Why Battlefield 1 Could Be The Best WWI Game

One of the most difficult jobs I have as a history professor is reminding students that the First World War was a world war. I know. It seems obvious from the title. Nevertheless, here we are. The hardest students to convince of this fact are literature majors. You see, they’ve read Brittain, Graves, Hemingway, Owen, Remarque, Sassoon, and the Regeneration Trilogy. They “know” the war. Please, whatever you do, don’t try to tell them that most contemporaries viewed the war as a heroic struggle. World War One was a war about lost innocence and “lions led by donkeys.” And most of all, it was a war about the trenches of the Western Front.

I look forward to correcting student perceptions of this war, but I am also always on the lookout for anything that I can use to make that job easier: a book, a film, or a YouTube video. I never look to video games for help with this problem, but that may change with the recent announcement of Battlefield 1.

The reveal trailer for Battlefield 1 – which has now become the most liked trailer in YouTube history – was met with concern from game journalists who worried that this game will grossly distort and commercialize the hallowed history of the Great War. Yet this same trailer – filled with dubstep and hilariously explosive prop planes – left me hopeful.

Games set in the First World War are few and far between – even as we currently mark the centenary of the war. What’s more, almost all First World War games are set along the Western Front and usually include only soldiers from Western Europe. In the trailer for Battlefield 1, however, we see glimpses of settings in other areas of the world featuring a diverse collection of soldiers. As a historian, these inclusions make me incredibly excited. The First World War was truly a global war – with campaigns fought in the Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. And as the Battlefield 1 trailer implies, these campaigns often did not involve the static, trench warfare waged in France. Given these inclusions, Battlefield 1 – a profit driven, explosion-packed multiplayer shooter – has the potential to be the most historically accurate First World War game ever.

Why is it only now that we have the promise of a World War One game that actually addresses the global nature of the conflict? Cynically speaking, of course, we could note that as a multiplayer shooter Battlefield 1 needs to include other areas of fighting in order to have a diverse and lucrative collection of maps, vehicles and weapons. While I don’t discount that idea, I believe the traditional dominance of the Western Front in video games, and popular memory more generally, is the result of seeing the war through the lens of literature. As one historian put it, the First World War produced an overwhelming amount of “poignant disillusion” related to the Western Front. While this disillusion existed during the war, it did not come to dominate how we remember the conflict until the 1930s, when All Quiet on the Western Front and the war poetry of England’s Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon became the bedside reading for a world headed to yet another war.

The Second World War appeared to confirm the view of these writers that “the war to end all wars” was in fact a meaningless slaughter. This assessment of the war received greater popularity in the 1960s during the 50th anniversary of the conflict. The narrative of careless and clueless generals forcing their soldiers to early graves found an eager audience among those concerned with Vietnam, nuclear war, and tearing down old imperialist structures. It’s no coincidence that this era produced a number of famous anti-war films set in the First World War, including Paths of Glory and Oh! What A Lovely War.

While I would never question the truth of experience found in the writings of Remarque and others, it is important to contextualize their work. Though poignant, their writing represents but one of many contemporary views of the war. Most of the famous authors from this war served as junior officers, a group of men who suffered disproportionate casualties when compared with common soldiers. In Britain, for instance, only 12% of the total number of soldiers mobilized for the war died, yet of the total number of junior officers raised for the war the percentage killed was 17%. This figure led many war writers to argue that the causalities of the war represented a “lost generation,” but in fact population totals in many warring countries remained steady and quickly rebounded after the conflict, even with the postwar flu pandemic.

For most soldiers, the war represented a costly, yet momentous struggle. The established narrative of the First World War would have you believe that these soldiers were brainwashed into fighting, but this discounts their own agency. Many of them fought because they were motivated by the ideologies of the day, including monarchism and imperialism. They believed that the war had meaning and that their service was heroic. For those who worry about what veterans would think of Battlefield 1’s gung-ho portrayal of the war, consider what they would think about their struggle being mocked in black comedies like Blackadder Goes Forth or the Benny Hill-esque chase sequences in Valiant Hearts.

This war without purpose led to the end of empires in Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, and Turkey. It also brought about the Russian Revolution, the emergence of America as a world power, and established the basis for modern politics in the Middle East. Indeed, the current civil war in Syria as well as the Arab-Israeli conflict can be traced back to the Sykes-Picot agreement signed in 1916. Most war memorials built during the 1920s were designed to celebrate triumph rather than to solemnly linger on tragedy. Many of these memorials included captured trophies from enemy forces such as artillery pieces and helmets. Armistice Day – now referred to as Remembrance Day – was treated as a day of celebration rather than dutiful commemoration.

Similarly, a focus on the literature from the Western Front obscures the role played by the rest of the world and non-white people in the struggle. The trailer for Battlefield 1 includes nods to the war in the Middle East as well as the Harlem Hellfighters. Yet these inclusions represent the tip of the iceberg. When I lecture on the First World War, for instance, I often avoid the Western Front altogether, and talk instead about Lettow-Vorbeck and Jan Smuts in East Africa or the violent means used by the French state to impress West Africans into the Senegalese Tirailleurs. When I do discuss the Western Front, I focus on the war behind the lines, remarking on the segregation of African and Indian troops as well as the French labor camps for conscripted workers from Southeast Asia.

Of course, like many others, I too worry about how the final version of Battlefield 1 will depict the conflict. For example, as a historian of the British Empire, I am all too aware of the war’s meaning for Australia and New Zealand. But as a historian, I am also conscious of the fact that historical memory is a finite and precious object. Nothing remains in our collective memory without occasional reminders, even events as horrific as the First World War. In an ideal world, these reminders would be distributed by expert scholars presenting judicious and nuanced historical narratives. Yet writing as one of these scholars, I am only too aware of how little purchase my voice has in modern culture. Historians begging to build a memory for the First World War often cannot choose how that memory will be erected.

To give you a sense of what I mean by this, I’ll conclude with my own past failure along these lines. This time last year, I shopped around a pitch to several websites about the depiction of the First World War in video games. This article was designed to go over recent World War One games – including Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol, Valiant Hearts, and Verdun 1914-1918 – and discuss how their focus on the Western Front obscured other histories and memories of the Great War. I called this article “All Quiet on the Other Fronts.” Clever, right? Yet I couldn’t get a single website to bite, and I gave up.

I share this story not to show up editors or to encourage them to eat crow (though I know some good recipes if they’re interested) [Email me. –Ed]. Instead, I share it to emphasize the point that games like Battlefield 1, even if they include objectionable material, spark invaluable historical conversations. When I pitched my idea last year no one cared about the history of World War One. In the week after the announcement for Battlefield 1, however, we’ve been bombarded by a wave of hot takes from journalists come historians as well as intricate historical breakdowns of footage on YouTube. All of this caused by a trailer that lasts just over a minute! Imagine what will happen when the actual game comes out this fall!

I am not just happy about this development because it will make my job as a lecturer easier. I’m happy because I believe talking about the war is important. Whether you see the war as a tragedy or triumph is inconsequential when it is often a matter of remembering the war or not. If that remembrance occurs within the guise of a big budget first person shooter, then so be it.

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134 Comments

  1. MiniMatt says:

    I do so love RPS for commissioning this sort of story and this diverse set of writers.

