Germany Lifts Ban on Nazi Symbols in Video Games

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
Bethesda Softworks
Games depicting Nazi imagery or characters can now be sold, if the symbols are judged to serve an artistic purpose or used in a historical context.

Germany's video game regulating agency has lifted a ban on Nazi symbolism and imagery in video games sold or downloaded in the country.

The Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body, or USK, announced on Thursday that games including Nazi symbols such as the swastika, whose public use is generally banned in Germany, could now be sold if the symbols are judged to serve an artistic or scientific purpose or are used in a historical context.

The change follows the fierce debate that accompanied last year's release of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, an action shooter set in an alternative universe in which Nazi Germany won World War II. For the German version, the game's publishers had to digitally scrub out or change Nazi symbolism, including digitally deleting the mustache of an aging Adolf Hitler (and changing the character's name to “Heiler").

Other games have been similarly edited to remove depictions of Nazi iconography, with swastikas, for example, being replaced by triangular symbols.

The ruling by the USK does not reflect a change in German law, which still outlaws Holocaust denial, the glorification of the Nazi era and most public use of Nazi symbolism. But the German video game industry has decided to interpret the law differently, bringing video games more in line with other art forms, including film and television, where such Nazi-era iconography is allowed if it is deemed historically appropriate or artistically significant.

"Through the change in the interpretation of the law, games that critically look at current affairs can, for the first time, be given a USK age rating," USK managing director Elisabeth Secker said in a statement. "This has long been the case for films and, with regards to the freedom of the arts, this is now rightly also the case with computer and video games.”

The ruling comes ahead of Gamescom, the world's largest gaming convention, which will be held in Cologne, Germany, between Aug. 21-25.