July 20, 2024

Archie Wertheim

Technology Integration and Foundations for Effective Leadership

Steamboat Willie Horror Game Devs Swear They’re Not Making Neo-Nazi References

3 min read
Steamboat Willie Horror Game Devs Swear They're Not Making Neo-Nazi References

A decade ago, Facebook’s internal motto was “move fast and break things.” There is now an important, wordy update to that motto as a holistic piece of advice: move fast on exploiting Mickey Mouse’s public domain status and… don’t maybe do some anti-Semitism along the way?

Such was the case for the game now formerly known as Infestation 88. Announced by Nightmare Forge Games on New Year’s Day to coincide with Steamboat Willie’s entry into the public domain (and with it, the earliest versions of Mickey and Minnie Mouse), it was one of the first new works publicly unveiled to make use of the now publicly exploitable short film and immediately went viral, forever proving that when in doubt, public domain material will almost immediately become fare for the horror genre.

A multiplayer survival horror, Infestation sees players deal with sinister vermin infestations spearheaded by what is essentially a zombified version of Mickey Mouse as he appeared in Steamboat Willie. But aside from being one of the first projects to make headlines after Mickey’s public domain debut, the attention also led to increased scrutiny after it appeared that the game made references to a series of far-right gestures and allusions that were perceived as potentially anti-Semitic.

Infestation 88 – Official Reveal Trailer

On social media several people pointed out that premise of players having to gas out infestations and the use of rat imagery even beyond Mickey Mouse, paired with the the use of “88” in the title, as well as the game being set in 1988, could allude to white supremacist taking points about Jewish people. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes 88 in this anti-Semitic form as a reference to H being the eighth letter of the alphabet, with 88 becoming shorthand for “HH,” or “Heil Hitler.”

Further claims point to a series of references to the number 14 in both the number of characters in the title, the fact that the game is described as being for “1-4 players,” and a reference on Nightmare Forge’s website to the years between the developer’s apparent founding in 2010 and when copyrights were filed for this year, 2024. The “14 words” are another common white supremacist terminology, a reference to the ideological slogan of white supremacist and domestic terrorist David Lane. It should be noted that despite having been purportedly founded in 2010, Infestation is Nightmare Forge’s first and only published game on Steam, and its website doesn’t indicate any prior work before its announcement.

Responding to a request for comment from Inverse about the alleged neo-Nazi references, Nightmare Forge said that “when announcing the game, we were unaware of the additional implications associated with the number 88… the 88 strictly represents the year 1988; no additional connotations are intended.” Shortly after, the developer released a similar brief statement on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, revealing the game will now be titled Infestation: Origins.

“Unfortunately, we were unaware of any additional meaning the number ‘88′ has,” the statement reads in part. “However, after learning about this, we’re changing the game’s name to Infestation: Origins. We apologize for our ignorance on this and appreciate that this was brought to our attention so we could address it ASAP!”

Nightmare Forge Games has not publicly commented on accusations of neo-Nazi aspersions beyond the use of “88” in its title, nor has it commented on further accusations claiming that the publisher’s Discord server, linked to on its website, featured users engaging in transphobic commentary and making light of Infestation’s perceived anti-Semitism. Still, it took just a couple of days for a version of one of the most famous characters in the world to become publicly accessible, and here we are.

Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.

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