    • stevecentra says:

      second! it’s what makes RPS a joy to read

      • exile2k4 says:

        Thirded!

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          Elusiv3Pastry says:

          Fourth…ed?

          How about diverting some Supporter funds into a new series by Mr. Whitaker here that discusses some interesting real world historical facets of a game? Like more WW1 stuff :)

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            particlese says:

            Fiftht!! *whipes froth from lips*

            I also support the notion of throwing more of that lovely supporter cash at historical expansions/contextualizations of games and/or Robert’s fowl recipes.

            I sort of enjoyed the trailer for this game, but now I’m actually entertaining the idea of playing the game itself, which makes me feel kinda funky.

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            heretic says:

            Agreed! Great article.

          • Aetylus says:

            Sixthed. What a fantastic article. I had no particular interest in the game and only a mild interest in WWI until a minute ago. I’m overcome by a sudden urge to obtain some fresh reading material set 100 years or so ago and buy my first FPS in about a decade.

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            tigerfort says:

            N+1; I’d definitely like to see more of this kind of thing too.

          • manny says:

            Should implement some type of author voting system on posts, along with an easy to use pledge system like patreon.

    • dontnormally says:

      Wholeheartedly agreed.

    • Ragnar says:

      I come to RPS for the game reviews. I didn’t expect to find a history lesson.

      But I’m very glad I did.

    • 1Derby says:

      Excellent work. More of this.

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      AutonomyLost says:

      I agree.

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      MOONRGR says:

      I agree

  2. samifira says:

    Registered just to say thank you for bringing attention to this. It’s something I’ve definitely preached in my own circles and I hope to see more past conflicts and the myriad people who have fought in them given some sort of memento or token of remembrance in popular culture.

  3. stevecentra says:

    Thought the subtitle would be “because there aren’t many WW1 games” :) But seriously, i hope it brings mil-sims (or pseudo-mil-sims?) back to their roots a little, BF3+4+Hardline got a little tiring. Hopeful here as well!

    • SlimShanks says:

      Sorry, I know it doesn’t really matter, but when you called Battlefield a mil-sim I vomited in my mouth a little. I love those games but come on…

  4. Eightball says:

    I think it’s time for Tim Stone to do a wargame roundup of all WW1 strat/war games focused on non-Western WWI fronts.

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      Benratha says:

      Agreed! Maybe Mr Stone & Mr Whitaker could get together? With Tim choosing the games & Robert putting them into a historical context? Or just commenting on their accuracy?

      • JB says:

        Now THAT I’d love to read.

        Thanks for this article Mr Whitaker, and RPS too.

  5. Matt_W says:

    Fantastic article! Thanks!

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    Elusiv3Pastry says:

    More of this please. WWI is definitely under served in American pop culture (video games highlighted above; I think the Lost Battalion from 2001 was the last decent WWI movie I’ve seen, but that was just an action flick) and is completely nonexistent in standard high school and college history classes as far as I can tell (wife never learned anything about it, nor have any of my various nieces or nephews; my college history never covered it either).

    I have my 5th grade science teacher (who happened to be British) to thank for getting me interested in the global conflict, as he would lecture randomly and at great lengths on the topic, complete with drawing troop lines and tactics on the board and strumming a guitar and reciting period poetry about mustard gas. Then he would show us how to make a fireball in the sink to make sure we did something science related.

  7. Weed says:

    Agreed. Add me to the list of those appreciating the content and the writing style for this one. Well done!

  8. Undermind_Mike says:

    Erm, has anyone else’s RPS layout on Safari on iPhone broken today?

    • Ancient Evil says:

      Yup, I’m reading this on iPad and it’s busted for me too.

  9. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    Great take on this, and a nicely timed riposte to some of the articles coming out of late. I said in my comments on the release trailer that I don’t personally have an issue with the setting (or, that, I take equal issue with setting them in any other real war for fun and frolics) but the cultural standing of WW1 is in stark contrast to the daring-do escapades WW2 is culturally viewed in.

    Aside 1: This is the first time I’ve ever heard the phrase “eat crow” and I love it!

    Aside 2: All Quiet on the Western Front was one of the most influential books I ever read, at quite an impressionable age. That something written by ‘the enemy’ could be so widely read, empathised with and understood by readers in western countries is nothing short of astounding. Just that dumbfounding empathy that, it turns out, they felt exactly the same about all this as us, and the ensuing infuriation that we had to (and keep having to) come to blows. A great read, I highly recommend it. Even now our enemies in WW2 can’t be empathised with thanks to the ongoing depictions in cultural media. Problem is if you forget your enemy is human just like you, and foolishly think you are somehow immune to the tainted evil curse they were obviously born under, you run the risk of turning in to them. On an unrelated note, good luck in the EU and Presidential elections everybody!

  10. MrFinnishDude says:

    I found this article hard to read, maybe it’s because I’m not a historian but still these sorts of articles should be more concise and readable by everyone.

    Here’s what I got “Battlefield one will be the most accurate World War 1 game ever because it shows something else besides the western front, It is Gung-ho action, but it wont be offensive because Valiant Hearts and Blackadder Goes Forth were silly at points”

    Now I might have misinterpreted some points, but I’m still going to offer some criticism. Firstly, I do not see Battlefield 1’s inclusion of different theaters of WW1 as anything virtuous, more like when in Hollywood action films the heroes always travel to some exotic destination, like Baghdad or Chernobyl.
    They’re not there to expand our worldview, they are there just to provide some exotic looking locations for our heroes to kill people at. Everyone knows about the western front, I feel that their inclusion of other locales is for marketing and because they look pretty, not for historical accuracy.
    Secondly I will offer some defense for Valiant Hearts and blackadder goes forth. I feel like the writer has misinterpreted the works. The silly parts of Valiant Hearts serve a point. The “driving a cab from Paris to the tune of can can” part is there to show how everyone went to the war all upbeat, to fight valorously for your country, back home by Christmas, as the idea of warfare was perceived back then. As you finally reach the battlefield, the song vanishes, and the cruel reality of the war shows itself. You see the all the bodies, you see all the suffering, you have to amputate limbs, you see the war how it really is. This is called Mood whiplash, it is not to trivialize the horrors of war, but to drive the point effectively. Also you never kill anyone in the game, therefore the message is not a hypocritical one, you know “war is bad, but you need to kill people” like many other games have done.
    Blackadder goes forth was a comedy, but the humour was mostly about poking black comedy from the sheer futility of the war. The ending is perceived as one the most touching ones in television, called even “one of the greatest interpretations of the madness of war that has ever been put on film”. When they aired it, there was not a single complaint. I do not see this as disrespectful by any means.
    Maybe our idea of the war is bit too much “lions led by donkeys” sort of thing, Battlefield 1 is by no means a “shining light” that removes our narrow conceptions. It’s just another “hollywood action kill-fest” with a different locale.

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      I don’t think the writer was criticising Blackadder or Valiant Hearts, he was just saying if you go back 100 years and showed a would be soldier those and Battlefield 1 they would recognise Battlefield as the positive one. If done in the same style as Battlefields past it is basically recreating that classic war fantasy of danger, explosions, death but not your death, excitement. For most soldiers that is what they hoped to find when they signed up to fight. Most probably found it disappointingly boring, and of course an unlucky few (well, millions) witnessed some of the greatest horror man has ever inflicted on man.

