While several game companies are utilizing modern technology to ban or blur out toxic words in multiplayer chat, and for good reason, EA has decided to make a rather interesting call when it comes to Battlefield V. For those of you unaware, Battlefield V is the sequel to 2015’s Battlefield 1 (video game sequel numbering conventions are about as bad as the iPhone line), and takes place during Word War II. All of that is fine, except that, according to the latest edition of UK magazine Private Eye, it appears that EA will be banning the use of the word “Nazi” in chat.
While we are all for reduced toxicity in multiplayer communities, even we have to admit this one might be a step too far. While not displaying racial or ethnic slurs is great, Nazi isn’t just a derogatory term for a group of people of Germanic descent. The National Socialist German Worker’s Party is commonly referred to as the Nazi Party in English. So to have a game where you fight Nazis refuse to display the world “Nazi” in game chat seems a little bit absurd.
Sure, you could be calling your opponents a group of genocidal fascists as form of verbal abuse, or you could honestly be referring to them by their proper name. Either way, EA has decided that “Nazi” can only be used as a way to harass other players because programming chat filters to understand conversational nuance is incredibly difficult when usage of the word in either case would be extremely similar.
However, the decision as a whole is pretty ridiculous. If you can’t call a uniformed German soldier in a WWII game a Nazi, things have clearly gone awry.
That said, video games and WWII do have a pretty confused relationship. Most games set in the Second World War will never feature a visible swastika, because the icon is considered equivalent to hate speech in a number of countries. So to prevent the games from getting flagged by countries with more restrictive censorship rules, the Nazi Party’s emblem is left out. Modern Germany used to be one of those restrictive countries where Nazi Party imagery was heavily censored for reasons that should be obvious.
In fact, 2017’s Call of Duty: WWII was the first time the franchise ever even mentioned the Holocaust in one of its games. Which is insane when you consider the fact that early COD games were practically synonymous with WWII. And that mention was only a few minutes of gameplay at the end of the single player campaign and it is laughably bad.
As I wrote at the time:
All of the heavy lifting is left for an epistolic recap that attempts to serve us as the ending to Zussman’s story by tying it up in a neat little bow. We get 38 words about our best friend who was captured by Nazi soliders, and they’re the most trite of platitudes I have ever heard given by a video game.
“I thought I knew what cruelty was; I didn’t know anything. But one thing is for certain: What I saw stayed with me forever.”
That’s it. That’s the Holocaust according to COD: WWII.
All of this is to say that the relationship between video game developers/publishers and the actual events of World War II is an incredibly complicated one with a lot of missed nuance. Games often treat World War II as spectacle while glossing over many of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazi government and ignoring much of the party’s imagery and rhetoric for the sake of a ratings board. That callous approach to censorship doesn’t serve anyone well. It misses the forest for the trees in many ways. Because rather than providing a platform for reflection and intelligent conversation about an incredibly dark time in modern history, we get bland scenery.
EA and developer DICE preventing players of Battlefield V from using the term “Nazi” – even if that term isn’t used once in the game itself – is just another example of an industry misstep. Obfuscating around the name of a historical political party to prevent a few problematic players from calling others “something something Nazi” as an insult isn’t a step in the right direction for community management. Because the term “Nazi” might be offensive to hear, but it is far more problematic to leave it out of the conversation.
In a Word War II game, I should be able to call a Nazi a Nazi. Period.