(This post describes fictional animal violence. Considering its subject matter, it’s particularly strange that GameStop would not let me publish this review on their website, partially on the grounds that it considers the word Nazi to be profanity.)
I looked forward to playing Wolfenstein: The New Colossus. I wanted the catharsis of putting some Nazis in their place. The prologue had the drama, technical smoothness, and professionalism of any Bethesda game. I was excited to start the adventure. Then (spoilers) I participated in a scene where my protagonist’s abusive stepfather shot and killed the protagonist’s terrified dog. If I hadn’t noticed that I had the freedom to defy the stepfather, I would have had to direct the protagonist to kill his dog himself.
I uninstalled the game after that. I understand that Wolfenstein deals with human atrocities that far outweigh the death of a single pet. Regarding all that, I also know that in wringing my hands about a dog, I risk echoing a perversion that the Nazis themselves shared when they passed stringent laws against animal abuse even while they were gassing millions of people. But in buying Wolfenstein I’d given permission to see a modicum of general wartime violence, in exchange for my feeling as if I were stopping a great, cathartic amount of white-supremacist violence. In contrast, the close-up killing of a terrified animal is almost on the same level as a close-up killing of a terrified child. That is, the death of non (or not-completely) rational innocents carries a special kind of brutality that I actually play these games to escape. This is especially true when in the real world, the border crisis and the climate crisis make the suffering of children and animals all too inescapable. I want to play a game like Wolfenstein, because I don’t want to feel helpless. In fact, I want to be an agent of heroic correction. And, yes. I know that if I’d stayed with the game, I would have directed BJ Blazkowicz toward some serious butt-kicking for goodness. I might have even gotten revenge for my dog. But I didn’t need to see the dog die in the first place. I didn’t need to stand there helpless, the way I do in front of so much of the evening news.
Video games (and fiction in general) can get away with violence toward the non (completely) rational innocent—but only if they earn it with a very good reason. All Bethesda earned with this scene is the point that racist abusers need to be stopped. Well, duh, Bethesda. You’re usually smarter than that.