"It's disturbing that Wolfenstein can be considered a controversial political statement"

Bethesda marketing boss Pete Hines discusses publisher's marketing for upcoming anti-Nazi shooter

By James Batchelor.Published Friday 6th October 2017, 3:55pm GMT

Bethesda is marketing the new Wolfenstein by directly attacking the apparent rise of the alt-right and neo-nazis in the US.

Having already established the #NoMoreNazis, the official Twitter account posted a striking 'Not My America' short trailer with the message: Make America Nazi-Free Again.

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Pete Hines, VP for PR and marketing at Bethesda, explains this marketing approach.

"We're certainly aware of current events in America and how they relate to some of the themes in Wolfenstein II," he tells GamesIndustry.biz.

"Wolfenstein has been a decidedly anti-Nazi series since the first release more than 20 years ago. We aren't going to shy away from what the game is about. We don't feel it's a reach for us to say Nazis are bad and un-American, and we're not worried about being on the right side of history here."

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Pete Hines, Bethesda

As Hines says, Wolfenstein games have always centred around a man helping to save the world from Nazi oppression. The upcoming Wolfenstein II, which launches at the end of the month, continues the alternate history story of 2014 outing The New Order and moves the action to a Nazi-occupied America.

As BJ Blazkowicz, players rally a resistance and attempt to liberate the nation - putting the anti-Nazi theme seen in the game's timely marketing at the centre of the game.

"[In the game] freeing America is the first step to freeing the world," says Hines. "So the idea of #NoMoreNazis in America is, in fact, what the entire game (and franchise) is about. Our campaign leans into that sentiment, and it unfortunately happens to highlight current events in the real world."

Hines is in no way claiming that Bethesda was somehow prescient enough to foresee the troubling events happening in the US and build a game around them. Wolfenstein II's American setting was established when the previous game was still in early development, when the team was planning out the trilogy's story arc.

"We don't feel it's a reach for us to say Nazis are bad and un-American, and we're not worried about being on the right side of history here"

"At the time none of us expected that the game would be seen as a comment on current issues, but here we are," Hines says. "Bethesda doesn't develop games to make specific statements or incite political discussions. We make games that we think are fun, meaningful, and immersive for a mature audience.

"In Wolfenstein's case, it's pure coincidence that Nazis are marching in the streets of America this year. And it's disturbing that the game can be considered a controversial political statement at all."

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The marketing, particularly the #NoMoreNazis tagline, has caused a stir and prompted complaints about both the game and Bethesda via social media, but Hines defends the marketing message.

"This is what our game is about," he says. "It's what this franchise has always been about. We aren't afraid to embrace what BJ stands for and what Wolfenstein represents. When it comes to Nazis, you can put us down in the 'against' column."

"There's a risk of alienating customers, but people who are against freeing the world from the hate and murder of a Nazi regime probably aren't interested in playing Wolfenstein"

While thoroughly explored in the indie space, political themes and topical issues rarely find their way into AAA blockbusters. As Hines says, this has not been intentional in the case of Wolfenstein - merely a bi-product of the franchise's fiction - but other publishers have attempted to achieve something more with their biggest games.

2K Games' Mafia III aimed to present an honest depiction of racism in the '60s, while Ubisoft's upcoming Far Cry 5 is arguably positioned as an exploration of extremist cults. But these examples are few and far between - aside from the obvious risk of alienating players and affecting sales, why does Hines believe fewer publishers take risks with the themes of their games?

"We can't speak to what other publishers choose to do and say with their games," he says. "As we've said many times before, fighting Nazis has been the core of Wolfenstein games for decades, and it isn't really debatable that Nazis are, as Henry Jones Sr. said, 'the slime of humanity.' Certainly there's a risk of alienating some customers, but to be honest, people who are against freeing the world from the hate and murder of a Nazi regime probably aren't interested in playing Wolfenstein."

That said, he is keen to see more developers - of all sizes - build games around any issue they believe to be worth exploring.

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"Games are a powerful platform to explore all kinds of topics," he says. "Their ability to immerse players in an alternate role, in an alternate world, like Wolfenstein's Nazi-infested America, allows players to actually feel and experience the emotions of the situation.  

"Games like BioShock and This War of Mine have been expressive and powerful experiences that reflected topical issues and politics, and the video game industry is a more well-rounded and thoughtful medium because of them."

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