Ever since an unnamed masked man punched the white supremacist Richard Spencer on President Trump's inauguration day, there's been some debate over whether slamming your first at full speed into a Nazi's face is OK. Ramsey Nasser, a game designer from Brooklyn, thinks it is.To that end, he's taken the free online version of id Software's classic 1992 shooter Wolfenstein 3D and updated it for modern times with the title Dialogue 3-D. Wolfenstein 3D, you might recall, is the classic shooter featuring William "B.J." Blazkowicz, an American spy of Polish Jewish descent, who storms through a Nazi prison with a Luger pistol blasting Nazis as he goes.
I've played Wolfenstein 3D at least a hundred times, and the catharsis remains satisfying over two decades later. With Dialogue 3-D, though, when I click "X" to blast the first Nazi firing shots at me, a dialogue box pops up."Has violent resistance ever solved anything?" it asks, along with a Yes or No option. The Nazi, by the way, is still pumping bullets into me. Thinking of the American Revolution and the French Revolution, I hesitantly click "yes." I fire off another shot at the Nazi, but then there was another popup:"Wait, wait, isn't it important to protect their free speech as well?" I try to click "yes," but Blazkowicz is already dead on the floor. And that's Dialogue 3-D. I realized it's possible to still kill the Nazis and play somewhat normally if the questions get answered quickly enough, but it's a chore. With every shot I found myself saddled with the same questions—"Doesn't this make you the real Nazi?" or "Have you tried talking to them?"—unable to fire again until I answered them. There's a message in that, Nasser believes, although he'd "rather people have their own experiences [while playing the game] and reach their own conclusions." "I found the squeamish reactions to Richard Spencer—a man who has publicly advocated genocide and ethnic cleansing—getting punched in the face bizarre," he told me in direct messages through Twitter. "There is pearl-clutching around violence in general, and confusion as to what free speech entails. Rather than continue to rant about it, I put my feelings into Dialogue 3-D."
Dialogue 3-D isn't the only game he's made tackling the controversy over anti-fascist violence. Just a couple of weeks ago, he and game designer Jane Friedhoff teamed up for the Global Game Jam and created Handväska. It's not quite so violent—the idea is simply to whack as many Neo-Nazis as you can with a purse—but he's proud that circumstances aligned so that they rolled it out on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Above all, he sees games as a good way of making people think about such issues."I am certainly a better programmer and game designer than I am a writer, so this is a much more expressive medium for me personally, but well-written articles can move and educate people immensely," Nasser said. "They're different, and a diversity of tactics is great."