virtual Germans

I’ve been playing Call of Duty 2 lately. I lost interest in the FPS (first-person shooter) genre after Quake II (with the notable exception of the Halo games), but COD2 came with my graphics card and apparently was the best-selling game of the holiday season (nothing says Christmas like an M3 Grease Gun), so I thought I’d give it a shot.

The graphics are excellent, and based on the evidence (my sitting in front of the computer for extended periods time, my lowered blink rate, and the relative frequency of cursing at a pixelated enemy), I’d have to say the game is fun.

But playing has made me wonder–how many virtual Germans have I killed in my time? Games like Wolfenstein 3D, Return to Wolfenstein, and Bloodrayne feature the wholesale slaughter of Nazis, to name just a few games. How many virtual Germans have been slain in WWII-themed videogames? Probably many, many more than were actually killed in the war. Movies like the Indiana Jones films, Hellboy, and pretty much any WWII film reinforce the notion that Nazis exist to be destroyed without a second thought.

The whole Nazis-as-villains thing sometimes makes me uncomfortable. They make such perfect stock villains. Slaughtering them is like killing orcs in a fantasy game; there are no moral qualms attached. It’s not hard to understand; murdering six million people in cold blood tends to get you painted in a certain light–for eternity. Of course, we all know that your average Joe Sausage in the German army probably wasn’t entirely aware of the Holocaust and was almost certainly being misinformed about them, as well as the war effort in general. But that’s really beside the point; for the limited purposes of an action movie or a video game, the soldiers are identified with the Nazi regime, and as such are subject to annihilation.

What I find a bit more interesting is that you never seem to hear any protests from Germans about games like COD2. They never make the above argument regarding the soldiers and sit idly by while their virtual ancestors are wasted time and again. I’m sure there have been protests, but I’ve never heard of one, which presumably means they haven’t been very loud.

On the other hand, the makers of the Western FPS GUN have been censured by the Association for American Indian Development for its use of Indians as bad guys in the game. And you certainly do kill Indians; you gun them down as they hoot and howl, firing arrows and wielding hatchets. And yes, you can scalp them after you kill them (though you can do that to anyone, not just Indians). There’s no question GUN presents a pretty 1860s portrait of the whole cowboys and Indians thing. There are some good Indians, including one who runs a store and another who teaches you to shoot a bow and arrow, but I have to admit that when I first spoke to these characters, I was surprised they weren’t trying to kill me for slaughtering two dozen of their kind just a few minutes earlier.

In any event, the Association for American Indian Development did make a protest. Yet you don’t hear much from the German Veterans Society. Here’s my theory. The Germans have made an unspoken deal with world pop culture: we can use Nazis as stock villains in our entertainment as long as we agree not to bring up the whole Nazi thing too often in the “real” world.

And while there’s plenty of Holocaust literature, there isn’t a whole lot about Germany of that time in pop culture (aside from Nazis, of course). Family Guy even made a joke about it, in an episode where Brian and Stewie are in Germany and Brian points out to a tour guide that the leaflet doesn’t mention any German history from 1939-1945. The tour guide ignores him–before descending into a parody of a Nazi.

At this point, I feel I should write some sort of wrap-up “final thoughts” paragraph, but this isn’t an essay and I don’t have a conclusion. This is really just an extended humorous observation, just one step removed from a Jerry Seinfeld joke. But my writer’s ear dictates I get a few more syllables in to complete the rhythm. There.

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