The Vexed Question of Names

If you follow the goings on at the Mobile Frame Hangar. You may have noticed a recent thread where there was a fairly heated discussion of naming conventions, Nazism, and the place of symbolism. I will admit that it was my initial contribution that kicked things off. The debate got a little heated and Mantisking wisely decided to exercise his moderatorly powers and lock the thread for a period.

Some on the forum feel that those of us who point out such things are being mean-spirited, unfair, or accusatory. Others on the forum support the viewpoint that fascist symbolism is a worrying trend in gaming circles. Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, I would like to use this post to outline why I said what I said, and what I think it all means within the context of what is – after all – just a game.

First off, I was not at any point accusing the poster in question of being a Nazi, having Nazi or neo-Nazi sympathies, or supporting fascist ideologies in any way. He contributed a really rather excellent mobile frame that was worthy of lengthy discussion in its own right. The reason I made my post was that I saw a collection of symbols that caused me concern. Not – I state again – because I believed the poster subscribed to any of the beliefs I noted above, but because of what I see as a collection of symbols that show uncritical acceptance of fascist or Nazi symbolism within the wider gaming community.

Joshua and Soren have been quite clear as regards the position of such symbolism within Mobile Frame Zero: it is not welcome, and it is problematic. While I disagree on some of the finer points of debate, I wholly associate myself with their stance on such things. Such symbolism has too much of an easy, unthinking acceptance in gaming culture, and it deserves to be challenged and debated.

Returning to the forum thread that kicked all of this off, the individual parts contribute towards a whole. The parts on their own would not have contributed in anything more than a minor way to my concern. Before I continue, let me once more reassure the forum user in question that I am not attributing belief or support to him. However, it was the coincidence of three things that caused me to question:

1) A username that replicated that of a noted Waffen SS panzer division of WW2.

2) A naming convention that was redolent of Third Reich armoured vehicle nomenclature.

3) A nickname that replicated a specific Third Reich armoured vehicle.

Someone may very well have a healthy interest in the military history of WW2, the evolution of armoured warfare, the technology of tanks. That’s all fine. But, I do question the use of a Waffen SS divisional title as a username. Would anyone, for example, use Totenkopf or Das Reich as a username? I very much doubt it. Yes, the Wiking division has less association with war crimes than either of the divisions mentioned above, but they were still associated to a certain extent and were part of the SS as an organisation. Saying, as some did, that they were just a German tank division is somewhat wide of the mark.

The use of the numerical conventions associated with Third Reich armour is also very popular in gaming circles. The symbolism is there for all to see. It is also, in a way, slightly boring and trite. It has been used so often that it ceases to be really visible. This is a worrying aspect. So ingrained into our culture has it become, we accept it without thinking.

I also feel the need to address the concern expressed by some that, in some way, by raising these points I am somehow implying that we should only ever associate Germany with the Third Reich. This characterisation could not be farther from the truth. The Third Reich is indeed fascinating from an historical perspective – witness the enduring popularity of books, films, and other media associated with it. But it does not represent the totality of German history or German culture. German has a rich, diverse, and extremely interesting history (playing to my own research interests, it is post-WW2 Germany that holds the greatest fascination for me), a history that should be explored as widely as possible.

These are things we should be debating and discussing. Yes, it may be “just a game”, but sometimes we should raise our heads up and look beyond the gaming table. We should be willing to make our community the kind of place were we can discuss such things and critically examine problematic elements within our culture.

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24 thoughts on “The Vexed Question of Names

  1. Soren

    It’s also perfectly legitimate to point out in these situations that I (the person objecting) didn’t make a decision to associate Germany with Naziism and the Third Reich – you did. The history of modern Germany stretches back to 1871, but you choose to call attention to just those twelve years of it, again and again. And through a very specific lens – this is a vision of the Third Reich that is oddly short on ugly beige knickerbockers and slapped-together refits of captured Czech tanks, or Soviet artillery jackhammering surrounded, frightened boys into shaking emotional wrecks.

    This is then an explicitly revanchist history, an exercise in reductive thinking and No-True-Scotsman-ism of a piece with the oddly-stilted narratives of the American South that never move beyond the Confederacy as expressed through narratives confined to military matters in the Eastern Theater.

    Reply
  2. LowestFormOfWit

    Thank you for posting the thought process and detailed reasoning behind your initial post. Unfortunately, the main problem in that thread was that it was very poorly handled. To start, this kind of concern should not have been made public. It should’ve been a private message to address the possible concerns over the name/number choices. Opening it up to public eye (and thus debate) effectively hijacked the thread of someone’s creation and turned it into a very intense debate of the intentions of the poster in question. Now, instead of discussing a very neat frame (which even you mention praise for here, something completely absent from the thread, part of this main problem I am identifying), the creator was forced to defend himself. These creations are posted for the forums benefit, however even after explaining his position, the creator was forced to debate these things. I do not place blame on any individual, but this could have easily been a private discussion and handled in a much more civil manner.

