A far-right German group has taken a novel approach to recruiting supporters, releasing a free-to-download video game in which the characters kill antifa and confront George Soros and Angela Merkel as they battle with globalists.
The game – Heimat [Homeland] Defender: Rebellion – was released by Ein Prozent, a nationalist network that’s under observation as a suspected extremist group by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency. It’s set in what the game’s creators describe as a “gloomy future vision of a Europe that we will hopefully never see,” where a sinister corporation called “Globo-Homo Inc” has taken power, and antifa zones have sprung up across the Continent.
Despite the retro, 80s aesthetic, the 2-D Super Mario-style platform game is full of references to current political figures and events.
Players can choose to play as one of a number of “influencers” from the German-speaking far-right scene, including Martin Sellner, an Austrian leader of the youth-focused Identitarian movement, and Alex “Malenki“ Kleine, a prominent Identitarian YouTuber.
Gameplay includes Easter eggs with explicit references to German far-right figures such as the influential ideologue Götz Kubitschek, and to the killing of George Floyd, in a passage where players are asked why there is no equivalent outcry over the killing of a German teenager by a migrant. It features the hashtag #NiemalsaufKnien (“Never on our knees”), an Identitarian campaign launched in response to Black Lives Matter, which dismissed the movement as a front for “anti-white racism and left-wing self-hatred ideologies”.
At one point, a demonic, laughing apparition appears of Soros — the billionaire liberal philanthropist who is at the epicentre of far-right conspiracy theories about globalism and immigration. German Chancellor Merkel, a hate-figure to the far-right for her decision to welcome about a million asylum seekers into the country, also appears as an enemy, while the game’s background is emblazoned with supposed examples of globalist propaganda like “diversity is our strength” and “tolerance”.
Experts are concerned the game could be an effective gateway for newcomers into the radical right ideology of the Identitarians, whose goal is to mainstream the narrative that a “great replacement,” engineered by elites, is taking place through immigration into Europe.
Despite the group’s efforts to whitewash its far-right politics and present itself as a hip, edgy but ultimately palatable countercultural youth movement, the Identitarians are under surveillance by Germany’s domestic intelligence service as a right-wing extremist entity.
“It's problematic, because it’s not an immediately obvious display of ideology,” Linda Schlegel, a Ph.D researcher on online radicalisation at Goethe University told VICE News.
“It’s a fun, free-of-charge, cool-looking retro game, but it can draw people in and be a potential first step in engaging with the Identitarian movement.”
She said as well as potentially sending players down the rabbit-hole of far-right ideology, the game could also prove popular with existing supporters of the movement. The game is being sold alongside a range of merchandise, including mugs, stickers and clothing.
“It’s full of memes and jokes and far-right subcultural language that appeals to young Identitarians,” she said. “So it’s a strategy that works well for both kinds of target audience.”
Schlegel said the release of the game, while a new tactic for the Identitarians, reflected a trend towards the “gamification” of far-right extremism.
In a string of recent far-right terror attacks, from Christchurch, New Zealand to El Paso, Texas to Halle, Germany, gunmen have livestreamed footage of their attacks from head-mounted cameras, in the style of a first-person shooter game – which have then been circulated and celebrated among supporters.
Online, far-right sympathisers have modified or created games to reference real-life massacres, or joke about beating each others’ kill counts; last year, a shooter game was released that allowed players to play as the Christchurch terrorist Brenton Tarrant, carrying out massacres in settings including mosques or gay nightclubs.
Ein Prozent — the far-right network, affiliated with the Identitarians, which released Heimat Defender: Rebellion — said in a statement to VICE News that it had sought to create a game with a “patriotic message,” in response to what it saw as a leftward shift in the gaming industry.
The group cited the recently-released Leon’s Identity, a point-and-click adventure game produced by the government of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia in which the player must try to extricate his brother from the far-right scene. The game was designed for use in schools to help prevent radicalisation.
“We think there should be a patriotic counter culture signal,” said the statement from Ein Prozent. “This idea directly lead to Heimat Defender.”
The statement said the Identitarian Movement was not involved in the production of the game.
The group claimed last week the game had been downloaded more than 20,000 times within days of its release.
“We’ve got no way to know if that’s accurate, and if I was putting out a propagandistic game I would also say it’s really successful,” said Schlegel. “But that’s a lot of downloads within a few days if it's true.”