      Think the point is it’s interesting that the lasting cultural output from WW1 is the poetry, the paintings, the stories of mustard gas and clueless leaders. But if you start to pick that apart you see that, as the article points out, some of that is politically motivated against leaders at the time, some of it is basically saying “wasn’t war awful then (it’s so much nicer now, sign up! sign up!)”. It’s messy and complicated and there’s no reason a violent, multiplayer videogame can’t join that mess, especially when they have on so many other equally horrific wars.

      • MrFinnishDude says:

        The thing is that I don’t like the whole “war wasn’t that awful back then, it was only made to seem so later due to political reasons” argument.

        If you know anything about history, you know that “history is written by the winners”. People were still traumatized back then, it’s that the negative views of the war are shushed, in order to cope. Only after many years people can finally speak freely about the war when it has disappeared from immediate memory.
        It’s not like the horrors of the war were made up later, It’s that they can be talked about freely only many years afterwards.
        I think the article sorta skips over this fact.

        • gwathdring says:

          The article isn’t saying the horror was made up. It’s saying that even soldiers who witness horror have pride and didn’t universally decide that their efforts were meaningless just because their experiences were horrible.

          • gwathdring says:

            The point, further clarifying, not being about the “truth” of the meaninglessness but rather specifically that the author feels many veterans would have found things like Blackadder insulting.

          • MrFinnishDude says:

            As I said in the beginning of my comment, I found the article hard to read. Now I have read the article again I will still say some things, were not making this game for the veterans of the war, because all of them are dead.
            To take the murderous mindset is not historical accuracy, its all just entertainment. To praise the game for more hollywood kill-fests and removing the disillusionment element (probably, it a fucking battlefield game) entirely is nothing virtuous, or respectful to the victims of the war.

          • gwathdring says:

            The article praised none of the things you are describing but was playing devil’s advocate in pointing out that no war–even WWI and WWII–is so simple as to have been clearly justified or clearly pointless and it can be easily and reasonably framed as disrespectful to forget that some people fought for something they believed in whether or not you believe in it, too, and whether or not you think it was ultimately worth it for them.

            It’s a hindsight-heavy, paternalistic view of history that makes a lie out of the idea that we can learn from our past to save our future. If what we learn from our past is that everything would have gone better if we just tried harder and didn’t believe in stupid shit, than we have learned nothing.

            And if we’re going to talk about the trouble with violent mindsets serving as entertainment in video games and other mediums we have gone far beyond the subject of WWI let alone of this article. If we want to talk about that, we’ve got bigger fish to fry than BF1. We’ve got half the industry to contend with.

          • MrFinnishDude says:

            Maybe I could have worded my comment better, I was not going on about “murderous mindset industry” problem. I’t was more like that inclusion of that same old thing would suddenly make the game “best WW1 game”.
            Of course the reason for my criticism was Valiant Hearts, a game that is so beautifully constructed, it doesn’t paint any side as evil, looks at the war from multiple viewpoints, and is less about combat and more about understanding the human dynamics in the war. It also delivered a message, war crushes man’s soul, that even though war is an is inevitable as we are only human, if we remember, learn from our mistakes, it is possible to deter it.

            I consider it “the best ww1 game”, also from the historical accuracy standpoint.

            But to say, that this… usual “kill many guys game” that only included different locales for marketing, would be a better, respectful game?

            Bullshit!

            Maybe my vision is clouded by my sheet love for Valiant Hearts, but I do not support the writers point at all.

        • brochoose says:

          History isn’t written by the winners, it’s written by historians. There are plenty of perspectives written from all sides of the first world war. This includes the “lions led by lambs” depictions mentioned in the article, which isn’t a winners narrative.

    • MrFinnishDude says:

      Also Valiant Hearts highlights the the often forgotten African and Indian troops, so that’s something.
      Maybe it’s not to showing other locales of the war, but the game’s still tied to the narrative going on in Europe, so that would have been impossible.

    • Eightball says:

      but the humour was mostly about poking black comedy from the sheer futility of the war

      The point of the article is that the “futility of war” cliche is not representative of the experiences of everyone who actually fought in WW1 (or other wars necessarily). To the people of Alsace-Lorraine, the war wasn’t futile at all (though the outcome was disappointing for those who wished to live in Elsaß-Lothringen).

      • MrFinnishDude says:

        Well of course people believed that they were fighting for a noble cause then, they had to. They had no choice but to believe it was so. How else could you cope?
        Only when looked trough the lense of history you can see that the war could have been avoided, you can see that the war was started on stupid reasons, and brought just more misery. That’s when it can be seen as futile.

        • Eightball says:

          >Only when looked trough the lense of history you can see that the war could have been avoided, you can see that the war was started on stupid reasons, and brought just more misery. That’s when it can be seen as futile.

          This is still a naive and condescending viewpoint. Counterfactuals are fun to think about but effectively useless. The reasons for starting the war were straightforward and reasonable at the time; Austria was punishing a neighboring state for assassinating one of their leaders, while Russia decided to intervene to protect their Serbian co-religionists.

          The war was ultimately a disaster, seeing as the damage it caused in terms of lives and the spiritual trauma it caused to the European peoples. But to say “boy were the Serbians stupid for defending themselves, look at how it played out!” is stupid.

          I also hate the “war is pointless” meme because it is in effect saying that nothing is worth fighting for. Death to nihilism.

          • MrFinnishDude says:

            “I also hate the “war is pointless” meme because it is in effect saying that nothing is worth fighting for. Death to nihilism.”

            I think I’m being misunderstood. The war that was pointless was WW1, because it could have been avoided, and it brought nothing but more misery. You know, it was a tragedy. WW2 brought a good thing, no Nazis. That’s why it’s viewed so differently to WW1.

            Also about the “boy were the Serbians stupid for defending themselves, look at how it played out!” thing. Because some nationalist crackpot shot a man is not a smart reason to start a war. (therefore the “dumb reasons”, there were other options and the option they took was incredibly “dumb” in the long run). If the whole situation was played differently people wouldn’t have been forced to fight. And maybe the tragedy could have been avoided.

          • gwathdring says:

            But the whole situation DIDN’T play out differently.

            And, 100 years on, wars over similar things continue. But one side’s meaningless aggression is another side’s not-at-all-meaningless defensive action or ethically complex allegiance/protection agreement. Simplifying everything down to “couldn’t they just have talked it out” is erasing millennia of history. Welcome to the real world, where not everything functions perfectly.

      • Zephro says:

        This is the key thing with Blackadder and Oh What a Lovely War. They are in sympathy with the victims of the war.

        Including people from different theatres or nationalities doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll do so in a sympathetic manner.

        • Distec says:

          Sure, but the point of the piece (or at least my takeaway) is that not everybody who served in WW1 – or any other war for that matter – viewed themselves as victims that didn’t “accomplish anything”. And yet this is typically the dominant tone of WW1 discussions today.

          There’s some truth to that assessment, but only with a particular framing. Whitaker’s just saying that there’s more than one impression or voice that you can take away from that conflict, and I think that’s a healthy counterpoint to some of the mawkish hand-wringing over EA’s “sensitivity” or lack thereof regarding this.

