Why World War 1 hasn’t been given the AAA game treatment until now…

Why World War 1 hasn’t been given the AAA game treatment until now…

Hitler remains the only real super villain in modern history. Not because he waged war on all the known world, crazily enough, but because he was quite literally evil. He wiped out generations for their ethnicities, dabbled in the occult, called his soldiers Stormtroopers and turned his entire country into a prototype for Bond villain home décor. He was a nasty, slimy, loony, mental. And his dog’s name was Blondi.

I mean, say what you want about Misters: Xerxes, Caesar, Kahn and Cosby – at least they’re divisive when it comes to influence on modern culture. Mister Hitler on the other hand is, save for the opinions a few bald guys and one church in The States, universally considered a baddy. His entire life story reads as a baddy’s would – from the art, to the genocide, to his eventual death at the end of his own gun’s barrel. And history, for all its retcons, remembers his existence as one that needed to be snuffed.

This sheer villainy alone is why there have been hundreds of World War 2 videogames. It had its Joker (Hitler), its Bowser (Mussolini) and its Sephiroth (Tojo because Japanese) built in. Complete with sinisterly uniformed henchmen, cadres of level bosses, pantomime battles, ridiculous goals and insane set pieces. Even then, the mad world-conquering dictator was a trope so ridiculous that it should have only ever existed in fiction. But exist in real life it did. And all the devs needed to do, was make with the polygons… or sprites, depending on how far back you go.

The result is that we have been kicking the ass of Axis powers since invading Castle Wolfenstein in 1992 when I was 6 goddamn years old. And I have have never stopped. Because Hitler deserves it. Over and over again. For the remainder of time.

And not just in WWII themed games either because his is an MO so dastardly, it’s worth at least allusion to, in the video game story scale. Kane in C&C? Bald Hitler. The Overmind in Starcraft? Bug Hitler. The Darkness in Destiny? Vague Hitler. Robotnik? Fat Hitler… ok, that last one got away from me a bit. But you get the idea. Killing Hitler is a fantasy shared by the multitudes. Games are the stuff of fantasy. Simple math.

World War 1, or The Great War, didn’t have a “good” villain. It occupied a point in antiquity in which every country was a dick to every other country. You tolerated dicks or declared war on dicks. But you never liked those dicks. Because, they’re dicks. And every country was ruled by a straight man. And every man was there by birthright, not by merit.

Basically the whole known world, mostly represented in this case by Europe, was run by bad guys who all thought they were doing God’s work and had no qualms or fucks about sending soldiers to their deaths in the name of things and stuff. In fact, the only reason the layman considers the winners to be the good guys and the losers otherwise, is because well, the winners won.

Life works out like that more often than it doesn’t, Manchester United fans.

Yes, the actual cause of World War 1 is so complex, yet so mind-numbingly petty, that I dare not dignify it with any further writing. Also I don’t have a lot of words to budget with here. But nevertheless the need for a goal in a game remains true (PLAY THE OBJECTIVE!!!). And as modern gamers with over a hundred years of insight, it’s hard to have our hero chosen for us, as is standard to a story-based game. How can a Cape Malay South African step into the shoes of a Canadian soldier who is is fighting for something we don’t identify with, against armies whose leaders aren’t really all that bad? Stark contrast to World War 2 that had, as said before, a very clearly defined final boss.

World War 1 also has its own teething issues for translation. As visceral as the Second World War was, it was nothing compared to the horrors of the First. Trench-based CQC with fucking maces abounded. Heavy machine gun batteries cut through soldiers by the hundreds. Flamethrowers demoralized those who weren’t cooked alive. Poison gasses decimated organs. Mortar shells flung gore every which way. Zepellins sailed overhead. Tanks looked like boxes. Planes were made of boxes. It was insane – maybe too insane to accurately portray on the same machines that ran Battlefield 1942.

That’s why now is the perfect time for a World War 1 game.

Today’s storylines have conditioned us for the war’s political rigours. And mankind is evolved. Enough so, I think, that we are capable of putting aside nationalism and one version of past events, for the glory of experiencing something truly special whilst vicariously existing inside the grey area that a soldier did at the time. Today’s hardware can deliver this experience.

The centre of war gaming after all, is clearly defined lines. Gamers are free to choose their allegiances, even siding with the cooler bad camp because you know, they might have mechs and laser-firing scorpion tails. But playing as the Nazis, even for that player, is a bridge too far. World War 1 doesn’t have any of this. It took place in an era of obsolete ideologies so the leaders matter not. No, every side had their heroes. And those human causes, were a metaphorical horde of personal demons all thrown into one explosion-ridden melting pot. The Great War was a grassroots war. It was fought by the ordinary. It’s grand cosmic purpose wasn’t to put down a madman, but to teach man of his own capability. And a soldier’s struggle as an individual, has to be the central theme of the next World War 1 game.

And so the scene is laid for Battlefield 1, which I’m pretty excited about. But will it fall flatter than Operation Valkyrie did? Or will it go down as the most quintessential digital recreation of warfare ever devised?

History, as always, is determined by its winners. What we can’t question though, is DICE’s bravery in this regard. And the brave — the brave will live forever.

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