As gaming has advanced, so has developers' and publishers' willingness to explore more mature themes and issues. Two recently announced games highlight just how far devs are willing to push this —Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and Far Cry 5.
Both games have shown willingness to explore issues, like racism and religious extremism, that are still present in America today. However, not everyone is happy with these games' themes and their representation of white people.
First, there's Far Cry 5. The newest entry in Ubisoft's open-world shooter debuted May and was trading the exotic locals of past entries for the open plains of Montana. The game is going to pit a deputy and some of Hope County's locals against Eden's Gate, a doomsday cult that has taken over Hope County. Led by preacher Joseph Seed, the cult is prepping for the fall of the American government and is forcing its will on the inhabitants of Hope County. This allows the game to explore themes of religious extremism and white supremacy in space of America that could easily be cut off from the rest of the country.
Then there's Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. The sequel to 2014's Wolfenstein: The New Order will pick up where the game left off, putting players in the boots of B.J. Blazkowicz and his continued battle against the Third Reich. The alternate reality the game takes place in shows a world where the Nazis won World War II thanks to a boom in technology late in the war. The game is set in the 1960s and shows a world where Nazi ideals are on display. The debut trailer for The New Colossus offered a taste of what America looks like under this rule, once again playing on themes of Aryan supremacy and eugenics associated with the Nazis. One moment, in particular, shows Nazi officers walking casually with Klansman in the middle of a typical 1960s American town in the middle of a festival.
The willingness to address these themes and ideas has been met with stark criticism, largely from the alt-right. The common complaint is that these games are anti-white and degrade white people unfairly.
When Far Cry 5 was announced, the trailer and box art immediately garnered criticism for its themes. The game came across as an attack to the alt-right, especially given the election of Donald Trump and the growth of alt-right religious groups in the United States like the Westboro Baptist Church. It got to the point where an individual or individuals started a protest on Change.org demanding Ubisoft to change the antagonists to extremist Muslims, among other demands.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus doesn't even try to hide its themes, given the antagonists. The Nazis are one of the most notorious representations of white supremacy in history, to the point where Hitler aspired to create an Aryan master race. However, this has also garnered immediate criticism by the alt-right. The use of Nazis and appearance of Klansman in the trailer are just the tip of the spear, with common complaints being the game is an attack on white people and capitalism. Two examples pulled from the trailer included a black woman who is a key resistance leader calling B.J. "white boy" in their first encounter and a Southern preacher speaking out against Wall Street and capitalism. The woman has been called a "politically correct" attack on white people, and the preacher has been referred to as socialist and Marxist for his rant against both the Nazis and the willingness of businesses to roll over for a profit.
Despite the alt-right reaction, this highlights the power video games now have as social commentary. The entertainment world has long been a source of commentary and criticism, with films and television shows that tend to lean one way or another. An example in the film world has been Neill Blomkamp, whose films District 9 and Elysium explore themes such as race, apartheid, and financial inequality in the package of sci-fi films.
Video games are quickly becoming a new space to go even deeper with these kinds of themes, given the length and interactive nature of games. While games like Far Cry 5 and Wolfenstein II are exploring these extreme themes, it doesn't mean that devs are trying to attack anyone in particular. The goal, more often than not, is about initiating a conversation about these ideas that could, hopefully, address these same ideas.
Unfortunately, the growth of the internet has also allowed for more anonymity for anyone wanting to spread more extreme ideas, and until that is dealt with, these sorts of views will continue to permeate society.