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The controversial world of Nazi video games

At first blush, “Luftrausers” is as innocuous a video game as you could ask for. It’s a cute, two-dimensional, arcade-type game in which the player flies around in a little airplane and shoots at thingsin order to rack up points. But it also happens to feature pilot art inspired by period Luftwaffe uniforms and a title image that evokes the Totenkopf skull and bones of the SS.

Shortly after “Luftrausers” was released, a prominent artist took to Twitter to ask whether playing the role of a Nazi fighter pilot was supposed to be funny. Rob Dubbin, a videogame maker and writer for “The Colbert Report,” tweeted, “As a Jew, what offends me is the aesthetic. As a game designer, what offends me is the absence of critical distance from it.” Rami Ismail, one half of the Dutch game studio Vlambeer, which developed “Luftrausers,” took to the company blog to acknowledge the complaint, apologize for any discomfort caused and respectfully disagree that the game was about a Nazi pilot.

I briefly spoke with Ismail about this. I felt the skull and crossbones iconography was obviously problematic. Ismail, to his credit, agreed. He and his co-creator had hardly registered that it was offensive, he explained, after working on the game for so long.

Nazism has a history in video games, but it has been scrubbed from most games released on home consoles over the past few decades. “Bionic Commando” was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1988. The game was released in Japan as “Hitler’s Revival: Top Secret.” References to Nazism and Nazi iconography were removed from the game for the American market. Swastikas were replaced with eagle symbols (a half-assed replacement considering an eagle sits atop the emblem of the Nazi Party), and the finale involves what is obviously a cryogenically-revived Adolf Hitler, who the American version identifies as “Master-D.” But the 14-year-old me who saw Hitler’s face explode in the finale knew precisely what he was looking at, which is why the ending of “Bionic Commando” is one of my most vivid memories of playing video games as a kid. Everyone I knew who finished “Bionic Commando” talked about the end, where you killed Hitler. 

Read entire article at Salon