Wolfenstein: The New Order as a playful continuation of dystopian narrative traditions
70 years after it ended, World War II still is a lastingly shaping event in global public history. In the United States, the image of a “Good War” stands strong, and the soldiers are remembered as national heroes, as the dedication of the National World War II Memorial on the Mall in D.C. shows as much as Hollywood movies. This national narrative of moral self-confidence and unity therefore frequently is subject of American Studies’ curricula.
Wolfenstein: The New Order (2014) is a best-selling video game and first person shooter with a saturnine premise: It’s 1960 and Nazi Germany is ruling earth ruthlessly. Alternative fiction dealing with the Endsieg has proven to be popular in the last years: The Man in the High Castle or The Plot against America are two successful examples of counter-factual media products.
These afore-mentioned instances go hand in hand with a dystopian narrative tradition that has been established in the 20th century by authors such as Orwell or Samjatin. The writers’ artistic world design concentrates upon totalitarian states that put pressure on the individual’s autonomy in order to suppress their unfolding and blooming as a zoon politikon.
Wolfenstein: The New Order also taps into that kind of world building and its typical components. Thereby it is fostering the dystopian tradition. But it also transcends it by its
ludological experience of gameplay. Not only did the critically-acclaimed title create a dystopian narration by its marketing campaign and in-game storytelling but also by taking-away the player’s control over the protagonist. Hence the player becomes an agenda-less pawn in the hands of the gameworld.
Taken all together my talk therefore aims to describe and explain marketing, storytelling and game mechanics in Wolfenstein: The New Order as a powerful set of tools for the ludic dystopification of a medium.