Germany lifts total ban on Nazi symbols in video games

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A pair of screenshots from Wolfenstein II: The new Colossus. On the left, a German solider is shown wearing his swastika armband. On the right, in the German release, the swastika has been replaced with a triangular iconImage source, Bethesda
Image caption,
In Germany, there are no video game Nazis - and swastikas are banned from being shown

Nazi symbols can now appear in video games in Germany, ending a long-running and frequently ridiculed censorship.

Germany bans symbols belonging to unconstitutional groups, which has caused problems in games where the Nazis are a frequent adversary.

In games like the Wolfenstein series, German editions would change Hitler's name, remove his moustache, and replace swastikas with another shape.

The change means Nazi symbols used in an artistic way will be allowed.

Until now, using banned symbols would prevent a video game from being considered for a compulsory age rating - essentially banning it from being sold in stores.

The ban on extremist symbols is still in place, but rating body USK said the rules will now be applied to video games in the same way they are used for films. On a case-by-case basis, a game could get past the rating procedure if an artistic or dramatic use is justified.

It also said a game which is clearly opposed to the banned group's ideals could qualify - which is the case for many games that require large numbers of Nazi soldiers to be killed by the player.

Shaving Hitler

The ban on Nazi symbols in games dates back to the 1990s.

One recent controversy involved blockbuster game Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, set in an alternate history in which Nazi Germany won World War Two - and in which Hitler is still alive.

The German version of the game replaced every swastika with the game's logo or other inoffensive symbols. In most countries, when Hitler's character enters a scene, he is welcomed as the Führer - but in Germany, he is referred to as a "chancellor" - and his recognisable moustache has mysteriously disappeared.

The video showcasing his appearance contains graphic violence and may not be suitable for all viewers.

Those changes were needed to put the game on sale at all in Germany - but the intended meaning was still clear, and the censorship was ridiculed both in Germany and worldwide.

The next game in the series, Wolfenstein Youngblood, was unveiled in June - with a German-language trailer that replaced all its swastikas with another geometric shape. It's not yet clear if Bethesda, the game's developer, will try to submit an uncensored version of the game for the German market.

Image source, Bethesda
Image caption,
The trailer for upcoming game Wolfenstein Youngblood features ominous triangles in its German edition

But Bethesda's Nazi-fighting series isn't the only game to have run into problems with the German censors.

The developers of the TV-tie-in South Park: The Stick of Truth faced a problem with their Nazi zombie characters - and chose to cover the symbols with crudely-drawn black boxes, sticking to the rules while making fun of them at the same time.

Aside from the banned symbols, German games are often far less violent than their counterparts in other European countries. Blood is often toned down, bodies have a tendency to disappear, and sometimes human characters are turned into robots for German editions - since "killing" robots is viewed as a less violent act.

Other countries also censor violent or sexual content - notably Australia, which has rejected several major titles in recent years unless changes were made.

They include South Park, which replaced its sexual scenes with an image of a crying koala and a written explanation of what the scene could have contained; and the Witcher 2, which was only released after sex scenes were edited.