Wolfenstein 3D has been classified in Germany for the very first time, finally allowing German gamers to officially experience this influential old-school FPS. Due to its Nazi imagery, the game had been refused classification in Germany up til now, but it now appears to have been given a classification by the German ratings board.
Why has Wolfenstein 3D been classified in Germany now?
Way back in 2019, the German USK (which stands for Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle) ratings board officially unbanned Wolfenstein 3D in Germany, citing a desire to start looking at art containing Nazi imagery on a "case-by-case" basis. Despite this, the game remained without a classification, meaning it couldn't be sold.
Now, however, the USK has granted a classification to Wolfenstein 3D, as well as its expansion, Spear of Destiny, which came out in the same year as the original game. Wolfenstein 3D's classification is 16, but only 18-year-olds can play Spear of Destiny. German PC players can now grab Wolfenstein 3D on Steam, as pointed out by Twitter user The Kinsie, and the game and its expansion are also available on the Microsoft Store and via GOG.com.
As well as the game being classified in Germany, interestingly, its legal text has also been changed on Steam. Per the Wolfenstein 3D SteamDB page, we can see that lines suggesting the game's story "should not be construed" as glorifying the Nazi regime's beliefs or actions have been added. It's difficult to see how a game that's all about shooting Nazis in the face and then killing Hitler could be seen as glorifying Nazism, but hey.
In addition, it's worth noting that the Steam description for Wolfenstein 3D appears to have been updated. The original description read, in full, as follows.
Maybe it was the fact that people got to blow away Nazis. Maybe it was the sheer challenge of it all. For whatever reason, Wolfenstein 3D and Spear of Destiny, pioneered the first-person shooter genre and brought its legendary creators, id Software, worldwide notoriety and numerous awards.
The new description, on the other hand, is a little more standard. It reads thus.
World War II rages. The Nazis are planning to build an unstoppable, mutant army. On a mission to steal the secret plans, you were captured and imprisoned. Now, a lucky break gives you the chance to escape, but a maze of passages and trigger-happy Nazis stand in your way.
It's hard to say exactly why this change was made, but it's probably got something to do with the nonstandard approach the original blurb took to describing Wolfenstein 3D. The new one is much more conventional in terms of describing Wolfenstein 3D, pointing to it as a game rather than a cultural event.
Why was Wolfenstein 3D banned in Germany in the first place?
Up to 2019, Wolfenstein 3D was banned in Germany under section 86a of the country's criminal code, which prohibits displaying symbols from "unconstitutional organizations". Naturally, the Nazis would count as an "unconstitutional organization" in Germany, and since it's pretty hard to have Wolfenstein without Nazis, the game was simply banned outright.
Unlike other forms of media, video games weren't granted exemptions under section 86a. A large part of the reason for this was a 1998 court case in which German courts ruled games would lead to children "growing up with these [Nazi] symbols and insignias", which would normalize them and thus lead to a higher chance of radicalization.
When it came time for MachineGames to reboot the Wolfenstein franchise in 2014, Wolfenstein: The New Order was released in Germany, but with heavy edits. Nazi symbols like swastikas were removed, and all references to the Nazi regime were replaced with simply "The Regime". The same was true of 2017's followup Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, which memorably featured Hitler. That must not have been fun to try and edit.
As far as we can tell (although we're not in Germany, naturally), Wolfenstein 3D has been released in Germany without any edits. It could be that the game is old enough that it's now deemed inoffensive, or it could simply be that attitudes towards video games in Germany are shifting. Time will tell, but for now, one thing's for sure: German gamers can finally experience Wolfenstein 3D legally. Hooray!
If you want to check out this slice of gaming history yourself, it's available on Steam, GOG.com, and the Microsoft Store. If you're an Xbox Game Pass subscriber, it's included as part of your subscription as well.