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Wolfenstein 2: Grace breastfeeds her daughter in her first sit-down with B.J. MachineGames/Bethesda Softworks

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GOTY 2017: #10 Wolfenstein 2

Wolfenstein 2’s true heroes are its moms

With her topless chest caked in blood, the woman stands with her head cocked back with pride. She is pregnant — very pregnant. In fact, she could give birth at any time. And yet there she is, soaking in the remains of her foes, a gun in each hand. She is undeterred. She is strong. She is the hero.

She’s Anya Oliwa, partner of B.J. Blazkowicz, the man on the cover of Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, a protagonist with bursting muscles and a growling voice who, in any other game, would be the one standing there in the rain of blood. But the star of Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus is not this glorified G.I. Joe. Instead, the story rotates between the people in his orbit. And those people, more often than not, are women like Anya: mothers and mothers-to-be.

Game of the Year 2017
#10: Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus

For Game of the Year 2017, Polygon will be counting down our top 10 each weekday, beginning on Dec. 4. On Dec. 18, we'll reveal our favorite 50 of 2017. And throughout the month, we'll be looking back on the year with special videos, essays and surprises!

Anya’s pregnancy never keeps her on the sidelines. She continues to be B.J.’s line of communication throughout all of his missions, working with other resistance members to find escape routes during levels. She also helps escort Nazi prisoners out as B.J. picks off their captors, reminding us that this is a team effort, not just B.J.’s cross to bear. And then there’s that unforgettable image in the climax: a bloodied Anya gunning down Nazis to save her partner — the pinnacle of hyper-masculine bravado.

wolfenstein 2 - BJ resting on anya’s pregnant stomach
BJ rests his head on Anya’s pregnant stomach as they reunite.
MachineGames/Bethesda Softworks

In The New Order, Anya was just as key a figure in B.J.’s journey. But in that game, she played his love interest, and she wasn’t shy about her desires, sexual and otherwise. Although her role has shifted in The New Colossus, Anya’s brazen sexuality hasn’t gone anywhere. The mother-to-be still has urges she wants satisfied.

There’s also Grace Walker, the leader of the resistance force. She’s whip-smart, confident and unshakeable. With one hand, she doles out orders on how to infiltrate key Nazi bases; with the other, she shushes anyone who dares wake her sleeping baby. When Grace’s partner is killed in the crossfire of a botched mission, she can’t waste time grieving: between saving the world and raising a child, she’s simply too busy.

All of these relationships are filtered through B.J.’s eyes, and thus through his relationship with his own mother. The Jewish-born Zofia Blazkowicz held together the fragile Blazkowicz family, protecting BJ from an abusive father who would betray her to the Nazis. Her tragic and early death left an indelible impression on B.J. She is the definition of strength. And so, tasked with saving the world, it’s strong women and mothers that BJ turns to. The New Colossus’ appreciation for motherhood feels so refreshing alongside contemporary first-person shooters that typically prize masculinity and militaristic fraternity.

Wolfenstein 2: B.J.’s mother appears to him in a vision.
B.J.’s mother appears to him in a vision.
MachineGames/Bethesda Softworks

The New Colossus teeters on mysticizing motherhood, as if it’s a special fuel universally empowering women to be greater than they already are. But its villain serves as a stabilizer.

Frau Engel, the woman who seemingly deals the final blow to B.J., is a bloodthirsty villain. She’s also the emotionally abusive mother to Sigrun, whose broken home inspires her to join the resistance. In Frau Engel’s last moments, she makes sure to publicly humiliate her daughter just one last time.

Motherhood is not an absolute good. It’s not a reflection of who a woman is. The women of The New Colossus aren’t defined by their motherhood. It’s simply a part of them, one that doesn’t prevent them from being a leader of a political resistance or a terrifying fascist mastermind.

It’s easy to champion The New Colossus as strikingly relevant in 2017 because of its gleeful fascist-killing. But where the game’s real relevance lies is in its feminine center. And how refreshing, in a world in which women’s bodies are consistently under threat, it is to play a video game that respects women as equals: strong, capable, persistent.