The newest installment of the Wolfenstein series, called New Order, wanders deeper in philosophical and theological themes than any of its predecessors. Superhero William ‘B.J.’ Blazkowicz has found his voice (he was silent in all other games) and shows signs of existential thoughts, discussing faith, mysticism and theodicy with his fellow rebels. Hints of Jewish mysticism are not far away. New Order is the best of the Wolfenstein series until so far, especially in narrativity.
Wolfenstein. New Order (2014) is a single player, 1st person, linear, single ending shooter game with stealth elements, set in an allohistorical world, played on multiple platforms. In the game narrative, history has taken a different course (‘allohistory’). The Nazi’s got their hands on the atomic bomb before the Americans could, so Hilter and his SS hordes won the Second World War. The game takes place in the sixties of the past century (with the exception of the first level), when only a few rebels manage to resist the all-powerful German army. Blazkowicz actions take place in different locations in Western and Central Europe (and on the moon). What has happened to America and their struggle with Japan, is not revealed by the game. Nor is anything said about the survival of Hitler until the sixties.
The only resistance left in New Order is the Kreisau Circle, already met in Return to Castle Wolfenstein (2001) and Wolfenstein (2009). The game resistance group is based on its real-world counterpart, which opposed the Nazis centered on the Kreisau estate owned by Helmuth James Graf von Moltke. The name ‘Kreisau’ was given to them as a code name by the Gestapo, prior to their collective apprehension and execution in 1944. The member of game Kreisau all have interesting background stories, slowly told to the player in cut scenes and through different interactions in the game itself.
‘Cross’ and ‘Hate’
An example of this, is the leveled character of Klaus Kreutz, a former Nazi soldier. He joined the Circle after his (physically slightly deformed) baby son was killed by the Nazis for reasons of racial purity, leading his wife to be killed because she tried to save their child. The name of Kreutz, German for ‘cross’, is significant, because his efforts to comfort Max Hass. Hass has severe brain damage and because of this trauma, an emotional age of a little child. In Nazi Germany mental patients have no rights. Hass, meaning ‘hate’ in German, however is taken care of by Kreutz. The tenderness and softness of the relation between Kreutz and Hass is believable and bitter-sweet. Kreutz has taken on his cross to suffer for the monstrosities of ‘his’ Nazi regime, shifting his primary emotions from hate to the fostering of his adoptive son Hass, psychologically compensating the loss of his biological son.
Later on the game, Any Oliwa (nurse and girl friend of Blazkowicz) discovers the existence of a secret society, called Da’at Yichud. According to Any’s findings they (unwillingly) provided the advanced technology the Nazis used to build their empire upon. The only living member of Da’at, Set Roth, lives in a prison camp from which Blazkowicz has to rescue him. When they return to the safe haven of the Kreisau Circle, Roth tries to explain the nature of his orgainsation.
Da’at Yichud is an ancient mystical society. For millennia we’ve operated with utmost secrecy, up until right now. (…) We do not pray. We invent things. The technology developed by Da’at Yichud is centuries ahead of anything you’ve ever seen or imagined and highly dangerous in the wrong hands. The Nazis found our safe-keep. They stole our secrets. They used them to win the war. Everything they have accomplished. Everything was built upon our knowledge, but it wasn’t our only safe-keep. We have hundreds of them hidden in the secret places of the world. Some small and tentative like the one the Nazis found. Others [are] great halls of knowledge stacked high. Magnificent inventions. Things that to you will seem like magic. I can open the gates of such a place. (…) We don’t believe in things supernatural. We believe in God. The Da’ad Yichud is a philosophy. It is a way of understanding God through knowledge. It is based on pure reason, pure rational thought. Not supernatural bubkis. (…) There was never any purpose or intent of use beyond the act of creation. We create to commune with God.
Anya Oliwa seems to be the only person who understands what Set Roth is trying to explain. She replies:
It is like mathematical equations. And each solved equation brings you closer to God. The act of creation is the intended use.