    Reply
    1. mechatonic Post author

      Thanks for your considered response. You’ll probably not be surprised to learn that I disagree with the assertion that these things should be handled through private channels. With freedom of speech (to use such a term) comes the responsibility to stand up for and to defend what you are saying. Using the naming conventions I noted above means that someone, somewhere is going to have something to say about it. If done in private, it gets shrugged off to easily. Opening it up for public debate was entirely my intention. Someone gets to publicly use fascist/Nazi symbols but I’m not allowed to challenge it in public?

      Personally, I don’t buy the “I’m interested in WW2 armour” as a reasonable answer. All that does is demonstrate how ingrained such concepts have become in the culture of our community. These things will never change if all the discussion takes place behind closed doors. I am firmly convinced that such debates must take place in the open, people must have their opinions challenged. Just like I expect to have my opinions and assertions challenged at all times (as a sidenote and to provide some context as to where I’m coming from on this: I work in academic history, an environment of constant and rigorous challenge, debate, and change. That very much informs my views on such matters.)

      It is quite depressing to attend a major games convention like GenCon and see all manner of fascist and Nazi symbolism on display: ‘bomber nose art’ style t-shirts depicting ‘sexy’ females in Gestapo and Waffen SS uniforms; replica SS daggers openly for sale to those with a “historical interest” (and bullshit, I say to that); companies openly taking stylistic cues for their products from fascist regimes without a hint of irony or mockery. I could go on and on. The one thing that unites these things is the uncritical acceptance by almost everyone apart from a small sub-section of the gaming community. I’m not saying everyone but me is a crypto-fascist. What I am saying is that a public debate needs to take place about the position and role of such prevalent symbolism within our community.

      Reply
      1. HatRabies

        Hah! I knew that’d come up sooner or later. I’ll leave that for folks to ponder. Maybe I should have stuck with HatRabies.

  3. LowestFormOfWit

    I see why you posted what you did, and can respect your desire to confront the problem of becoming desensitized to facist symbols, but in this case I can’t help but think that if not a private discussion than at least a -separate- one was warranted. To my understanding the frame threads are for criticism/feedback on the frames themselves, yet this one was taken off course into a large debate on what constitutes facist iconography, intentions behind the naming, etc. I see your importance for asking people to be accountable for thier opinions, but I can’t cite that as a good enough reason to create that kind of debate inside a frame thread. I have a feeling that a post similar to this blog post done separately in General Discussion/Off topic would have been a more favorable option to opening the floodgates of a much larger topic of dicussion inside an individual frame’s thread.

    Reply
  4. Mercutio

    Wit,

    There is such a thread, and Malcom did initially direct the conversation over there. It was the response to Malcolm’s post (including my own response to the response, sadly), that continued the misdirection. I think Malcolm’s initial post was fine, and that, ideally, the rest of the conversation should have moved to the other thread. Maybe that’s something a moderator could/should do to the thread now, and be on the look out for in the future.

    Reply
  5. Doldrum

    I agree with Lowest, that was quite a derail of a thread that should only be about the mobile frame design rather than the poster. I think it would have been prudent to contact him privately or opened up a new thread on worrying trends in nomenclature in gaming circles and invited him to have an open discussion there.

    Reply
    1. mechatonic Post author

      I can’t help but notice that the main thrust of the discussion here is questioning the medium, rather than the message. That point has been addressed. Why don’t we look at the actual, substantive issues?

      Reply
      1. Doldrum

        Okay the message then. The makers of MoF0 don’t want to get accused of fostering fascist ideas in their works or in their community. Fine, completely understandable, none of us want to be accused of such a thing as it is dehumanizing on many levels. I just don’t want it to turn into a witch hunt. That’s my concern. I don’t want to see people calling people out and their threads derailed because people think they “might” be harboring fascist beliefs. Calling people out in public can be and is hurtful, even on the internet. If you have an issue with a person I would say either pm them or bring it up with a moderator. Do not derail their thread.

  6. mechatonic Post author

    Joshua asked me to post this comment for him, as he is unable to log in to the blog:

    “While I agree that these things have to be said in public (the offending imagery is, after all, public), Wiking and I had a perfectly cordial conversation and he agrees with the spirit of the request. I don’t know precisely what he’ll do, but my guess is, he’ll repost his images with a new name and we can have fun talking about the excellent design, rather than rehashing this conversation.

