Tales of the Rampant Coyote

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History or Hate?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 25, 2012

So while I theoretically approve of the sentiment, there’s a problem with blanket policies preventing games from using real-world cultures, races, and governments as “enemies.” Like this one:

App Store Rejects World War II Game Over Japanese Flags

This is about a full step worse than banning games (and movies, etc.) on account of swastikas.

Dumb. Yet, I personally don’t know where I would feel comfortable drawing the line. Maybe that means the line shouldn’t be drawn anywhere? Knowing the kind of fringe folk that thrive on the Internet, I have my suspicions about what kind of stomach-turning crap might get released without it. Would it be enough (or too much) to allow exceptions for historical simulations?

To be honest, there was some propaganda from that era that is pretty dang shocking to modern eyes. (Although much of what happens during war would be pretty shocking to modern eyes accustomed to peacetime… and even so, some of what happened in World War II and preceding it went beyond the pale) – so a game authentically re-creating the experience with period media for “authenticity” could be either an even-handed (and educational) representation of the era… or it could simply be an outlet for racism.

It’s tough to call. I have a pretty libertarian streak, so my inclination is usually to err on the side of unrestricted access and let the audience or marketplace decide. But Apple made iPads and iPhones a closed system with the app store as a gatekeeper – and therefore responsible (and, arguably, liable) for the content that appears on the system. Better to have a blanket policy in place for easy rejection of the obvious crap, and then use good judgment on exceptions,  I guess. I doubt it’s possible to write a blanket, unbiased policy that covers all situations without the need for human adjudication.

I do worry about things like this having a chilling effect on game design and the potential of the medium to encourage thoughtful discussion.  Not that this happens too often – but it does happen, and the potential is always there. While I’m by no means well-versed in the history of World War II, much of my knowledge has actually come from gaming – either directly from the games (usually simulators & strategy games), or because my curiosity was piqued by a game set in that era . It’d be a shame if all that rich detail and history were to be whitewashed in an effort to avoid controversy and possible rejection from major game portals.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana.

Filed Under: Politics - Comments: 15 Comments to Read

  • Daniel Biehl said,

    The top link is 404ing for me.

    I always thought that freedom was the ability to express one self even if others may not agree with that expression. I still believe that. The old adage (paraphrased), “I may not agree with what you say but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it,” always rang true for me.

    Of course I’m equating the freedom of speech with writing video games. It is of course. And one of the advantages of being an indie developer is the freedom to explore subjects that may be considered taboo to the mainstream.

    Of course, as you mentioned, Apple created the infrastructure for the iPhone/iPad and they are the gatekeepers.

    I guess this brings to light the fact that there are so many gatekeepers anymore. Apple with their app store; The soon to be Microsoft app store when they release Windows 8; Steam; and etc. It’s getting to the point that the openness of the early years of PC gaming won’t be around. The gatekeepers will say, “you can sell your games on our system but you must play by these rules.” If I were a conspiracy theorist I would almost think that it was a way for these big companies to get all these indies under control and make money off of them in the process.

    In a way it is an interesting time for indie game developers. There are a few outlets where they can sell their goods and still feel like they can innovate (story wise?) but it seems like the gatekeepers are using FUD to a degree to steer potential customers from these other outlets to their own app stores. Or, maybe I’m reading too much into it.

    I’ve always been on the fence as far as app stores are concerned. They make a lot of money for those who own the app stores which isn’t a bad thing. There are a lot of developers who’ve made a huge sum of money on the app stores which, also, isn’t a bad thing. But, you do get restricted in what they’ll accept especially if they deem it offensive to someone. But on the other hand there is ease and convenience for the customer as well as one click install.

    It used to be that the major conglomerates used to buy up the indie studios and kill anything innovating that way. Now, they don’t have to do that…they just use the app store. Hyperbole intended. 😉

    Blah, I rant and the rant is long.

  • Maklak said,

    Freedom of speech all the way and if someone gets offended, thats his problem.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    I don’t believe in censorship, and I think in these cases – banning the Imperial Japanese flag or the German Swastika from games – is particularly dangerous. It is whitewashing history. As a veteran, I’ve always found games set in real wars a little distasteful – after all, they make a literal game out of the lives of real men and women. But I strongly believe if you DO create such games, they should be as authentic as possible.

    Inevitably, these things will be SOMEONE’S first introduction to a time period or a historical event or war. If you “sanitize it” and make it safe and palatable – you are making it palatable! Which it should never be. This is what gives the ignorant or the racist or the hateful ammunition. They can point to the work and say “See? It/They weren’t so bad”.

