Battlefield 1 has piqued my interest, and that’s quite something, considering the only shooter I’ve touched for more than an hour over the last few years has been Overwatch (because of course I love Overwatch).
But, whereas I adore Overwatch for its striking visuals and heroic characters, I find myself intrigued by Battlefield 1 for purely the opposite reasons. There’s no colourful scenery pictured in any of the trailers for the game (except maybe the desert setting), and what we have seen makes it look like one of the grittiest war games to come around in years.
And this is where Battlefield 1 can truly capitalise on the gigantic hole left in the ‘shooter market’ by flagship franchises such as Call of Duty. It has the unique opportunity to not only be one of the grittiest, most realistic war games ever made, but it also has the opportunity to educate an entire generation on the atrocities of the First World War.
Because there were atrocities committed in the First World War, and they were committed by the thousands. Both African and Native Americans were deliberately sent into the heat of the fight, well ahead of the rest of the white, American army. Unfortunate coincidence? Sadly not.
As squads of African American soldiers were deemed expendable by the army command, they were sent ahead as scouting parties. It’s no mistake that the very first platoon of Allied soldiers to set foot in the Rhineland were 100% African American. It’s also no mistake that the majority of them were gunned down upon arrival in the German territory.
It’s no coincidence that I’m writing this the morning after Alton Sterling, an African American merely selling CD’s in Louisiana, was shot in the head while pinned to the ground by cops. There have been 558 people killed by police in America this year alone (shit, it’s probably 559 by the time you’re reading this) and the majority of them have been African American.
But why am I bringing up the historic brutalities faced by African Americans? Because they stand to feature prominently in Battlefield 1. Pondering if the African American Harlem Hellfighters squad would in fact feature prominently in the game, I was reminded by former EA developer David Goldfarb on Twitter that if something is presented on the cover of a game, there’s no doubt it won’t feature prominently in said game. Sure enough, there’s an African American soldier on the cover of Battlefield 1.
Now that we’ve established the strong possibility that African Americans will in fact be prominent characters in Battlefield 1, we should examine how the game can successfully utilise them. Battlefield 1 should aim to properly inform the audience of the atrocities that African American squads were put through in World War 1, and to do this, it has to walk the fine line of being an educational tool, as well as being a game that’s still enjoyable to play.
How the game could possibly be enjoyable to play, while depicting all that the African American soldiers faced through the war, I don’t entirely have an answer to.
However I was recently revisiting Valkyria Chronicles, a fantastic war game in which the player leads a small, ragtag group of militia soldiers fighting valiantly to defend their country from hostile invaders. All throughout the game, Welkin and his fellow soldiers are always placed in impossible situations, as suicide missions are handed down to them from the commanding army officers.
And on the completion of these insane missions, the group is never once given the proper credit they deserve from their higher-ups. “Ha! I’ll get a promotion for this!” cackles General Damon, upon receiving news that Welkin’s squad had completed yet another suicide mission he had assigned them to.
If Valkyria Chronicles wanted me to feel anger towards General Damon, then it certainly succeeded in this endeavour. I honestly felt some sense of satisfaction upon his death, as though some twisted justice had been brought about by the actions of antagonist Selvaria Bles.
If this sounds familiar at all, then I’m glad, as it’s exactly what took place during the First World War. General Damon is representative of the Allied military command in the First World War, while Welkin and his small squadron are also somewhat representative of the African Americans that the army command stepped on and entirely ignored.
This could be a tactic that Battlefield could employ to portray the dire situations of African Americans in the First World War. In modern shooters such as previous Battlefield entries and the Call of Duty franchise, players are always placed in impossible situations, faced with taking on entire armies almost entirely by themselves.
And this is almost exactly what African American squads, such as the Harlem Hellfighters, had to do in real life. This could be a potential mechanic for Battlefield to show just how disposable African American soldiers were to the Allied command, and it would also be in keeping with traditions of the modern shooter genre. In other words, every one wins.
But to properly succeed, in my mind anyway, Battlefield 1 has to go the full distance with it’s graphic, gritty depiction of war. Nothing should be glossed over for the benefit of sales, and if that sounds like wishful thinking, especially considering this is an EA game, them I’m well aware of just how wishful my thinking is.
I’m also well aware of the fact that Battlefield 1 is, at its core, a commercial product. But it’s high time that commercial products started demonstrating the ability to educate, and not just entertain.