What to Do When Your Video Game Gets Co-opted by Neo-Nazis
‘Crusader Kings 3’ depicts a more diverse and connected version of the Middle Ages than its predecessors
The Swedish video game maker Paradox Development Studio has a problem. Paradox is the creator of Crusader Kings, a wildly popular medieval history simulation game franchise. Unfortunately, that following includes a small but internet-savvy cohort of dedicated white supremacists. It’s a niche problem, but one that can escalate from online hate speech to terrorism.
Myths about medieval European history are important to white supremacists. This community imagines a past in which Europe was solely racially white, isolated from outside influences, entirely patriarchal, and organized militarily against threats from non-Christian brown people. In fact, none of these beliefs about the Middle Ages are true, but a video game set in the Middle Ages allows people to create their own fantasies of the past. For example, on Stormfront, a sprawling neo-Nazi newsletter and discussion board, a user under the handle “sXe SSkinhead” wrote, “I would also like to say that Crusader Kings 2 features an option to Expel the Jews from your land… that’s a plus in a video game if you ask me.” He was referring to the game’s “Sons of Abraham” expansion, which adds significant content around medieval Judaism. “Crusader Kings 2 is a great pro-white game,” says the user “88whitecanada.” Worse, online communities of gamers provide gateways to radicalization. Terrorists regularly cite medieval fantasies in manifestos, which are often published in online spaces frequented by gamers, creating a potential feedback loop of hate.
Paradox does not want its game to be used this way. So when the company designed its latest installment of the Crusader Kings franchise, which comes out on September 1, it changed the simulation. Its developers stress that they prioritized gameplay but hope some of the changes will also deter racist narratives.
A few weeks ago, Paradox made Crusader Kings 3 available to me for preview. I am a medieval historian, an avid gamer, and a fan of Crusader Kings 2, and I’ve been covering white supremacist fantasies about the Middle Ages since neo-Nazis bearing medieval insignia marched in…