I'm going to spoil the hell out of the first twenty minutes of Wolfenstein: The New Colossus. You've been warned. I'm also adding a content warning for, well, everything related to nazi behavior, including racism, homophobia, anti-semitism.
Wolfenstein II: The new Colossus is NOT fucking around. The intro to the game establishes the tone for a game that goes in hard against nazis and any fascist, racist, ignorant attitudes that paved the way for the movement in the first place.
We have flashbacks to protagonist BJ Blazkowicz' troubled childhood, with his Jewish mother and deeply racist, anti-semitic, homophobic, and abusive father. We see Frau Engel (she of The New Order fame) execute a beloved character in front of our eyes, while berating her own daughter (an officer) for being fat and queer. And then, we take command of a wheelchair-bound BJ, who never lets a disability keep him from kicking nazi ass, real hard.
It's a hell of a statement.
Rob and I streamed the first sections of the game yesterday, gameplay starts around 7:36.
The thing is, I wonder if it's actually going too over-the-top here. It's presenting bad guys who are so evil, and taking such pleasure in being this evil, that it brushes up on the absurd. In my mind, BJ's dad was a piece of shit the second he dropped the N-word. He was a piece of shit as soon as he made disparaging remarks about Jews to his Jewish wife, and a pile of garbage when he hit her.
That the next flashback had him attempting to force me to shoot the beloved family dog, was deeply affecting, but utterly unnecessary. I hated everything about him long before that.
With Frau Engel, this is turned up well past 11. She was already a nazi. The first game already established her as a sick, twisted, nazi fuck. Did I have to watch her berate her daughter with fat-phobic and homophobic language? Did I have to watch her take the severed head of the beloved Caroline (one of the best, strongest, most beloved characters from the first game) and literally rub it in her daughter's crotch to emphasize how much she hates gay people? I already hated her.
There's a risk here, in going so far that you aren't even making a point any more. In desensitizing your own audience to just how bad these actions are, because they are starting to feel absurd.
I'm of two minds on this, however.
It's very true that going this high into orbit, emotionally, that you may lose people. But maybe we need fiction that goes this hard to even make a dent in our collective heads in 2017. We live in a time where our president jokes about his VP wanting to "hang gay people." Who wants to bring blatantly racist and unconstitutional legislation to bear every other day, and meanwhile, seems to want to start a nuclear war over twitter.
So maybe we need villains who speak to this heightened, profoundly willfully ignorant era in history. Maybe we need villains who go that extra step to remind us of what—and who—we have in power right now, what they stand for, and how they operate.
And maybe things needed to be this extreme for a much more important reason: it's possible that the very racists the game is speaking out against could've mistaken the game's themes if it didn't go this hard. The "economic anxiety" crew could've conceivably tried to blame, say, the racism of BJ's dad on financial hardships if the bastard wasn't this blatantly horrible.
Maybe The New Colossus offers a slap in the face that speaks very directly to our current era. And that's what we deserve.