          You can have your All Quiet On The Western Front and still enjoy a crazy dogfight with the Red Baron, s’all.

    • MiniMatt says:

      I *think* the author was highlighting that the war wasn’t necessarily seen as futile by the majority of it’s participants at the time.

      Through modern eyes it looks like a futile waste of life, whereas WW2, as hellish as it – and all wars – are retains a compelling reason. I think the author was noting that some/many/majority of WW1 participants actually viewed their struggle every bit as compelling and virtuous as that to defeat the Nazi regime. Defining that, universally, as a pointless waste *could* perhaps be as offensive to the memory of those who died believing it to be a vital struggle, as giving it the typical Michael Bay explosion-fest treatment favoured by games.

      I confess my school history lessons failed to impart any idea as to *why* WW1 was fought beyond some vague notion of a bloke in a funny hat being assassinated in Yugoslavia.

      • MrFinnishDude says:

        Wars are never discussed freely until they have left to immediate memory. “History is written by the winners” you know.
        People make up excuses in order to cope, “The Germans were evil goddless bastards who wanted to take over the world” you know, these kinds of reasoning. Only when looked at long afterwards people can see the whole picture better when its not shunned to talk about.

        • Eightball says:

          I know I’m replying to you in another comment chain, but I can’t resist.

          >“History is written by the winners” you know.

          This is another cliche like “war is pointless.” History is written by historians. Genghis Khan was was one of the greatest victors in history (in terms of dudes slaughtered by his armies anyway) but he recorded no history. All the histories of him and the Mongols cast them as invading monsters (as they were). If history was written by the victor, the Mongol invasions would be remembered fondly.

          Another example is the American Civil War; for a long period of time there was a dominant narrative that favored the lost cause of the CSA, the losing side.

          • gwathdring says:

            Well put.

          • s1473492 says:

            It is not completely true what you say about the Mongols and them not leaving written histories. They have complied a large chronicle of their conquests, it is called The Secret History of Mongols and was written in the 1270’s, just after the death of Genghis Khan. However, largely unknown in the West, till translated into Russian in the 1940’s and English translation coming out in the 1970’s.

          • Emeraude says:

            But the mongols aren’t the winners right now. They have little to no power right now and thus are relegated to being a footnote of history.

            As the author of the article noted “historical memory is a finite and precious object”. The winners of the time get to decide what fills most of that memory bank.

            More than “history is written by the winner” I like Guillemin’s “to believe official history is to take a criminal at his word”.

    • simulant says:

      As much as I look forward to this game, I agree with you. Let’s not pretend that this first person shooter will be anything but entertainment or else it will be propaganda.

      • gwathdring says:

        I think the idea that anything can be neutrally entertaining is weird.

        You would probably counter that this will be entirely negative, than, or at least mostly negative.

        But I think it is worth noting that genuine interest in actual non-car-chase-filled archaeology increases when Indiana Jones has a spike in popularity. As the article says, nothing can live in our collective memory forever without reminders. Just knowing that the Western Front wasn’t the only part of the war is going to have a positive impact on the historical perspectives of people who would otherwise not have encountered the more global nature of the war quite so clearly.

        I’m not proposing that BF1 will necessarily be a net positive or that it will be and effective educational product. Rather I am proposing that people are a lot more curious and less stupid than you give them credit for. The same sorts of people who learned a lot from the bastardized and western-washed history of Civilization will remember little things and be more open to new information as a result of playing games that expose them–however casually and disinterestedly–to pieces of that information.

        That doesn’t absolve EA of responsibility for negative messages in their media, it doesn’t magically end the broader discussion about war and violence in video games. But it certainly complicates the notion that pulpy things cannot have a positive impact as a result of their being “just entertainment.”

  11. Rustinho says:

    Brilliant article. Best I’ve read on RPS by a long chalk.

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    SlugMan says:

    I must be one of the few people who thinks this could only end up being a rather generic shooter with a WW1 skin. Especially after having listened to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast – Countdown to Armageddon – link to dancarlin.com (all episodes are free at the time of this posting. i think.) Anyhow, after spending the (~18hours) listening to the podcast, I came away feel that a shooter would be difficult to make based on the war (any why there haven’t been so many succesful WW1 projects?) and why a strategy game would be far more manageable to make.

    my 2 cents.

    • SlimShanks says:

      The point is that even if the game is generic, it’s still excellent that it’s promoting conversation around an otherwise largely forgotten topic. In theory.

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        gritz says:

        I think it’s asking quite a lot from a series like Battlefield to suddenly become a thought-provoking reflection of global conflict and how it shaped the 20th century.

        • Turkey says:

          But at least the players will know all the names of the weapons and vehicles used during the war.

        • Jinoru says:

          *conversation provoking

        • Crimsoneer says:

          He says, replying to an article on the depiction of WW1 in videogames.

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            My understanding of this article is that the game may be tasteless in many ways, but it will still promote thought and discussion (evidence: these comments), and that it may remind us that the war was more than muddy European trenches, which our (or my) culture does seem to have forgotten. Good points, I think. Some people seem to be bringing their own confirmation bias to it, whilst also acting like historians. Bit ironic, perhaps.

      • Pantalaimon says:

        Is it really ‘largely forgotten’? In this age I don’t buy the idea that anything is forgotten. It’s right there on the end of a google search.

    • Shigawire says:

      Having listened to all the Dan Carlin “Hardcore History” podcasts, I have to wholeheartedly concur. “Blueprint for Armageddon” is well worth the listen. It’s an incredibly visceral and thought provoking, and very well researched podcast. I do think the author Robert Whitaker would know about this podcast, but if he doesn’t I think he’d be pleasantly surprised.

  13. Hunchback says:

    Sorry, i can’t get pas that ridiculous “Battlefield 1” title… I burst laughing every time, lololo

    Will read the article later tho, since i am (well, was) a hardcore BF fan (before they turned into a DLC-fest of cash-cow milking).

  14. Dantino says:

    For those interested in an in depth breakdown of the trailer from a historical perspective there is an interesting youtube video entitled “Battlefield 1 Historical Trailer Analysis I THE GREAT WAR Special” from the Channel “The Great War”

  15. SlimShanks says:

    Ooh, nice article. After all the painfully biased education I received in school regarding the the Great War, I was shocked when I learned on my own what the pervading attitudes of the time were. If you brought all those dead soldiers back, I think that most of them would be completely committed to doing it again.
    It seems we have largely lost the values our ancestors espoused, and thus cannot hope to understand how they felt through the lens of modern ideas and ethics.

  16. DEspresso says:

    I thought the lost generation was in regard to France? Although now I think about it, the term would be better suited for Turkey or Serbia

  17. trooperwally says:

    Add my voice to the others saying “more of this stuff”!

    This was a really interesting read and a perfect example of what I hope to see on RPS. I’d love to see more features written by subject experts who may not be big into games giving us a fresh perspective on issues that relate somehow to pc games. Could we get a Ben ‘bad science’ Goldacre review of a Big Pharmacy? What about an actual astronaut’s take on star citizen vs elite? I’m sure a person who knows their stuff on guns could say interesting things about gunplay in most fps games.

    So yeah, I like this. More please!

  18. Premium User Badge

    caff says:

    So long as the hitboxes are decent, a headshot downs the other player with one shot, and you get get appropriate achievements for savage kill streaks – that’s all I really care about.

