi Germany (and which has since been used by bikers, skateboard brands, and modern fascist movements) on his right breast—is not a Nazi at all, and that the company is not making any politcial statements.
"The aforementioned Elite, Wilhelm Franke, whose name we’re changing is not a Nazi, but a German solider similar to ones we already have in the game. In Battlefield V, we’re not making any political statements in relation to the real life events of WW2 and there are no swastikas in the game.”
This isn’t the first time that DICE has made this claim, though Franke’s fashion and demeanor make it an ever harder sell this time around. Last year, after the studio released a Battlefield V story chapter following a tank crew fighting on the Nazi side, the studio clarified to the media that the chapter's protagonist is not a Nazi, just a German, and that the chapter depicted “the German perspective.”.
Developer Sledgehammer Games had a similar response when executives were asked how its 2017 WWII shooter Call of Duty: WWII would hande Nazis. At the time, studio co-head Michael Condry assured players that they'd "never play as a Nazi" and that the generic Axis forces in the game were an "ensemble cast" of "conscripted soldiers." In the same interview, studio co-head Glen Schofield said that "many veterans make the distinction that they were Germans, but not Nazis," and the studio wanted to reflect that.
Video games have a long, confusing, and deeply embarrassing track record of "not making any political statements" in circumstances where every choice has political dimensions. It looks like Battlefield V just added a new chapter to that story.