    I should note: this policy covers all published MFØ stuff, including the Mobile Frame Hangar. If the Hangar doesn’t stay up on these offenses, it will lose its right to use the MFØ branding at all. Fortunately, most of the Hangar cares about this stuff, too, and so is able to notify the mods.

    Eventually, I’ll formulate an actual policy post about this, rather than the draft that’s there now, and folks will just be able to point to that post.”

    Reply
  7. mechatonic Post author

    This is in response to the message left by Doldrum above. It appears that this version of WordPress doesn’t allow comment nesting beyond a certain point. Hence, this non-nested reply.

    Again, we’re talking about the medium, not the message (I’m beginning to sound a bit like Marshall McLuhan here, for some reason.) If someone thinks I’m calling them a fascist because I pointed out the rather disagreeable coincidence of their username and frame names, then they are mistaken. I was seeking an explanation of such. If I thought someone was actually a fascist or a neo-Nazi, I would call them that.

    The best way to deal with this kind of stuff is through open, public debate. If people want to exercise their right to give themselves and their creations whatever name they want and use whatever symbolism they feel like, then my right to question that in public should have equal status. Yes, Joshua has had a very cordial conversation with the user in question, and that’s great. But, I firmly believe in the notion that with the freedom to say what you want in public comes the responsibility to be held accountable in public. That is not, to my mind, a witchhunt.

    Reply
    1. Malcolm Post author

      Thanks for engaging constructively in the discussion! Some tips you might find useful, both here and in your everyday life:

      1) It’s “you’re”, a contraction of “you are”, not “your.”
      2) “Hutching?” You can say “fucking”, rather than some made up profanity. Despite the childish love of tiny Lego robots, we’re all adults here. I think.
      3) Your [note correct usage] email address! Hilarious! Satirical! I laughed, I cried, I nearly bought the DVD!

      Reply
  8. Malcolm Post author

    Sooo…

    The two posts above that aren’t me had to be approved before they appear on the blog. As I’m totally behind the idea of open debate, any kind of censorship would just be hypocritical and wrong. Also, I have a strong suspicion that they might be heavily veiled comedy. I could be wrong, but I did always believe that this blog about Lego would one day become a home to biting political satire. That day has come!

    Reply
  9. Your as "intellectual" as my arse

    Your guys need to lighten up. Its a fucking game, so sorry your all so buttfrustrated over nazis. Get over yourselves

    Reply
    1. Malcolm Post author

      Hi! Thanks for stopping by to let us know your opinion!

      Given the spate of wittily* anonymous responses to this post, I offer this well-used quote from Neal Stephenson: “Arguing with anonymous strangers on the Internet is a sucker’s game because they almost always turn out to be—or to be indistinguishable from—self-righteous sixteen-year-olds possessing infinite amounts of free time.”

      Never a truer word spoken**, I’m sure you’ll agree. Or not.

      *Level of wit may go down as well as up. Return on your investment may vary.
      **Although, I believe Metternich may have had something to say on the subject.

      Reply
  10. Malcolm Post author

    Well, well, well.

    Let me just say this: the MFZ community is reasonably small ( mean, it’s not exactly the WoW community.) There are threads where people are trying to find games. Threads where people say where they live. WordPress logs the IP addresses of posters. Now, either there are a lot of MFZ players in certain very definite places (somewhat unlikely, but possible) or I know exactly who Some Guy That Thinks Your A Fascist, Some Other Guy Who Also Thinks That Your A Fascist, Your As Intellectual As My Arse, and Approve This are.

    As I said, it might be the case that this is a coincidence. Or that there are big communities of MFZ players in certain towns in certain states in the USA. Or, using my Holmesian powers of deduction, it could be that I know exactly who is anonymously posting here. Which is kind of weird, as if it is who I think it is, then you’re already using pseudonyms.

    Huh. Anyway, you’re welcome.

    Reply
  11. Pingback: The Vexed Question of Pseudonyms | Mechatonic: A Mobile Frame Zero Blog

  12. Mercutio

    No one gets butthurt about Nazis except those people who actively try to defend Nazism or somehow white-knight for the redemptive powers of a society that set out to deliberately commit mass murder in the hopes of extinguishing an entire cultural group.

    People who defend Nazis are indistinguishable from Nazi defenders. If you have the balls to idolize Nazis and seek to deliberately foster Fascist ideology in a game with LEGOs, at least have the balls to own up to it with your own name.

    For the record – I use the same internet handle just about everywhere (Mercutio or Mercutio01) and my name is Cameron.

    Reply

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