    No, only joking, great article. I think there is a lot of confusion about WWI. It’s such a vast thing with so many stories, all so unique to the perspectives of those experiencing it. Yet, horrible to so many.

    On one hand you have your Siegfried Sassoons, on the other you have your Spike Milligans.

  19. klops says:

    Wonderful!

  20. Chorltonwheelie says:

    “While this disillusion existed during the war, it did not come to dominate how we remember the conflict until the 1930s”…so the revolutions and mutiny’s right across Europe, the thing that actually stopped the war, were made up in the 30’s?

    Right wing, revisionist bullshit.

    • Ancient Evil says:

      Tell us how you really feel.

    • iainl says:

      Which is curious, since the “Lions led by Donkeys” soundbite was popularised by senior Tory and historian Alan Clark, in his book “The Donkeys” in 1961, attributing it to Max Hoffmann.

      But when challenged on this, he fully admitted to making the quote up. Somehow, that didn’t stop the work dominating the popular view of WWI from then on, thanks to it influencing Oh What A Lovely War! two years later, and then Blackadder Goes Forth.

      So I’m a touch bewildered as to why not going along with a Tory’s lie makes for -right- wing revisionism.

      In reality, the carnage of the trenches was brought about (like so much in war) by technological advances. At the time of the war’s breakout, advances in defensive measures had vastly outstripped those in attack – a well-trained army could hold ground against a much greater force, and so stalemate became the order of the day. It was only once the battle could be put forth through tanks and the air that there was any decent way to push forward without losing vast numbers – the generals weren’t treating their military resources without care, they just didn’t have any better options.

      • MrUnimport says:

        While the generals were assuredly doing their best, rehabilitating their image has absolutely nothing to do with widespread disillusion among the troops, which was the other guy’s point.

      • Emeraude says:

        the generals weren’t treating their military resources without care

        Some choice quotes from the Battle of the Somme British General, Sir Douglas Haig:

        The nation must be taught to bear losses. No amount of skill on the part of the higher commanders, no training, however good, on the part of the officers and men, no superiority of arms and ammunition, however great, will enable victories to be won without the sacrifice of men’s lives. The nation must be prepared to see heavy casualty lists.

        Success in battle depends mainly on morale and determination.

        The way to capture machine guns is by grit and determination.

        The machine gun is a much over rated weapon.

        Add to that a myriad of documented anecdotes, like Senegalese Tirailleurs dying before ever seeing one battle because no one had bothered to equip them properly for winter, death quotas, soldier being court martial-ed and executed for being issued the wrong color trousers – the list could go on… and while I would not dare to say no one in the upper military cared I certainly wouldn’t say care was was the cief value on display.

  21. Laurentius says:

    Good read and I concur but let’s be real, the chances that the game will allow us to play as someone else then British, French or American soldier are zero, meaning I will hate this game with all my gut. There are so many stories to tell but it won’t be this game.

    • Talbot says:

      I guess the Germans don’t figure in there either? Will you be upset if we can’t play as the Austro-Hungarians or Bulgarians? The British, French, Germans and to a lesser extent Russians and Ottomans were the principal combatants in this war both militarily and politically.

    • SaunteringLion says:

      While the campaign will almost certainly focus on the Triple Entente, multiplayer will necessarily feature the Triple Alliance as playable.

      • Pharaoh Nanjulian says:

        I must say that one of the main reasons I enjoy playing “Verdun” is because of the variety of nations represented. Despite ‘only’ being the Western Front at present, Americans were only recently introduced. A game where the initial choice is between French, Austro-Hungarian/German, British and Canadian is a breath of fresh air. And now they’ve added Belgians and Yanks too.

        Who doesn’t want to play a computer game as a Belgian?

        I can’t say the Battlefield series has interested me greatly since I played 1942 on a friend’s laptop years ago, but as these games usually make Americans the heroic saviours I hope in this case they don’t go so beyond the historical pale that they are portrayed as doing all the work from the start. In fact German ships were being repaired in US ports in 1916 before the USA entered the war.

        • socrate says:

          Quite frankly american contributed more industrially and financially..lets not forget that they also didin’t do it for free the british ended up almost bankrupt after the war for a good reason…their contribution in troop was in the very end and very minor and by that time the german were already close to exaustion,Canadian played a significant role in WW1 and won’t pretty much their role as a independent country for it they made a big part of the british army and kept being sent toward impossible fight but unlike others would end up taking these defensive point…but they also suffered insane lost.

          The problem in this article is that it tend to show it as some kind of voluntary thing where conscription was forced on people and alots knew that it was horrible on the front…trench combat was also extremely common for a reason and i doubt this game will do anything other then throw out an illusion just like american are so good at making…lets not forget that Harlem Hellfighters is full of hole historically and was pushed by barack obama and tons of real “historian” still question all the thing brought suddenly by this thing and yet none answered or given any “fact” and while it is obviously not a lie seems to be embellished more for political purpose then for history.

          everything here also tends to forget that the war was seen as horrible for a reason the following of that war filled asylum and brought plague and sickness with it…the post traumatic effect of soldier seeing other being stabbed to death by bayonet or the psycological effect of those who survived artillery bombardement in trench filled with blood,feces,body part and those that died by concussion…i think the writter tend to think like many today that war=vietnam or irak where going to war was volontary and for glory which is insane and show how people tend to know so few about actual war and its effect

  22. Ancient Evil says:

    What a great article! One nitpick though: Neither the trailer (as far as I can tell) nor even this article makes any mention whatsoever of the Eastern Front, which seems absurd to me.

    I wholeheartedly agree that less monomaniacal obsession with the Western Front and all its entrenched (pun intended) cliches is a good thing, as is more attention on the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and non-white soldiers.

    But how popular history has managed to so completely erase the Eastern Front is troubling to me. While still always playing second fiddle to the trenches in the west, even Gallipoli and the Arab Revolt are positively conspicuous by comparison. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if Battlefield 1 contains not a single Russian, let alone any mention of the Balkans Campaign or Italian Front for that matter, either.

    Still, inclusion of anything outside of the Western Front is progress, I suppose. We shouldn’t set our expectations unrealistically high.

    • s1473492 says:

      It would be exciting to see at least the Italian front depicted in the game, at least for me personally. I am from Slovakia, at the time a constituent of the Austro-Hungarian empire and I know that some of my ancestors from father’s side of the family died or were wounded on the Piave front during the great war. Alps also make for a great backdrop.

  23. Jason Lefkowitz says:

    Okay, I’ll bite.

    This war without purpose led to the end of empires in Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, and Turkey.

    Three out of four of which were already well along in the process of collapsing before the outbreak of war.

    It also brought about the Russian Revolution, the emergence of America as a world power, and established the basis for modern politics in the Middle East.

    The emergence of America as a world power happened in the Spanish-American War.

    The Russians had already had one big revolution before the war, in 1905. WW1 provided the exogenous shock that toppled the regime, but the political dynamics that led to collapse were well established long before.

    Indeed, the current civil war in Syria as well as the Arab-Israeli conflict can be traced back to the Sykes-Picot agreement signed in 1916.

