Nazi-punching video games are flooding the internet, thanks to Richard Spencer
Remember that video of white nationalist Richard Spencer getting punched in the face on the day of President Donald Trump's inauguration? Of course you do. Here it is again.
Well, as this video — and all its meme-ifications — took over social media, it sparked a surprising conversation about the ethics of punching someone known for spouting hate speech. (Read Mic's interview with ethicists here.)
Now, the punch-out video — and all the conversations it has inspired — has reverberated into the world of indie gaming. In just a few short weeks, the internet's been flooded with game developers' takes on the debate.
A good number of the new batch of Nazi-fighting games throw moral existentialism out the window. This genre is all about catharsis — giving players an outlet for the nearly boundless rage they feel at the rise of white supremacy in America.
Let's look at a few examples.
The game development world reacts to the Nazi-punching meme
Perhaps the smartest of these more politically engaged games is actually a mod for a relatively old anti-fascist game: Wolfenstein 3D, a WWII-themed shooter that came out in the early '90s. The mod, developed by Ramsey Nasser, interrupts the game whenever you attempt to shoot a Nazi soldier, and asks if it's really the right thing to do.
This mod pokes fun at the moral hand-wringing that's arisen in the wake of the video of Spencer getting walloped, essentially arguing that if you are confronting a literal Nazi who thinks genocide is rad, you probably won't stop that inherently violent agenda with a thoughtful conversation.
Ethicists might throw cold water on the idea of violence as a solution to the resurgence of American white nationalism, but the mod makes a smart — and hilarious — point. (We reached out to Nasser and will update with a response.)
Another example that takes jabs at this moral debate is Pepe's Punch Out!! — a parody of the early '80s Nintendo game Punch Out!! — which pits players in a fist-fight with Pepe the Frog, the once-innocent cartoon frog who was re-appropriated as a symbol of white supremacy.
However, before you actually punch anyone, it asks you to make a moral decision: You can either "have the first ever civilized debate on the internet and show them the error of their ways" or, more simply, "let Pepe catch these hands."
If you choose to use your words, Pepe will laugh at you and a message will pop up on screen: "This did not go well."
"You came with facts, statistics assembled by the greatest thinkers in history," the on-screen dialogue continues. "@vegeta1488 and @logical_volcel Photoshopped your face onto a giant meatball for when they put you in 'the pizza oven, where the Italians belong.' You aren't even Italian! It's just [that] your Twitter profile is a soccer ball."
You can choose to engage in a fruitless online argument once more before your only choice is to punch Pepe.
Nazi-punching games, without the ethical dilemma
Other Nazi-themed games that have popped up in recent weeks take a much more gleeful approach to the idea of smacking neo-Nazis, allowing players to use cartoony images of famous white supremacist icons as stress-relieving punching bags. Such is the case in Punch a Nazi, in which you sync your smartphone with your computer and literally make a punching motion towards your screen.
As you time your movements to an indicator that swings back and forth, images of Spencer, right-wing shit-stirrer Milo Yiannopoulos and Adolf Hitler himself grow increasingly battered and bloodied with each punch.
Similarly, Kill the Alt-Reich, developed by Nathan and Kynan Williams, is essentially a crude whack-a-mole clone in which your only goal is punch Spencer while avoiding cute kittens.
If punching isn't really your speed, there's also Handväska!, a game developed by Ramsey Nasser and Jane Friedhoff which was inspired by "Hans Runesson's 1985 photo of Danuta Danielsson beating the shit out of a neo-Nazi with her purse." In Handväska!, you'll send modern fascists flying through the air like lifeless bowling pins with every swing of your bright yellow purse, making them bounce off each other and the blocky buildings behind them.
So, where do we stand on the ethics of these punch-first-ask-moral-questions-later games?
Like other violent video games, virtual Nazi-fighting likely functions as an effective form of catharsis, but it's unlikely to actually inspire violence in real life, unless the player has violent tendencies already.
That said, these games — and all violent games — make light of violence and may desensitize viewers to fictionalized violent imagery to a degree. Still, accusations that they would inspire otherwise peaceful people to take up arms are suspect.
Regardless of your reasons for playing, there's no denying it: Nazi-punching games have become a thing — so whether you're in it for the cutting political dialogue or simply need to let off some steam, there's a flavor out there for everyone.
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