    People NEED to associate those symbols and images with the full history behind them. All you need to do to see how blatantly offensive this is (to remove images that give historical context), is to imagine a game set in the Japanese-American internment camps where all the American flags have been replaced by a generic blue or red banner with an eagle on it. It would be wrong.

    Symbols and flags are signatures. When you change them, you’re changing the names of the guilty.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Well said.

  • Felix said,

    The problem with restricting freedom of speech is that it leads to a slippery slope. You know the “first they came after…” speech? That’s how it works. You ban Nazi symbols because of what they did in WW2. Then you ban all hate speech ’cause it’s, well, a bad thing. Soon, over-reaching libel laws pop up everywhere. After a while, they start talking about a EU-wide ban on blasphemy…

    Anything you say may upset someone, somewhere. By this logic, we should just ban all speech and be done with it.

    Also, +1 LateWhiteRabbit. Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

  • Davzz said,

    Hmm, so, I believe the article only states Japan but I believe Germany is being brought into the free speech argument. I don’t know whether Japan has the same situation but perhaps a description of Germany’s situation might be insightful.

    Germany is REALLY strict on the usage on Nazi imagery. If you display the swastika for a purpose that isn’t educational, it’s a CRIME. You will be charged in court and all that. In a certain sense, I do believe this is a pragmatic law, because Germany actually has problems with Neo-Nazis and symphetizers and the law severely cuts down their ability to produce propaganda while still allowing the creation of art involving said time period.

    HOWEVER, a big problem is that under German law, Videogames are NOT considered Art. It does not enjoy the benefits that Art receives, such as said Freedom of Speech/Expression. Because of this, videogames are never considered “educational” and will never be allowed to use said imagery and symbolism.

    Because game publishers don’t want to close out a huge portion of the market, this leads them to self-censor their games. It does get sort of silly in situations like Civilization 4, where the law means that the pre-packaged “World War 2” scenario has Germany under Von Papen with (IIRC) the flag of the Holy Roman Empire.

    I have no idea whether this is the same for Japan but if so, I would interpret this as Apple trying to prevent themselves from getting into legal trouble, which I do believe would actually happen

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    That’s exactly the issue – with blanket policies applied like that, it does have a “chilling effect” on the industry where developers – trying to avoid the extra costs of re-doing content, re-submitting a game, or actually having to defend themselves in court – will self-censor. So we end up with yet more games about space marines and fictional alien enemies and stay as far away from real life, real history, real issues, and especially real controversy as possible.

    I’m not happy with that plan.

  • Xenovore said,

    The Rising Sun flag is potentially offensive in only China and Korea (and for good reason). The rest of the world really doesn’t care.

    I think it’s just a business move. I mean, not only is China and Korea a ginormous market for Apple, but Apple’s stuff (and/or parts) is made there. So they wouldn’t want to be associated with anything that might piss off the Chinese or Koreans…

  • Felix said,

    Germany is REALLY strict on the usage on Nazi imagery. If you display the swastika for a purpose that isn’t educational, it’s a CRIME. You will be charged in court and all that.

    Yes, I know. Lots of people don’t, and get into trouble for casually mentioning certain things while visiting Germany. But that’s the least of the problems with this law.

    In a certain sense, I do believe this is a pragmatic law, because Germany actually has problems with Neo-Nazis and symphetizers and the law severely cuts down their ability to produce propaganda while still allowing the creation of art involving said time period.

    Actually, all such a law ensures is that neo-nazis will just produce and distribute propaganda materials secretly, and when they actually do something nasty it will appear to come out of the blue. That is, unless the authorities are spying on absolutely everyone to see who might secretly be a skinhead. Would you like to live in a country like that?

  • Anon said,

    As an addendum to what Davzz and Felix wrote:
    Swastikas aside, video games are not only not an art form – they are categorized legally as so-called “Laufbilder” (“running images”), which initially sounds quite funny, as most people are well aware that all movies are “running images”, technically.

    However, this categorization places video games right alongside porn movies in Germany as these are also not considered art. The latter is probably very debatable but even the most artful porn movie (if such thing exists) is less worth, legally, than the shittiest mainstream movie flop in motion picture history.

    Normal movies are generally considered art, regardless how crappy they are and if you, and are therefore enjoying a special form of protection. It’s really comparable to the American right of freedom of speech.

    If you, for example, make a movie about WWII (doesn’t matter if it’s a documentary, a drama about Jewish concentration camp victims, a war action movie or even a satire) you can plaster it with Swastikas to your heart’s content.