The names Da’ad, Yichud and even Set Roth are references to Jewish mysticism. ‘Set Roth’ is an almost perfect anagram of Sephirot, one of the central ideas of Cabalism, which describes the emanations between the One and invisible God and the visible world of our reality. This sephirot is thought of a tree or a human body. On of the ten emanations of the sephirot is Da’ad, meaning ‘knowledge’ (of God) in Hebrew. As Set Roth tried to explain, he and his fellow members of Da’ad Yichud tried to gain as much knowledge of the universe a possible, thus approaching God himself, as creator of all the exists, as close as possible. Not to gain domination or wealth, but to ‘see God’, as is the primal target of all forms of mysticism.
New Order interprets this Jewish concept of Da’ad as a form of natural theology. Natural theology is the idea that one can find God by reason alone (without help of divine revelation). All sorts of theologians have objected this idea of natural theology. Especially Karl Barth rejected ‘natural theology’ fearing a religion without divine revelation would eventually become its own god. Barth was, not without meaning for this article about New Order, fiercely opposed to Nazism.
Set Roth, withstanding Barth’s problems with natural theology, is convinced that the scientifical study of the universe will eventually reveal God himself, as the primal cause of the existence of the universe. The name of his mystical organization however is comprised not only of Da’ad, but also of Yichud. Yichud means ‘being’ in Hebrew, and more precisely being in the material world. The person who ‘has’ the da’ad yichud has an almost absolute knowledge of the material world. This seems to be in line with Roth’s dialogue.
But the notion of Da’ad Yichud is sometimes also negatively associated with materialism and egoism. The person with da’ad yichud runs the risk of becoming his own God, his own criterion, king of his own egocentric universe. Ironically, the New Order’s primary enemy, an iconic doctor Mengele type with the name Deathshead, is exactly a da’ad yichud: he controls the material universe on a higher level than even the 21e century science of our time. This knowledge of the material word, however did not bring him closer to God, but further away. The Nazis in the act of the theft of the technology of the Da’ad Yichud movement, make perfectly clear the dangers of the goals of this organization.
When Blazkowicz tries to free Set Roth from a labor camp in occupied Croatia, he and Roth witness the torture and death of an unknown fellow prisoner. The American soldier and the Jewish scientist have a very interesting conversation about faith, freedom and evil.
Roth: This woman, I knew her well. Resilient. A Will of iron. Her family all gone. All of them, yet faith kept her going. I cannot believe such certainty. For me, in everything there must be doubt. Otherwise there is no room to question. To learn. This place is the fruit of unquestioned conviction. This is where absolute certainty leads.
Blazkowicz: Yet, you are a believer.
Roth: I often wonder what kind of a God would sanction suffering such as this. And I question myself whether my faith is misplaced.
Blazkowicz: May be he is testing us.
Roth: If he is testing us, we are failing gloriously.
Two things are made clear in this little dialogue. Faith and conviction can bring people to do both good and evil deeds. Faith itself is good, because it gives an individual believer the strength to carry on, even in the toughest of circumstances. See the woman of whom Blazkowicz and Roth are talking. But if faith becomes blinded by its own power, it enables people to do the most gruesome things to each other. See the Nazis who torture this woman to death. Faith without rationality becomes blind for its own flaws.
The second topic of this little conversation is about the theodicy question. Formulated by the philosopher Leibniz, monotheism has one great conceptual problem with the existence of evil in the world. If God is good and almighty, why is their evil in the world? If God cannot prevent evil, than He is not almighty. And if God could prevent evil, but isn’t wanting to do so, than He is cruel. Many solutions have been given by theologians to overcome this conceptual problem. Blazkowicz summarizes one of them: God let evil roam freely on earth because He wants to test our faith in Him. This argumentation is weak of course, because the idea of a God who is testing ‘His’ believers by leaving them to evil, does not comply with the idea of a good and benevolent God. Roth’s reply is therefore true. If God is testing us, we are failing terribly.
Wolfenstein New Order is surprisingly deep in its narrative and characters for the genre of a first person shooter. It wonders into the realm of existential questions, pondering of the nature of knowledge, mysticism, free will and theodicy.