World War I Comes to Your Video Game Console

Once upon a time World War II was a favorite subject of video games, especially first person shooters (FPS). It’s where the series “Call of Duty” got its start, first on personal computers, then on video game consoles. Nowadays such series foucus on modern and future combat, weaving missions into narratives that question the very subject of the game (and the interest of the player).

Previous conflicts have not fared so well in the FPS genre. Efforts to present the Civil War on video game consoles proved feeble. Here and there PC efforts gained an audience, but on the whole the pre-World War II period were represented by titles that explored conflicts, campaigns, and battles. One exception was aerial combat, but that seemed to be in part because the differences between World War I and World War II dogfighting were not great (as opposed to the heat-seeking missiles, sometimes offered in incredible payloads, for more modern games such as the Ace Combat series).

This fall, however, video game consoles will turn to World War I with the appearance of Verdun (a PC port) and Battlefield I. The makers of the latter game have offered twelve minutes of in-game action for us to absorb.

Of especial note is that when “you” die, you die. As a player, you assume someone else’s character, but the character that dies is not doing to be revived by the reset button or some other eternal life device.

Having not played Verdun and with Battlefield I delayed for the XBox1, I can’t tell you how the games play, or how they simulate anything. We’ll see whether a grittier view of war is something that video gamers want to explore.

9 thoughts on “World War I Comes to Your Video Game Console

  1. Jason Perez October 2, 2016 / 6:41 pm

    Prof Brooks are you gonna play this? Add me to friends if you do haha. It’s probably gonna be a blast…literally

  2. Mike C. October 2, 2016 / 8:49 pm

    Sitting in a bunker for two straight days getting bombarded and suffering shell shock or getting mowed down by machine gun fire crossing no man’s land doesn’t sound like an experience that I want to simulate in a game. “Hey, where’d all my PALs go?”

  3. M.D. Blough October 2, 2016 / 8:53 pm

    I’m sorry. I’ll never be able to regard WW I as entertainment. I’ll always remember visiting Scotland with my mother when my last two surviving great-uncles on my grandfather’s side were still alive. They were much younger than he was and were WW I vets. We were in my great-uncle Tom Wardlaw’s home and someone asked why my grandfather had never returned home to visit (Grandpa had emigrated before WW I). My great-uncle, a very quiet man, thought carefully and finally and very simply said, “I can’t think of anyone he was close to who survived the war.”

  4. Andy Hall October 3, 2016 / 8:37 am

    FPS games have never grabbed me much, with the exception of Brothers in Arms, which was as much about small-unit tactics as putting holes through Wehrmacht soldiers, and World of Tanks and World of Warships, that meet the technical definition of an FPS but have a completely different feel to them. I understand Margaret’s perspective about WWI games; even though I never met an actual ACW veteran, I know enough about it at this point to be uncomfortable with it as entertainment. (I promise to get over that instantly if a really good ACW naval sim comes along, though.)

    But the graphics here are very impressive, and I hope the developers make a success of it. Games like this are much like other forms of popular entertainment, including movies and teevee shows — if they encourage viewers to take a dive into the real history of the events and people depicted, then that’s all to the good.

    • Mark Snell October 4, 2016 / 2:47 pm

      “I promise to get over that instantly if a really good ACW naval sim comes along, though.” Andy, one solid shot in the boiler of a Civil War-era steam vessel and a hundred men are scalded to death. Not a pleasant way to go.

  5. Shoshana Bee October 3, 2016 / 9:58 am

    “As a player, you assume someone else’s character, but the character that dies is not going to be revived by the reset button or some other eternal life device”.

    I played a lot of video games before I did my time in the sandbox, ie Middle East. The bold, battle-ready video veteran psyche lasted for about two days — until I experienced my first monsoon thunder clap. Boom! The whole barracks emptied out in disarray and fear…..only to be soaked by the ensuing rain. So much for the false bravado won of numerous “resets”.

    Upon medical release from my brief service, I took up a 12 year residence working at a mortuary. Death was my daily duty, and one that I never got used to, nor did I take it lightly. I longed for that reset button, especially with children.

    My last day in Gettysburg was spent embracing the melancholy of war: the destruction, despair, and sacrifice that can never fully comprehend, no matter how hard I try. Walking battlefields, reading books, contemplating photographs in a museums…it is a start — a work in progress.

    I don’t play video games anymore, as I can no longer view death as part of a game, no matter how many resets I am afforded, or not.

  6. Mark Snell October 3, 2016 / 3:41 pm

    Interesting, but fraught with historical inaccuracies.

  7. Sherree October 4, 2016 / 6:42 am

    I,too, remember a World War I veteran: my great uncle, an American who survived the war, then later died of black lung after working in the mines.

    Sad. Surreal. Entire generations now that have a very tenuous comprehension of what is real, and of what is, most definitely, not real. Not to mention the very real consequences of that lack of understanding.

  8. George Combs October 4, 2016 / 12:05 pm

    I am heartened to see the use of black characters, especially in light of how the US Army treated those troops during the war, as well as the feeling of despair that accompanies the sample. My grandfather was a veteran of the war and was forever marked by that experience. I remember his avoidance of fireworks at the family 4th of July parties and how I tried to listen as he and our neighbor, a german veteran, reminisced. I have his diary of the single week his division saw active combat, and it is almost as harrowing and desperate as Junger’s Storm of Steel. A sturdy anodyne for a guy who grew up on John Wayne,Vic Morrow and Rat Patrol!

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