Call Of Duty: World War 2 is the first game in the series since 2008 to take place in the second world war. Back in 2008, Call Of Duty: World At War was a brief diversion from the franchise's turn to modern warfare, and eventually futuristic and even space warfare. Now we return with Sledgehammer Games's second AAA Call of Duty release, following their excellent 2014 title Advanced Warfare, which was the first game in the series to really double-jump its way into the future. It's an exciting return to the historical for many Call of Duty gamers, your humble narrator included. As much as I really do enjoy modern CoD multiplayer, it's great to have variety, and from what I've seen and played of World War 2 it's going to be a great game. Of course, since it's Call of Duty it's bound to be controversial. The higher they come, the harder they fall, and so it goes year after year with the best-selling games in the biggest annual franchises. This time around, the controversy stems from a couple of design decisions which, at least on their face, seem utterly perplexing. The first is the decision to not include the swastika, one of the Third Reich's most ominous and prevalent symbols, in the game's multiplayer. That might seem odd, but it turns out Sledgehammer is walking something of a tightrope when it comes to this kind of thing. “We’ve wrestled with the topic of Nazi iconography, including the swastika, throughout the course of development," Sledgehammer co-founder Michael Condrey tells me. "There are, of course, cultural boundaries that we felt we needed to respect," he adds, "and we also wanted to be authentic in our approach to game design. It’s a fine balance of not glorifying the symbolism, while also not ignoring or shying away from this dark moment in human history. There’s certainly a line that we are very conscious not to cross, while still honoring the sacrifice of those who fought to push back the world from the brink of tyranny. In short, it's not something we take lightly." The Campaign So Sledgehammer decided to include the Nazi symbols in the campaign "to be historically accurate and tell the story we wanted to tell." Condrey says it was "the best way to represent history, which was very important to us." The developer even has a military historian on the payroll to ensure that this imagery is used in historically accurate ways throughout the campaign. This means that for most countries, the campaign will still have the swastika and other Nazi imagery. In Germany, however, where there are strict censorship laws against this, the campaign will be censored accordingly. This is in keeping with pretty much every single other video game release in Germany that has even a hint of Nazi symbols, from Wolfenstein to Bionic Commando. Swastikas in Multiplayer Multiplayer, however, is another beast altogether. In both competitive multiplayer and Zombies mode, the swastika was left out. In many ways, Sledgehammer has ditched historical accuracy and created something that they view as accessible to everyone, with the horrors of that specific war---and the Nazi's fascist, racist regime---left out altogether. It's an interesting approach, and a tricky decision to make. But Condrey says there were several deciding factors. "First, these are visceral experiences that are as much social and competitive as they are historical depictions of the conflict, he says. "Including Nazi symbols wouldn’t bring honor, nor be appropriate, without the rich history of a WW2 story to ground their context in Multiplayer." Condrey also notes that the online multiplayer experiences are "shared, global ones, so we needed to adhere to local laws and regulations, while ensuring that everyone has the same level and identical playing field." In other words, German gamers wouldn't see a different game in multiplayer than the rest of the world, which makes sense. The other perplexing design decision is the inclusion of multi-racial playable characters on the Axis side in multiplayer. You can play as a black, female Nazi if you want to. As I noted above, there's a high level of abstraction going on in Sledgehammer's approach to multiplayer. They've taken everything historical out of the competitive side in order to make the game appeal to as diverse an audience as possible. Condrey says that Sledgehammer "wanted our players, regardless of gender or ethnicity to feel they were represented in Multiplayer. The Call of Duty soldier you customize and play as should be a representation of you, your avatar in MP, and that soldier can look however you choose. Allowing players to take themselves into battle, whether assigned to the Allied or Axis factions, was a strategic decision which we believe strikes the right balance of fun and inclusiveness." Credit: Sledgehammer/Activision Call of Duty: World War 2 Diversity in Video Games A lot of people will see this as blatant pandering to the "social justice" crowd. Women soldiers in World War 2 was already a point of contention, but having black Nazis seems to many like a bridge too far. After all, this was an army that prided itself on its whiteness and racial superiority. Hitler's entire philosophy was built around Aryan superiority, and while black people were never the subject of his most intense hatred (that was saved for the Jewish people) they were certainly never soldiers in the Nazi army. (To be fair, black people were also considered second-class citizens in the US at the time, at least by many and certainly by our laws, but they fought and died in the Allied army.) I'm of two minds here. I think that if this is the direction Call of Duty wants to go as a series then it makes sense. We've had gender and racial diversity for several games now in multiplayer and it makes sense to just stick with this approach with every game, bringing some uniformity to each Call of Duty entry. Meanwhile, multiplayer is hardly an exercise in realism to begin with. After all, there are scorestreaks. If you score enough points without dying you're able to call down all sorts of terrors on your enemies. Oh, and when you die you miraculously come back to life to fight again, doing things like capturing A, B or C, or holding a random "hardpoint." So if it's just policy now to have multiplayer function as an abstraction---almost a reenactment, in this case---okay. I'm fine with that. And I completely understand leaving swastikas out of multiplayer. I'm happy they'll at least be in the campaign and that Sledgehammer is really focusing on creating a historically authentic European theater of war. Credit: Sledgehammer/Activision Call of Duty: World War 2 On the other hand, this has to be a first, having black Nazis in any game, or in any media at all. How can it not be a bit jarring and unsettling? How can it not spark some incredulous chuckles? I don't think this is necessarily pandering to "SJWs" (social justice warriors) but it is, in some ways, the result of diversity for diversity's sake. Sledgehammer wants everyone to be able to play and identify with their characters, which is fine, but I just can't make it work in my head. Black Nazis! It's my honest belief that people of all races and creeds would understand if they could only play as white people on the Axis side. There might be some fringe elements out there who complained, but most people would get that when it came to racial quotas, the Nazis had a very different notion about what that meant. So while I think Sledgehammer's heart is in the right place here, and while I think it's ultimately not that big of a deal at all, I also think being a little more historically accurate would have been an okay direction to take. I mean, how much do we really identify with our toons in CoD to begin with? You're in first-person the entire time anyways. Like I said, it's actually not that big of a deal in the long run, but it's stirred up some unnecessary controversy, and I think most people would have understood if the Axis side were limited to scumbag Aryan jerks who wanted to eradicate Jews, gypsies, black people, gay people, handicapped people and so on and so forth from the face of the earth. Ultimately, these kinds of decisions aren't easy to make. There's no right way, no one way to avoid backlash, no perfect answer. Credit: Treyarch Historically accurate robot. Finally, there's Zombies mode, which Condrey says "gives us a tremendous amount of creative freedom across the board." Yeah, you pretty much toss historical accuracy and authenticity out the window when you develop anything with the word "zombies" in it, so I'm not too worried about swastikas or anything else in this mode. I mean, as long as there's giant robots we should be okay, right?