    Great Powers getting together to divvy up territory was a standard thing long before WW1. Sykes-Picot came as an attempt to anticipate the collapse of the Ottoman Empire; that collapse was an event that the powers of Europe had been anticipating for decades before 1914. While counterfactuals are of limited utility, it seems safe to say that if WW1 had never happened the Ottoman Empire would almost certainly have collapsed at some contemporary point anyway; and it’s hard to imagine the imperial powers of the day not coming up with some plan to slice up its carcass, once it became clear the collapse was imminent.

    • gunny1993 says:

      Well if you’re going along those lines you can say that empires that don’t even exist yet are well in the process of failing, if you look along a long enough time scale. I don’t think the view that ww1 was a massive catalyst is wrong at all, I mean surely plenty of empires have hung around for centuries whilst being on the edge of collapse.

    • Ancient Evil says:

      @Jason Lefkowitz

      Since you don’t seem to be disputing that WWI was the catalyst that brought all these things to the breaking point, what is your point, exactly?

      I don’t think anyone was arguing that the consequences of WWI were completely independent of all the systemic trends and circumstances that preceded it, because nothing in history has ever worked that way, ever.

    • Mr.Bats says:


      This war without purpose led to the end of empires in Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, and Turkey.

      Three out of four of which were already well along in the process of collapsing before the outbreak of war.

      No, no, no, and no. The fact that you willingly overlook the amount of distress they were able to withstand because of the war BEFORE collapsing is very telling.

      It also brought about the Russian Revolution, the emergence of America as a world power, and established the basis for modern politics in the Middle East.

      The emergence of America as a world power happened in the Spanish-American War.

      JUST NO. The US was a REGIONAL power with rather pitiful EXPEDITIONARY FORCES. They kicked us Spaniards because we were already done. If we’d had comparable means, the US wouldn’t have even started the war.

      The Russians had already had one big revolution before the war, in 1905. WW1 provided the exogenous shock that toppled the regime, but the political dynamics that led to collapse were well established long before.

      The Germans shipped our comrade Lenin to Russia with great effect. So I think you’re not giving them enough credit.

      Indeed, the current civil war in Syria as well as the Arab-Israeli conflict can be traced back to the Sykes-Picot agreement signed in 1916.

      Great Powers getting together to divvy up territory was a standard thing long before WW1. Sykes-Picot came as an attempt to anticipate the collapse of the Ottoman Empire; that collapse was an event that the powers of Europe had been anticipating for decades before 1914. While counterfactuals are of limited utility, it seems safe to say that if WW1 had never happened the Ottoman Empire would almost certainly have collapsed at some contemporary point anyway; and it’s hard to imagine the imperial powers of the day not coming up with some plan to slice up its carcass, once it became clear the collapse was imminent.

      History doesn’t work like that. We have that clusterfuck in great part because of Sykes-Picot. That you THINK it would’ve worked similarly anyways means nothing.

      Cheers

  24. Zephro says:

    While I applaud RPS for an interesting article and a bit of history I’m not sure the analysis goes past the superficial.

    This war without purpose led to the end of empires in Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, and Turkey. It also brought about the Russian Revolution, the emergence of America as a world power, and established the basis for modern politics in the Middle East.

    And? I feel like this especially didn’t really move past mentioning it. Part of the “trauma” of the war, for want of a better word, is related to this. The near collapse of many previous pillars of the cultural context people fought over. Pointing out it happened isn’t really justifying the game.

    Nor does mentioning different nationalities or areas of the war, which I thought were common knowledge but hey ho. The important thing is that games/media are in sympathy with the victims (the soldiers), not which ones it mentions. Just pointing out a list of things isn’t terribly interesting or useful, I suppose maybe for getting 12 year olds to ask questions in schools, it’s the meaning and analysis that goes with it which is important. It’s also what the criticism is directed at, which this doesn’t seem to counter.

    • All is Well says:

      To sort of add to (or perhaps piggyback on) your response: does the author mean, by the listing of these events (collapse of empires, Sykes-Picot, etc.) juxtaposed with the phrase “war without purpose”, that the war actually did have purpose, in the sense that it was meaningful or just, by virtue of causing the events? Because that would need a lot of fleshing out to make it viable, I think.

    • Ancient Evil says:

      I doubt EA is quaking in their boots at the thought that you deem Battlefield 1 to have insufficient sociopolitical meaning and analysis to “justify” its existence.

      It’s a shooter video game, not an academic paper. If it entertains its audience and makes EA shitloads of money, then that’s all the “justification” it needs for the parties on both ends of the bargain.

      I’m sorry, I love history, and I’m not anti-intellectual, but I really do think it is possible to overthink things and take them too seriously. In the most extreme manifestations this mindset leads to such absurdities as entirely po-faced, jargon-laden ecofeminist critiques of Tetris. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes an entertainment product is just an entertainment product, and doesn’t really need to “justify” its creation by being more than that.

      • Premium User Badge

        gritz says:

        The stance you’re taking here is completely at odds with the article you’re defending in other threads.

        • Ancient Evil says:

          Hmm, I don’t think so. The article’s basic gist, as I remember it, was that Battlefield 1 could be useful in expanding the popular conception of the war beyond the “horror of the western trenches” theme, which I agree with. Saying that the game needs to have some kind of deep, sociopolitical “meaning and analysis” in order to “justify” its existence is taking things to a whole different level entirely.

          Battlefield 1 is a FPS video game whose fundamental purpose is to entertain its buyers in exchange for EA making money, and I’m fine with that. If it also broadens people’s conceptions of the war beyond the usual clichés in any way, then that’s just great.

          At no point have I advocated that Battlefield 1 be under any kind of imperative to offer some kind of profound commentary on the war. That’s not the point of the game, and it doesn’t need to be. There are plenty of other, better avenues for such commentary to be made.

          I think there’s plenty of room for nuance here between the extremes of “lol, it’s just a shootygame, who cares about history”, and treating the game like it’s trying to be some kind of academic paper when it very much isn’t.

      • Distec says:

        But Ancient, if they don’t treat this war with the solemn reverence it deserves, some people might feel icky.

        And then… Something will happen!(?) Something that doesn’t involve EA getting barrels of money.

  25. Louis Mayall says:

    A good, (if clunky) WW1 game that includes the other fronts is To End All Wars by AGEOD. It got me googling all about the war in the Balkans and against the Ottomans, and its a pretty deep strategy game with some fun ahistorical possibilities. Ugly as hell though.

  26. jakonovski says:

    Yeah, this article comes pretty close to glorifying the war, strangely distorted through the lens of modern progressivism. While the central European experience took spotlight, it doesn’t mean it was covering up some other, more glorious reality of the non-European soldier. It’s rather more likely that they also hated getting slaughtered and suffered like anyone would in a similar situation.

    • Ancient Evil says:

      I think you’ve severely misread the article. His two main points were that A) The war was more than just the Western Front, and B) The way the popular narrative views the war today is at odds with how many people saw it at the time and in the years following it.

      Somehow you seem to be conflating these two points into “The war was awesome, especially for the non-European soldier”, which I think is incredibly far from the author’s intention.

      • jakonovski says:

        The B statement is bit of a non-statement, given the nature of humanity. Every horror in the world has had its proponents, but we don’t let them dictate how we see said horror.

