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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Oldenbourg July 14, 2021

“No One is Ever Ready for Something Like This.” – On the Dialectic of the Holocaust in First-Person Shooters as Exemplified by Wolfenstein: The New Order

Eugen Pfister and Felix Zimmermann


For almost three decades, the depiction of the Holocaust was considered taboo in digital games. While World War II became a popular historicizing setting for digital games, the crimes of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust in particular remained conspicuously absent. In this article we show that discussions about the fundamental suitability of specific media or media forms for dealing responsibly with the memory of the Nazi regime’s crimes have already taken place several times and that similar arguments can now be applied to the digital game. With this in mind, we pursue the question of whether only so-called serious games are suitable for this purpose, or whether, on the contrary, mainstream blockbuster games – here specifically the first-person shooter Wolfenstein: The New Order – can find ways to maintain the memory of the Holocaust without trivializing it. We approach this question by analyzing chapter 8 of Wolfenstein: The New Order, in which protagonist William “B.J.” Blazkowicz allows himself to be deported to a Nazi concentration camp. We discuss this camp scene dialectically, on the one hand, as an encouragement to rethink the first-person shooter and, on the other hand, as a reproduction of a superficial iconography of the Holocaust.

Corresponding author: Eugen Pfister, Hochschule der Künste Bern – HKB, Bern, Switzerland, E-mail:

This is a revised and adapted translation of the article “‘Ich war so arrogant und dumm’ – Zur Dialektik des Holocausts im First-Person-Shooter am Beispiel von Wolfenstein: The New Order” which has been accepted for publication in the anthology “Eva, auf Wiedersehen!” – Zur Geschichte, Verhandlung und Einordnung der Wolfenstein-Spielereihe (edited by Rudolf Inderst, Pascal Wagner, and Aurelia Brandenburg). We want to thank Christian Huberts for his insightful comments on the initial version of this paper.

Published Online: 2021-07-14

© 2021 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston