Video games in Germany have always had to censor Nazi imagery, because to display that content would violate the country’s constitution. Now, after pressure from the German Games Industry Association, the government has relaxed its interpretation of some laws and will allow it in certain circumstances.

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The government has moved from a blanket ban on swastikas and Hitler moustaches to a case-by-case basis, which will be administered by the USK, Germany’s ratings board.

The official release with the news gives the specifics:

When games that depict symbols of unconstitutional organisations are submitted to the USK for an age rating, the USK committees can now assess them on a case-by-case basis to decide whether the ‘social adequacy clause’ (Sozialadäquanzklausel, as laid out in section 86, subsection (3) of the German Criminal Code) applies. In this context, ‘social adequacy’ means that symbols of unconstitutional organisations can be used in games in individual cases, as long as those symbols serve an artistic or scientific purpose, or depict current or historical events.

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“Sozialadäquanzklausel” has long been used by movies and TV, which have always been able to show historical representations of Nazis, but games had been held to a different standard. No longer.

Of course, this doesn’t mean developers are free to go sticking swastikas wherever they want. It just means the USK is able to allow it in permitted circumstances.

Felix Falk, Managing Director of the German Games Industry Association, says:

This new decision is an important step for games in Germany. We have long campaigned for games to finally be permitted to play an equal role in social discourse, without exception. Computer and video games have been recognised as a cultural medium for many years now, and this latest decision consistently cements that recognition in terms of the use of unconstitutional symbols as well.

We in the games industry are concerned about the tendencies we see towards racism, anti-semitism and discrimination. We are strongly committed to an open, inclusive society, to the values laid out in the German constitution, and to Germany’s historical responsibility. Many games produced by creative, dedicated developers address sensitive topics such as the Nazi era in Germany, and they do so in a responsible way that encourages reflection and critical thinking. The interactive nature of games makes them uniquely qualified to spark contemplation and debate, and they reach younger generations like no other medium can.

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While this of course will apply to future game releases, it’ll be interesting to see if existing titles—most famously Wolfenstein—can be bothered to issue re-releases or updates to convert censored local versions to the international, Swastika-filled editions of games.

UPDATE: Some further context, courtesy of GameStar’s Sandro Odak, who tells us that Germany’s long-standing refusal to grant video games the same cultural exception movies and TV shows were allowed dates back to the court’s interpretation of a 1998 court case:

The verdict said in 1998 that Wolfenstein 3D is banned nazi propaganda (in a case against a real nazi) and they never considered it being a piece of art or culture (which for example has applied to movies). In the following years this interpretation has stayed intact - until now.

— Sandro Odak (@riperl) August 9, 2018