        The author chooses to highlight purpose, meaning and heroism in an article about one of the most destructive conflicts the world has gone through. That’s a statement, even if not intended as one.

        • gunny1993 says:

          I see the author highlighting some purpose (or more accurately consequences) I don’t see him and do not infer that he is saying the war was particularly heroic. Besides I don’t see heroism and earth shattering horror being mutually exclusive, to take just one thing, even if it is the most important thing, from an event and parade it as if it is the only thing just seems like propoganda to me, even if it is justified, history is about facts and interpretations of said.

          I mean I don’t expect ea to follow that philosophy and they’ll probably make some silly mass adventure game but you never know

        • Ancient Evil says:

          “Every horror in the world has had its proponents, but we don’t let them dictate how we see said horror”

          And yet, through our fiction we anachronistically dictate our modern perspectives onto characters and settings that largely did not share those perspectives, all the time.

          It’s fairly rare for any mass market historical fiction to treat its setting or characters with authenticity instead of just as a stylistic backdrop to insert distinctly modern sensibilities into. Usually by giving all of the sympathetic figures ideologically-sanitized worldviews that are decades or even centuries ahead of their time, while adding some mustache-twirling cardboard cutout villains as foils to remind the audience How Things Were Back Then.

          Thus the audience gets to enjoy the superficial trappings of the setting without actually being challenged or confused in any way by moral complexity in a world with values dissonant to our own. The customer is always right, after all, and most people will choose something reassuring over something provocative.

          To say nothing of the caste of handwringing scolds who will go out of their way to vilify and agitate against any creative work or author who they feel have insufficiently mashed historical content into contemporary ideological molds. Because depicting dominant historical values authentically would mean largely marginalizing anachronistic modern ones – and a popular work that depicts dissonant values without robustly asserting the superiority of our current ones is generally viewed as dangerous to the moral order.

  27. Premium User Badge

    Marclev says:

    I pretty much clicked on this just to post a comment to the effect that it was probably close to being the only WW1 game, but blimey, what a well written and thought out article.

  28. theapeofnaples says:

    Great article, cheers.

  29. Premium User Badge

    Marclev says:

    Is it possible that people at the time thinking things were so great was simply down to a very efficient propanda machine, and over the years the reality became more and more apparent?

    In Germany I seem to remember, people thought things were rosy and triumphant until the last few days of the war when they learnt of the defeat, a situation which pretty directly led to the civil war that outed the emperor.

    • SaunteringLion says:

      “Is it possible that people at the time thinking things were so great was simply down to a very efficient propanda machine, and over the years the reality became more and more apparent?”

      Yes, absolutely. This has been the prevailing historical viewpoint from what, the ’30s on? The author here goes a bit far in over-correction by insinuating the war had a definite purpose and that it was worthwhile.

  30. wodin says:

    Any person with decent knowledge of WWI know this “struggle. World War One was a war about lost innocence and “lions led by donkeys.” as a myth created during the sixties and fuelled by the writings of Lloyd George after the war.

  31. morganjah says:

    I’m not sure we need to be ‘learning’ revisionist history from this particular author. The war ended because every participant was racing to see which opponent’s population would rebel against their government first. Russia toppled to revolution first, Germany second, though the French army mutiny almost beat them to the punch.
    Everywhere, everyone loathed the war.
    It is absurd to think that a couple of books written a decade after the war, suddenly changed everyone’s mind, about a war which killed millions, left millions disabled, and in which millions spent horrific years fighting.

    • mariandavid says:

      What are you talking about – the argument was that it was not until half a century after the war that the impression was floated that ‘everyone loathed the war’. Not so for the two decades after it ended the leading generals such as Haig, Foch and even Pershing were idolised by society and soldiers alike. Presumably they did not agree with the inventions of much later novelists, poets and musicians.

      • morganjah says:

        That is just not correct. It’s revisionist nonsense. It was not an ‘invention created years later’ that people loathed the war. Almost every country was in, or slipping into, revolution during the war. People honored the soldiers, and loathed the war.

  32. Xantonze says:

    “Most war memorials built during the 1920s were designed to celebrate triumph rather than to solemnly linger on tragedy. Many of these memorials included captured trophies from enemy forces such as artillery pieces and helmets. ”

    I’m baffled by this statement. As a frenchman (from Alsace), I have always read that most of the memorials here insist on the tragedy, as in “may it never happen again”, and most of the memorials I’ve seen concur with this vision. The emphasis on “triumph” the author is writing about may be seen in England or the U.S. (far from the actual conflict, and where people could actually sell a romantisized view of the war), but it might have been an harder sell in France where the actual battlefields lie.

    • mariandavid says:

      Those I have observed in France are just as emphatic on the memory of victory as those in the UK. What is different is the far greater tragedy of lost fathers, husbands and brothers in France than in any nation other than vanished Romanov Russia. I always feel sadness as well as triumph emanating from them.

  33. Michael Fogg says:

    Yeah, what the ‘WWI was senseless slaughter’ line of thinking does ignore in particular is that the war led to the independence of several states like Poland and Czechoslovakia, the existence of which became the bulwark of national indentity for their respective nations. So it’s a point of view that basically ignores everyone liveing in central-eastern Europe. Not to mention the fact that WWI was also a conflict of parliamentary republics against absolute monarchies, the latter going straight to the trash heap of history as a result. That’s pretty important, no?

    Having said that, I still think that the Michaelbayan approach with planes crashing into planes crashing into windmills (and blowing up) cheapens the whole thing immensely. If I was producing the trailer I’d go for an uncut first person sequence of an eastern front battle…

    • Ancient Evil says:

      You make good points, but the “parliamentary republics against absolute monarchies” thing is a bit of a simplification. On the Allied side, the UK and Italy were constitutional monarchies, not republics, and Russia’s absolute monarchy was less democratic than any of the Central Powers.

      • Michael Fogg says:

        Right, I definitely should have said parliamentary states, not republics, of the Entente. And I did exclude Russia, which was a far stricter autocracy then any of the central powers – but the Russians got it even worse in the end.

        • MrUnimport says:

          >And I did exclude Russia, which was a far stricter autocracy then any of the central powers – but the Russians got it even worse in the end.

          Isn’t this also misleading? Nobody (least of all those on the Allied side) fought and died with the intention of ending the tsardom. It was absolutely not anyone’s war goal, not anyone’s glorious struggle. It was an unintended consequence of a bloody and miserable war. To tack that on as being part of ‘WWI’s meaning’ seems disingenuous, especially since Russia proceeded almost directly into a period of further authoritarian state terror under Stalin.

  34. uh20 says:

    Again: this is a one-minute trailer.
    But it could be the trailer that starts the war…

  35. sporkface says:

    Registered just to comment and say thanks for this article, hope for more from Mr. Whitaker.

    Stay classy, RPS.

  36. Baal_Sagoth says:

    Wonderful article! Definitely one of my favorites on RPS for quite some time. I’m thrilled there’s a place for writing like this, even if it took an astoundingly effective ad to finally get it published.

  37. 417 says:

    I find your purely eurocentric (British) view curious when making the point about WW1 being a global war.

    Certainly the Anzac (NZ) view was that we would never allow Britain to sacrifice our troops again in such a manner. This was clearly shown in WW part 2 with NZ maintaining control over the use of NZ troops.

