Modern-day video game development becomes an extremely critical task when we consider the countless controversies and criticisms that can potentially plague it when things go wrong and out of hand for the developers. Video game development is a very sensitive task when the game deals with critical topics and the depiction of important events. The developers have to be extra careful to make sure no sentiment of the consumer is hurt to prevent any backlash and criticism of their final product. Media censorship also adds among the factors that can influence video game development as specific content in-game is created keeping various regional censorship guidelines in mind.
The latest controversy to strike the headlines of the world news is one that involves the Kiev-based studio of game developers, Starni Games, and their latest World War II-themed RTS title, Strategic Mind: Blitzkrieg. Released on 22nd May on digital distribution platform Steam, the game revolves around the German forces and their perspective in the World War II. The players assume control of the German army during its campaigns dating from 1939 to 1945. The announcement of the game read, “The game was created by a team of true experts on the history of World War II, with great attention to historical authenticity and an abundance of small details.” There are 20 campaign missions with around 80 hours of gameplay in total, 16 of these missions are real events from World War II while 4 of the remaining ones are scenarios that the developers came up with. The developers boast a historically accurate game with hints of alternate history where the player will have seamless control over the entire German infantry, air, and naval division. The most notable feature of this game is that each mission can be replayed and alternate outcomes can be discovered leading to sequences of alternate history. Since its launch, the game has received mostly positive reviews from users on Steam and has a fairly high score of 84/100 from user reviews.
The real controversy erupts from one of the many playable missions in the game, namely involving the ‘Battle of Moscow’. As per documented history, the German offense on the Eastern front had failed miserably to the might of the defending Red Army and the chilling Russian winter. This was one of the first times that the German offense rallying behind Blitzkrieg had failed to achieve results. Although, in Strategic Mind: Blitzkrieg, there is an alternate history piece set in the Battle of Moscow. In-game, the players have an option to overpower the Russian defense thus allowing the Nazis to take over the Soviet Union. This piece of alternate history in the game has been highlighted by the Russian media and has been accused of spreading Nazi propaganda and sympathizing with their cause. Once the player assumes victory with the German army in this mission, a video is played where Hitler is seen addressing his troops marching at the Red Square in the ensuing alternate history. This particular video has been bashed by the Russian media resulting in it being taken down from platforms like Facebook and Starni Games ending up having their access to their YouTube channel restricted.
The highlighted issue has reached the eyes of top-level Russian politicians, Member of the Federation Council, Franz Klintsevich commented the following about the in-game cutscene, “This generally contradicts international law, not only here, but everywhere as propaganda of fascist ideology. This is a criminal offense.” Tweets from angry Russians have also surfaced online demanding criminal charges to be put on the developers for spreading Nazi propaganda. One such tweet reads, “Ukrainian computer game “Strategic mind: Blitzkrieg” glorifies Nazism and international criminals convicted by the Nuremberg Tribunal. We urge UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and HRC Special Procedures to respond to this heinous act.” The Russian media has also highlighted the product description of Strategic Mind: Blitzkrieg to be another vile attempt at spreading Nazi propaganda and ideologies. The highlighted product description reads, “You are to lead the German Armed forces overcoming unthinkable odds and claiming the ultimate bittersweet victory in Europe. Blitzkrieg is the way!”
#Ukrainian computer game “Strategic mind: blitzkrieg” glorifies Nazism and international criminals convicted by the Nuremberg Tribunal.
❗️We urge #UN High Commissioner for #HumanRights @mbachelet and #HRC Special Procedures to respond to this heinous act. @mfa_russia pic.twitter.com/A7ufrEJqbT
— Russian Mission in Geneva (@mission_russian) May 26, 2020
The studio head of Starni Games hasn’t wasted much time and has taken up to Reddit to defend the accusations put on the studio by the Russian media. His statement on Reddit reads,
My name is Igor, I’m the studio head of Starni Games – an independent game development studio based in Kyiv, Ukraine. Our latest project Strategic Mind: Blitzkrieg has recently launched on PC. It is a WWII turn-based strategy that combines classic wargame mechanics with modern graphics. Currently, it has “very positive” reviews on Steam – 84% of Steam players like the game.
But yesterday we found out that we can’t access our YouTube channel and one of our cinematics was deleted from Facebook. Turns out the game was featured on the Russian TV – and it was accused of glorifying nazis. Because of that, we’ve received a ton of complaints on YouTube and Facebook from Russian bots. Moreover, it looks like the government there seeks legal action and threatens criminal prosecution. All because of this video – a story cutscene about Hitler on the Red Square.
Starni Games has to clarify – in no way we’re trying to glorify the Nazi ideology, we strongly condemn their deeds. We’ve created a historical game with alternate history possibilities: if the player loses there are Soviet troops taking Reichstag and if he wins one of the battles German troops are taking Moscow. If you win the battle of Moscow you indeed can witness the alternate history moment with German parade on the Red Square. We have around 90 minutes of cinematics in the game and if you watch the whole story, you will clearly see that Hitler and Goering are portrayed as negative characters who give criminal orders. Other characters struggle between their oath and their reluctance to carrying out orders issued by the Fuhrer. Moreover, Hitler will be killed later on in the game by the resistance forces. Moreover, our game is denazified – all prohibited historical symbols banned by the German law (like “swastika”) were replaced by the denazified symbols.
We try to make games that will present the WW2 history from the perspective of different countries. We already did Strategic Mind: The Pacific featuring both the US and Japan campaigns. Now, we are telling the German story. Next, we plan to move on to the USSR and Allies. Everyone can clearly see that we pursue entertainment combined with preserving historical knowledge of the events. We are not aiming to offend anyone or glorify anything, we aim to create great and immersive games. The game’s Steam user score indicates that the actual players enjoy the game. And the recent wave of negative comments on social media is instigated by Russian press agencies presenting the news in a very biased manner.”
After being bashed and accused of only portraying the Nazi side of World War II and going to the extent of glorifying their ideologies in alternate history sequences, Starni Games has come up with an effort to defend its in-game content and have put forward points to prove their true intentions. The Reddit post by their studio head tries to clarify that neither the game nor the studio support Nazism in any form and in the end the Nazis are constantly portrayed negatively throughout the course of the game. In the end, it all depends on how the consumers will react to the content of the game and the current events, however, we are still left unclear about the fate of Starni Games.
We’re in talks with Starni Games and will soon follow-up with an article, interviewing them and discussing the matters at length. If you think you could help us cover the article in a fairer way, or if you could add something substantial to our coverage, email us at [email protected]