A Star of David mounted on the iron sights of a rifle that’s pumping bullets into the disembodied mustache of Adolf Hitler, all to the sound of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”—if that’s not a defining image of catharsis, I don’t know what is. It’s also the majority of Wolfenstache: The New Censorship, a small, Unity-based game that parodies the censorship associated with the new game Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, which depicts an alternative reality where the Nazis won and where SS officers hobnob with Klansmen on America’s streets. Publisher Bethesda Softworks had to alter Wolfenstein II for its German release by removing the swastikas and even Hitler’s mustache to comply with German law, even going so far as to downplay hero B.J. Blazkowicz’s Jewishness. It flat out chose not to release it in Israel for unknown reasons. Bethesda didn't respond when I requested a statement as to why. Israeli developers Shalev Moran, Alon Karmi, and Nadav Hekselman feel a little robbed of this catharsis. And so the trio created Wolfenstache in a spirit of “gamer camaraderie,” believing Wolfenstein II’s censorship is disrespectful to both Germans and Israelis. Karmi suspects Bethesda may have been afraid of offending Israelis. Yet he tells me that World War 2 games never face censorship in Israel and that friends outside Israel expressed shock that Bethesda wouldn’t release a game about a Jew killing “a ton of Nazis” in a country filled with Jews.
“Isn’t that the most empowering, cathartic plot ever for us?” he asked. Hekselman acknowledges that Bethesda was probably just playing it safe, but regrets that it missed the chance to “rattle the cage a little.”
Moran, though, is more forceful. He believes Bethesda could have done Germany a service by fighting for an uncensored presentation and so help overturn what he sees as an outdated law that was meant to suppress Nazi propaganda and not discussions about Nazism. It’s possible to use Nazi symbols for art under the law, but games aren’t legally considered art in Germany.
“First and foremost, we’re calling out Bethesda for what seems to me like the stupidest act of revisionism in history,” he says, adding that he believes playing it safe is counterproductive.
“When you’re censoring Jews from your game, you’re doing something wrong,” he says. “When you’re saying that actual Nazis aren’t Nazis, you’re doing it wrong. When you’re not selling your game in Israel because we’re Jews, you’re doing it wrong. You can be proud of your game in every game store around the world but so ashamed of it in Israel you won’t sell even sell it to us? Where’s your backbone?”