Steamboat Willie horror game changes its title as makers deny intentional ‘neo-Nazi symbolism’

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The makers of an upcoming horror game based on Disney’s Steamboat Willie have been forced to change its title following suggestions that it had neo-Nazi connections.

On the 1st January, Steamboat Willie – the 1928 animated short that saw Mickey Mouse make his debut – entered the public domain. As a result, a number of – shall we say – ‘enterprising’ filmmakers and game developers have been quietly preparing their own projects based on Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks’ classic short.

Among the first out of the gate was Infestation 88, a four-player survival horror game about pest exterminators massacring rodents in a storage facility. Among the creatures loitering around the place is a bipedal figure that looks a lot like Mickey Mouse circa 1928.

Not long after it was announced on 1st January, the game was the source of a fair bit of controversy – and not because of its vague Disney leanings. The presence of the number 88 in its title led to suggestions that it might be a neo-Nazi or white supremacist reference (we’ll let you dig into the grim potential meaning behind it for yourselves).

The accusations became widespread enough that developer Nightmare Forge Games has not only changed the game’s title – it’s now called Infestation: Origins – but also release statements denying any intended reference to neo-Nazism.

“Our game is set in the 1980s, with the year 1988 being chosen simply for its symmetrical design in our game’s artwork,” the studio wrote in a statement to Kotaku. “Therefore, the 88 strictly represents the year 1988; no additional connotations are intended.”

In a second statement to IGN, the studio wrote, “We want to apologize for our ignorance on this topic and appreciate that it was brought to our attention so we could address it. There is no intentional use of Nazi symbolism in our game nor studio, and we’ll continue to address any concerns as they arise. We strongly stand against Nazism and hate in any form.”

Other accusations levelled at the game include the use of off-the-peg assets available from the Unity store, and the use of AI software to generate the voiceover heard in the trailer. The developer admitted to the latter, stating that “due to time constraints” it had used an AI-derived voice as a “placeholder.”

All of which speaks to the speed at which these projects are being put together. Over the past few days we’ve also seen the announcement of the low-budget slasher Mickey’s Mouse Trap, and another, yet-to-be titled horror, both based on Steamboat Willie.

Exactly how Disney’s lawyers will respond to all of this remains to be seen. Steamboat Willie may be in the public domain, but Disney has said in a statement to the Washington Post that it will “safeguard against consumer confusion caused by unauthorised uses of Mickey… That will not change when the copyright in the Steamboat Willie film expires.”

Infestation: Origins is planned for release in 2024.

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