****WARNING SPOILERS OF WOLFENSTEIN 2: THE NEW COLOSSUS ARE BELOW****
Back in 1992, B.J. Blazkowicz was nothing more to me than a square-jawed, shifty-eyed face at the bottom of my computer screen. He was a perfect specimen of manliness, crushing his enemies tirelessly despite physical damage or overwhelming odds. For a scrawny twelve-year-old boy, there was no greater fantasy than gunning down waves of Nazis, robots, and Nazi robots.
Fast forward to modern gaming where we suffer things like Gamer Gate and the current misogynistic climate. One would think that a sharp-jawed, white-protagonist warrior would be an easy sell but Wolfenstein 2 decided that just wasn’t good enough. Duke Nukem Forever and Bulletstorm both failed financially, meaning the testosterone hero wasn’t as sure a thing as once thought. Furthermore, would the rapidly growing female audience engage in such a game character?
It was time for a new direction. Without sacrificing the masculinity of B.J. Blazkowicz, Wolfenstein 2: the New Colossus accomplishes this. Instead of evolving B.J. away from his masculine and violent roots, the people at Machine Games and Bethesda opted to ground him into reality. This is masterfully achieved by exploring and expanding B.J.’s relationships with women. This male protagonist’s ability to maintain healthy and respectful relationships with the women around him is the key to not only his survival, but his success.
Here are my examples:
Sigrun the self-redeemed– A new character to the franchise, Sigrun steals nearly every scene she inhabits. As the daughter of the antagonist as well as a Nazi defector, she represents Germany as it has been victimized by the Nazi party.
Despite Sigrun having proven herself loyal, several characters continue to use and abuse her to their own ends. Blazkowicz is one exception, though. Never once does he threaten her or distrust her, and he even sticks up for her, asserting that she is indeed ‘good people.’ Make note that this endorsement of Sigrun comes from the most notorious Nazi killer to walk the Earth.
Thanks to Sigrun, B.J. has access to inside information on the enemy.
Anya the lover– Blazkowicz continues his love and dedication toward Anya, and we find that he elates at the thought of her having twins. But he is terrified at the fact that he has a few months to live, and he may not ever meet his children. Additionally, Blazkowicz laments at the thought of Anya rising their children alone.
Foolishly, he attempts to distance himself from her to ease her impending heartbreak. Closing himself off, Anya confronts him early in the narrative and demands to know what is going on. Now, Blazkowicz could drag out this conflict out by remaining quiet and sullen on the matter. But instead he opens up. He can’t help but have successful communication with the woman he loves.
He confesses his fears and they argue constructively, leaving Blazkowicz to internally realize that he wasn’t actually protecting Anya from hurt, but feebly protecting himself.
Another important element of note is that one would expect a man to be ferociously protective of their pregnant partner. And while Blazkowicz is, he never dissuades Anya from doing either her job or engaging against the enemy. He doesn’t once attempt to sway her agency, and we even see Anya in combat while five months pregnant because damnit, Nazi’s gotta die.
Caroline the leader– A paralyzed German resistance leader, Caroline returns from the first game as the commander of B.J.’s missions. She gives the orders, builds the team, collects the intelligence, and networks the cells. The respect B.J. gives her is unflinching, and when she dies he even continues to pray to her spirit, begging that she doesn’t abandon him just yet. He needs her motivation to guide him through the fear of his own impending death.
Grace the leader– Upon Caroline’s brutal death, Grace eventually takes over as the leader of B.J.’s resistance team. She has the connections, the plans, and the know-how. B.J. recognizes this.
What stands out is how B.J. reacts to her during social moments. When they first talk, Grace breast feeds her baby in front of B.J. He is uncomfortable at first, but upon seeing that Grace is casual about it, B.J. eases and follows suit. She even mocks his masculine colloquialisms, and instead of being defensive, he absorbs her observation and acknowledges it.
At no point is B.J. ever threatened by Grace’s authority or abrasive demeanor. With Grace’s audacious plans, B.J. cripples the Nazi war machine.
Billie the childhood love– B.J. is raised by his father to follow the established modus operandi American white superiority of 1920’s Texas. Upon meeting Billie near his farmhouse, B.J. rattles off his father’s racist mantra which Billie promptly contradicts with information regarding her own plight.
Billie is vital as a character. She interacts with B.J. during his formative years to break his inherited perceptions. Through their relationship, young B.J. learns about segregation and the denial of inequality from the perspective of the little girl he loves to play with. What is most important is that B.J. listens to her, reserves negative judgement, and finds comfort with his young friend.
Take note of the scene with the rat in the bucket. See how Billie’s distress motivates B.J. out of his apathy. Later in the game there are rats loose on the submarine, and when B.J. is tasked to kill one of them, he instead frees it, sympathetically stating that the creature is not at fault.
Worthy of note is that Billie shares B.J.’s first name, William. Is Billie the other side of the coin? An inversion of B.J.’s propensity to violence, dressed in white like the little girl in Rockwell’s masterpiece? Either way, Billie is a peer that provides a tender moral compass at a time when B.J. was vulnerable and emotionally battered.
Mom– Zophia is B.J.’s mother of Polish-Jewish descent, and given that his father is an abusive racist she endures much. When Mr. Blazkowicz’s fist goes flying at B.J.’s face, Zophia steps in the way. She sometimes shares a black eye with her son and in their private moments Zophia infuses B.J. with a hope of a better world.
At the very beginning of his life, B.J. was subjected to his father’s cruelty. But stronger still was his mother’s kindness. In times of trauma, heartache, and fear, B.J. thinks of her and dreams of the comfort she brought. This pervades his choices and motivations far more than the abuse of his father. Simply put, B.J. is motivated by the love of his mother far more than the hate of his father.
Bessie the dog– B.J.’s childhood dog, we see her comfort B.J. in bed when he is recovering from his father’s abuse. Bessie shares B.J.’s terror, peeing on the bedroom floor when his father enters the house downstairs. But when Zophia is struck by her husband, Bessie runs to her defense. This perhaps was a model for fighting to protect loved ones despite crushing fear.
So there you have it.
I present to you a landslide of positive and healthy relationships with the females surrounding the game’s protagonist. Some relationships are far more distant than others, but his consistent respect of women clearly empowers him both emotionally and physically. While he clearly struggles with communication and heartache, at no point does he devolve into a the “man’s man” that he could easily have been written as.
The next time you find yourself in the internet wilderness of youtube and encounter bemoaning of how “social justice warriors” took away masculine heroes, know that they are glossing over games like this one.