Garry's mod wrestles with the complexities of just outright banning Nazi stuff

Soldier's re-enacting Operation Barbarossa in Garry's mod.
(Image credit: Hauptmann / Facepunch Studios)

Eighty years later the shadow of World War 2 still looms large over our world, and remains an enduring obsession for some, but on one thing nearly all are agreed: The Nazis were complete pricks, and any contemporary hint of their ideology and symbolism must be met with the greatest possible pushback.

That's easier said than done, however, because distinguishing between legitimate use of these things (such as representing the Nazis accurately in an entertainment product) and Actual Nazis is difficult. It's not helped by the fact that 'Nazi' has also become a go-to online insult and is often used to describe things that bear little relation to the National Socialist German Worker's Party.

All of which leads us to the most unexpected of places: Garry's mod. The incredibly popular Steam sandbox tool is loved for its flexibility and capacity to create pretty much any experience or scenario creators can come up with. Some of them have come up with creations that involve the Nazis. And drawing the line between what should be allowed, and what should be banned from the sandbox, is a complex task

"I can see merit in the games here where you roleplay survival/war scenarios," says Garry's mod creator Garry Newman in a longform post. "It's engaging + interesting + compelling + educational. Humanity's lows are always gonna be a rich seam for games/movies/tv/books/etc."

Newman acknowledges that this description fits "the huge majority" of roleplay communities, which he says are no more harmful than Day of Defeat or Call of Duty. "In fact in a lot of ways they're much more interesting than that, they explore the politics / diplomacy / humanity / infighting / suffering in ways that other types of FPS can't. We don't really want to police these games."

The problem with overseeing something like Garry's mod, however, is that not everyone is like that, and "lurking in some of these games are a bunch of guys that really seem to love the Nazis," said Newman. "It seems like a few of them really love the Nazis outside of the game too. That creates problems."

Newman says the issue they're grappling with is how to act on this in a way that keeps the good stuff and gets rid of the bad stuff. "We obviously don't want to ban all WW2 themed games, but we do want to get rid of the celebration of Nazis," said Newman. "Maybe outright banning swastikas, heil Hitlers and other Nazi symbolism is the way to go?"

Newman says being a father has changed how he looks at this stuff, considering both his kids play a lot of games, learn lots from them, and so he wonders "what if they get on one of these servers with these nutters. What will they learn? What will come to be acceptable to them?" 

Newman ends with a short FAQ:

They paid they should be allow to do whatever they want


Freedom of expression


Being Sensible

I know this ends up being an argument between a group of people with flags emoji in their bio and another group of people with different flag emoji in their bio, and ok, they're gonna turn everything into that argument.

Newman says this is more of a notification to server owners that the game's team have been observing this grey area for a while and are now thinking more about how to deal with it: "How can we work together to stop it becoming something we have to ban?" He is currently running the below poll, which has had just under 50,000 responses, asking if they should just go ahead and ban "Nazi gamemodes". At the time of writing, 73.7% of respondents say yes.

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Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."