It's a dense podcast nugget!
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/evvdjj/we-talk-battlegrounds-titanfall-2-and-tacoma-on-waypoint-radio
It's a dense podcast nugget!
Caught the podcast on stream today, and have been thinking some about the question from the bucket ever since. I still don’t think I have a conclusion because the question was very multi-faceted, and I don’t think I can reach a conclusion per se, but it is something I’ve thought about a lot. I am also going to upfront couch a lot of this post in the context that I am a Jewish person. My family lived in Germany, and many fled to Mexico, though my great-grandmother did die in Auschwitz.
The question asker’s position starts off on some really shaky ground in my opinion because they initially frame it as “World War 1 was so long ago that it doesn’t need to be treated sensitively; whereas World War 2 being more recent does need to be treated sensitively.” For me this is very much not a either/or situation. I think, in 2017 especially, any historical war that a game wants to cover needs to be approached from with some level of respect for those who have died. The question asker frames it as “no one who lived through world war 1 is still around to need trigger warnings” but for me, it isn’t about being triggered or anything like that. It’s more that our culture has spent centuries glorifying war, and I want to push back against that glorification. It is often gross to see our culture portray such horror with glee, especially when it is in reference to real world events.
Given that this question does not reference the new COD WW2 game coming this year, I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt and guess that this was sent in before E3, so my next few thoughts are not necessarily @ the question asker, though I think the new COD does shed some interesting light on all of this. When the question talks about inconsistency in how we collectively think of WW1 vs. WW2, I think some of the reaction to the COD trailers shows that we are in fact more consistent. I saw many people – waypoint staff, waypoint community, and people who don’t know about waypoint – perturbed by the fact that the trailer for the new COD excludes any reference to Nazis. I saw many many people immediately ask “are they going to treat this subject matter with the proper respect?” One thing that the question asker offers for an explanation as to why Battlefield 1 got this reaction, but not say COD World At War, is that we are more connected in 2017, and I think that’s it. I think even if I had these thoughts about portraying WW2 respectfully in 2008, I wouldn’t have been able to see people who shared those thoughts, and so I may have kept it to myself. In 2017, when we can all talk about things more easily, it’s possible that people who have felt this way for a long time are just now feeling they can speak up to AAA game devs and ask that they treat any war – world war 1 or 2 or any other – with the respect that the millions who died deserve.
When the trailer for the new Wolfenstein game dropped, the Waypoint discord was positively glowing. Everyone was eager to rip and tear Nazis. I was/am too. But I also had concerns. While the trailer looked phenomenal, I am scared the game won’t live up to it. That this game will in some way mishandle the portrayal of Nazis and in turn be disrespectful to the 6,000,000 people who died in the holocaust. It was super nice to chat in the discord with a lot of people who understood my concerns and wanted to calmly talk them over. It was super nice to see a Jewish friend of mine recently play through the previous Wolfenstein game and adore it, which did a lot to ease my fears. All this to say, I think in 2017, many people are concerned about all sorts of portrayals of violence in games. At least in my sphere of the internet, a lot of people are pushing back against our culture of glorifying war and its horrors. I don’t think people are “only” reacting poorly to Battlefield 1’s insensitive hoodies, I think that Battlefield 1 was the first to get this reaction from a growing segment of the gaming audience, and that any game that attempts to portray real world violence insensitively will start to feel this push back in the years ahead. I think back to Austin’s review of Battlefield Hardline and I think that was a catalyst for my – and perhaps other – resisting games’ tendendy toward ignoring the real world implications of their politics. Hopefully, more games will consider this in the future.
I really liked what Rob had to say about war games during the end of the podcast, I don’t know if glorification is the right word, it’s more like the attempt to give war greater meaning beyond a tragedy.
There are two things that make WW1 stand out I think.
First and foremost WW1 marks a pivotal point in human history. It’s the beginning of modern warfare. It fundamentally changed how we fight wars by adding an industrialized efficiency to it that very much laid the groundwork for the holocaust. It also introduced chemical warfare with all its horrific consequences.
On top of that we never really dealt with the psychological consequences of WW1. While the wider public knows quite a bit of all the horrible things that went on during WW2 and has at least somewhat thought about their own position towards it (see books/movies like “The Wave”), WW1 somehow never got that same treatment. There was/is almost no reflection about this war, which of course has to do with the fact that the 3rd Reich and WW2 happened only 20 years later. As all wounds that never were probably treated, the wound that is WW1 still kind of festers and burns.
I also feel that there is a huge difference between the American and European view on WW1, which is reflected in BF1’s marketing campaign. A game that was made by a European studio and marketed mainly by Americans. The single player campaign and especially its prologue mission handles the horrors of this war rather well, especially compared with other FPS games. Some of the marketing beats on the other hand were more than unfortunate.
For us Europeans WW1 is not far away at all. Both my great-grandfathers were soldiers in that war, and I remember vividly how rattled one of them still was by his experiences when I was a small child (and he a man of over 80 years). Many of us live close to where some of the horrendous fights happened, we have seen Bolton’s Ridge or Verdun. Standing in those places … you get a feeling for the immense loss and tragedy. Just google “Verdun graveyard” and look at all these white crosses. And then imagine seeing this in person, knowing that some of your own relatives are honoured there.
If you want to get an idea of the realities of WW1, try to get your hands on the book “Man is Good” a collection of short stories by German pacifist Leonhard Frank. I highly recommend them, but they are extremely gruesome and harrowing. Just like WW1.