Die, Nazi

Action Games Make Use of the Ultimate Enemy

By Chris Federico

(February 24, 2002)

     In the early 1940s, years before any clever young men were implementing fantasies of computerized images moving across oscillopes, a big, destructive thing called World War II was underway. The reason it was a war and not an utter German takeover was that most everyone in the world had finally seen evidence of what could happen when millions of people thought it was a good idea to listen to a single guy. For some reason, it hadn't previously occurred to the Germans that any guy who would want that many people to obey him probably wasn't right in the head.

     I think it's a good idea to continue educating kids about the Third Reich. It's important to keep the dangers of blind conformity planted firmly in young minds. It's also important to put self-labeled "Neo-Nazis" in jail (or worse) by any means possible. Cruel and unusual punishment isn't always a bad thing. It makes me sick to see some kid who thinks he's "punk" sporting a swastika on his jacket sleeve. This is a product of bad education, and no tolerance is appropriate.

     Thankfully, a major factor in retaining the Nazi persona as an unquestionable adversary in the average young mind has secured its hold. After two decades of gradually infiltrating the software shelves with anti-Nazi concepts, video and computer games are, as usual (but for a new reason), giving players the mental advantage over others.

     In 1983, Muse, a software company out of Baltimore, released and widely advertised a game for Apple and Atari computers called Castle Wolfenstein. By the late '80s, this black and white shoot-'em-up was considered an indisputable classic. There were no pretenses toward 3-D environments on 8-bit computers at that time; you looked down at your man as he infiltrated a Nazi castle and shot everyone who even looked German full of see-through pixels. The title won the Certificate of Merit For Outstanding Achievement award from Electronic Games magazine, and New York magazine called it a "virtuoso feat of programming." Muse soon followed this up with Beyond Castle Wolfenstein. Others joined in against the ghosts of Hitler's army; 1985's Into the Eagle's Nest by Electronic Arts added finely detailed, full-color graphics to the scenario. I remember rushing to a shop here in Albuquerque called Computer Bazaar (where Adam would work fourteen years in the future) to get the Commodore 64 floppy after I saw an ad for the game in Run magazine. I loved that one. It took months to beat -- it got pretty tough as the Nazi scum multiplied -- but it was well worth it. Even at that age, they were extra-fun to slaughter because of their deplorable place in history. I still wish there were a sequel to the game, putting into effect features that would allow you to kill the vermin in more creative ways, like luring them into their own gas chambers. Never mind that, though; Electronic Arts would follow up on their anti-Nazi effort fourteen years, again, in the future.

     A decade after Muse's explosive entry into computerists' collections, a game appeared for IBMs and compatibles by an unknown software group called Id. A free, very short rendition was made available online as shareware; it amounted to the perfect promotion for the full retail version. It made people look at the idea of electronic entertainment in a new light, much like Atari had done with the VCS; the entire industry changed. The game was called Wolfenstein 3-D, and in its wake followed a countless (and still counting) score of first-person exploring/shooting games. For the first time, it appeared as though the player himself were blowing away the Nazi trash. You could even kill their pets. It was terrific; Id duly sold a quarter-million copies within a year of its release. It was made available on the Atari Jaguar shortly thereafter, and believe me, I ate that sucker up. It became apparent that players, like the average xenophobic, news-watching American, took the bait every time the "perfect enemy" was furnished. For once, this happened to work to the advantage of intelligent minds everywhere as a newfound, "virtual" hatred of Nazis blossomed.

     If Wolfenstein 3-D was the Rubber Soul or Revolver of video games, Doom was the Sgt. Pepper. Promoted online in the same manner, Id's new game sold over a million. The only way they could've done that, besides make the graphics better and the player's crusade more involved, was to come up with an enemy even more ideal than Nazis: demons. Id knows how to pick their bad guys; first Hitler, then Hell.

     By the late '90s, Sony's PlayStation was the platform to be on; it made perfect sense for Electronic Arts to develop their revisitation to Nazi Germany for that great console. It remains uncontested that 1999's Medal of Honor and its sequel from the following year, Medal of Honor Underground, were among the very best titles offered for Sony's first system. The ability to manually aim, the addition of extra goals required for completing a level, and the up-to-date graphic realism made the game irresistible. There's nothing like leaning around a corner, shooting a Nazi twice in the head -- once to knock off his helmet and again to murder him -- and watching him drop dramatically to the ground. In my opinion, the duo of Medal of Honor titles has yet to be surpassed. But then, I haven't played the brand-new stuff; now, for the PC, we have Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, and Activision's heralded Return To Castle Wolfenstein is currently the best-selling piece of software on the market. Unless anyone has any disputes -- and we at OC&GS always love to hear them -- killing any member of the Third Reich is one of the greatest experiences in the realm of reality-to-fantasy electronic gaming.