    If you, on the other hand, put a single swastika into the most critically acclaimed video/computer game, even with some educational background, the game will be banned in Germany and the makers prosecuted. Simple as that.

    Therefore all commercial games playing in WWII need to have all swastikas replaced (mostly with iron crosses) or whitened out (you only see the white circle on red ground), which was common when games used a lower screen resolution.

    Now, I’m not too crazy about seeing porn movies playing in the WWII-time frame (;-)) but I’m all for games being accepted as an art form and getting a “freedom of speech” protection. Even if mainstream games are usually as artful as Hollywood blockbusters.

    Personally, I doubt that this special kind of censorship is really helpful as there are more Neonazis than ever in Germany and they are making (illegal) use of other symbols right now: The Neonazi terrorist group NSU, that killed about 10 people in Germany over several years, had the “funny idea” to use the Pink Panther for their propaganda videos. Sad, but true.

  • WhineAboutGames said,

    … jumping from banning hate speech to banning all speech is a classic example of the slippery slope as logical fallacy. 🙂

    A *reasonable* solution would be to have no kneejerk responses and to examine situations on their own merits without automatically assuming bad faith. Including a swastika in your game obviously doesn’t mean that you are a hateful person or an actual Nazi supporter, and it’s ridiculous to threaten people with jail time for being clueless.

    It’s not necessarily a bad idea to keep swastikas out of mainstream wargames – don’t leap at my throat let me ‘splain. First, seeing them can be extremely upsetting to some people, thus effectively barring those people from playing your game. Second, the fictional representation and ‘authentic’ explanation can be and IS often used by people who really do sympathise with those motives as a cover. Historical reenactment is mostly a cool and harmless hobby, but there are people who get a sick thrill out of playing nazis. Third, there is a tendency of fiction to make bad guys seem cool and lead people to glorify / sympathise with causes that are… not good ideas.

    This doesn’t mean I support banning swastikas in games; I’m generally not in favor of censorship. I prefer clear labeling and debate. But I think it is a question worth asking: is this necessary?

    Even if it were legitimately educational in as far as depicting the horrors of war, I would be very upset about a game in which the player carried out some of the atrocities of WW2.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,


    I agree each situation should be viewed on its own merits, but I see few cases where banning or removing a symbol (in this case a swastika) would do any good. Of course they would be upsetting to some people – that’s kind of the point. And how many of those people would NOT be upset playing the same game with symbols removed?

    Games aren’t like movies – you can’t “stumble” across them while channel surfing. You have to actively seek them out and buy/ rent/ install them to experience the content.

    I avoid nearly all modern war games set in the Middle East, and it hasn’t been that hard, even as a dedicated gamer. So I understand that sentiment – the idea of teenagers playing reenactments of the battles me and my friends fought in (and they died in) for fun makes me nauseous and ill. But if those games exist, I’d rather they be done in such a way as to be authentic – I want those games to be upsetting to people that play them.

    How many Holocaust survivors and WW2 vets play video games? There is a chronological distance that makes games set in that period a little more palatable. But now we are in a unique time when vets like me, or others, can come home from a war that is still going on and walk into a GameStop and see banners advertising a game based on that war where teens can compete for gamer points and achievements. It smacks of incredibly poor taste, but I wouldn’t argue against the developers’ rights to produce such games.

    Games are almost intrinsically poorly suited to depict war. If it is authentic, educational, and emotion and thought-provoking…it cannot be fun. Is something a game when it is designed not to provide fun or entertainment, but to give the gamer the horrific and scarring experience of war and human suffering?

    Kill counts, explosive kills, points and achievements all drive the experience backwards from where it needs to be. You are right about it being dangerous to glorify the bad guys or the atrocities they committed by having the playing partake in them. It is rewarding that information, that imagery, with dopamine releases to the brain that make you feel good.

    Real life soldiers don’t keep kill counts. They avoid them. They never talk about it. In fact, one of the most sure fire ways of spotting a psychopath when I was in the Marines was the guys keeping meticulous kill counts and bragging about them. Which is exactly what war games encourage. Xbox achievements and kill count scores in multi-player automatically make the gamer the equivalent of a real world psychopath.

    The message and intent of a game mean everything.

  • Anon said,

    “Xbox achievements and kill count scores in multi-player automatically make the gamer the equivalent of a real world psychopath.”

    Are you serious?

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    Metaphorically. In their role as a fake soldier. It means the game is rewarding them for behavior that would brand them a psychopath in a real world war. Hence automatically draining the experience of any validating experience on the nature of war.

  • Anon said,

    OK – I just wondered about that it, sounding a bit harsh…