    I don’t believe our history shows that we had the view that it was a ‘wonderful war’.

    Great article and certainly good to see on RPS, And do check the Great War channel on Youtube for all history buffs.
    Should be compulsory viewing for historians.

    • Premium User Badge

      Benratha says:

      Couldn’t resist this, but the author does seem to understand your point: “…For example, as a historian of the British Empire, I am all too aware of the war’s meaning for Australia and New Zealand…”

    • Talbot says:

      Except back then the line between British and Australian was substantially more blurred. For example, roughly 75% of Anzac and Canadian troops were either British born or had British parentage. Modern prejudice and nationalism has done much to fling this rather crucial point under the rug so open abuse of Britain’s heartless use of colonial troops can be vilified even further. It was called the British Empire for a reason.

      • mariandavid says:

        That alas is yet another myth created long after the war by those with special interests. The harsh fact is that there was little difference in the casualty rate between ‘British’ as opposed to Canadian, Australian, Indian or African troops. It was a function of luck and leadership certainly not intent.

  38. neofit says:

    “Historian” and “professor” are repeated just enough to scare off people who don’t read much. I understand as a historian a historian a historian of anything and everything but apparently not the defining moments of WW1, one may be tempted to imagine that a CINEMATIC trailer for BF1, thanks to a glimpse of some kind of Laurence of Arabia type (remember what happened to cavalry in 1914?), some ninja clubbing in an open field and other run and gun crap (and what was that, a blimp chasing a guy?), “has the potential to be the most historically accurate First World War game ever”. That’s some weird new age historizing. A Minecraft mod has the exact same potential.

    A historian may remember that, depending on the theater, 60 to 80% of casualties came from artillery and the rest from machineguns, with only about 2% from individual weapons (from John Keegan IIRC). But that’s boring, let’s plug in some trivia about recruitment politics and labor camps to show off erudition, and hail a pre-rendered trailer because we saw a glimpse of non-Western Front textures. I see zero value in the article. Desperate to plug that “things that happened alongside WW1” article much? I don’t mind an article saying “hey, people at the time thought they were heroes”, because of course they did, if one thinks otherwise then read a book ffs. That’s trivial. I’m not even sure who you are arguing with, the media? Like this is going to help. But then having EA, (console) game, WW1 and “historically accurate” in the same article, let alone the same sentance, shoots whatever else you were trying to convey out of the trench. And Obama financing 5 years of civil war in a sovereign country has nothing to do with whatever happened in Syria in WW1.

    A “historically accurate” first-person shooter, if by this you mean the combat experience and not fancy swag or traveling around the colonies, may be interesting to a small portion of Arma players (heck, some arty-heavy scenarios are like that already, by accident). That kind of ‘first-person dier to someone you see 2% of the time” is definitely NOT for the EA/BF target audience. It will be as far from that as they can, about like the previous ones were but with other textures. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some shiny golden trench shovels for a mere $1.99 very soon. What on earth makes you think it could be otherwise, the need to plug some loosely related stuff?

    • laotze says:

      A bit harsher than I would have phrased it, but yeah, the author strains his case past the breaking point when it comes time to actually analyze the trailer. I’d love to see more writing on video games by academics but I’d also like to see them avoid superficiality in doing so.

    • Premium User Badge

      Benratha says:

      Maybe the only take-away from this whole shooting match (sorry) is one of the main points of the article? That being, great or awful, EA’s BF1 will (might) get people talking/ researching/ trying to understand how & why WW1 happened.
      Looking at the number of comments so far, just on this page I think he may be onto something…

  39. AngelAtTheTomb says:

    You have a bit more faith in the intentions of the people making these games than I do, sir.

    Not that those intentions are necessarily nefarious – EA = Death Star arguments aside, DICE are making a video game, and they’re pretty damn good at making video games, and there might even be a writer or two over there genuinely interested in making the game a reflection of World War I itself in all its complexities and heroics and disasters and tragedies.

    But to think that even these mildly good intentions won’t be subsumed by the necessities of making a AAA shooter funded with amounts of money so massive they could kill a lesser accountant dead in their shoes is naive. This is a game about shooting little mans. The only insights it will offer into the colossal human experience of World War I will come from the fact that, occasionally, soldiers in World War I were also asked to shoot men. Historical revisionism aside, and even taking into account the more gung-ho protrayals of the war (nobody’s mentioned T.E. Lawrence, which surprises me – parts of Seven Pillars of Wisdom read like an adventure novel), I doubt anyone in World War I was aiming down their sights in keen anticipation of the X flashing at the center of the crosshairs and a proclamation of “Headshot +10” emblazoned across the sky. To suggest that video games can offer even a gung-ho vision of the motivations of war is absurd. Were there people who thought they were doing a good thing by fighting World War I? I’m sure there were, although once again this New Revisionist History crap about World War I being fantastic and useful and really not that bad is insane. But the point is that the gung-ho or the people who thought they were fighting for a cause were willing to shoot people for it. People. Not little mans. War is not video games and video games is not war. The best, most humanistic video games can reflect war to a certain degree, but only to a degree, and these games are not Battlefield.

    Battlefield 1 will in all likelihood be totally rad fun to play. It will also teach no one really anything about World War I.

  40. Vigil says:

    Great piece! It makes me almost angry that sites refused to publish this kind of work. We use history as context in so many games and yet a nuanced look at the historical realities behind those settings is almost non-existent (or on a “Them’s the facts”-Level à la Assassins Creed info-texts). Making this a regular column would be amazing!

  41. TR`Ben says:

    When i watched the trailer, i realised that i know next to nothing about the First Wolrd War. I definitely should make some time to read about it. Nontheless, i’m very excited about the game.

    By the way, could anyone please help me to understand the meaning of the sentence from the article?
    “…I shopped around a pitch to several websites about…”
    Thought i know translations for these words, they don’t fit together in my brain.

    • iainl says:

      The author had an idea for an article, and tried (pitched) to sell it (shopped it around) to a number of places that publish articles.

    • Premium User Badge

      Grizzly says:

      There’s also a youtube channel known as “The Great War” worth checking out:

  42. SaunteringLion says:

    “Please, whatever you do, don’t try to tell them that most contemporaries viewed the war as a heroic struggle. World War One was a war about lost innocence and “lions led by donkeys.””

    The most common view I’ve seen is that it was a war that was viewed as a heroic struggle, when in reality it was not.

    “The established narrative of the First World War would have you believe that these soldiers were brainwashed into fighting, but this discounts their own agency. Many of them fought because they were motivated by the ideologies of the day, including monarchism and imperialism. They believed that the war had meaning and that their service was heroic.”

    The thing is, “the ideologies of the day” ARE the brainwashing. Fighting for a hereditary line (monarchism) or to expand your country at the expense of another as though you’d directly benefit (imperialism) is the ideological distortion at work.

    “This war without purpose led to the end of empires in Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, and Turkey. It also brought about the Russian Revolution, the emergence of America as a world power, and established the basis for modern politics in the Middle East.”

    That’d be fine, if that was the intended consequence of the major actors involved, and that’s what was sold to the soldiers who enlisted, but other than “ousting the Kaiser”, that wasn’t really the “purpose” of the war. Germanic power in Central Europe was dismantled for what, a decade, before rising as strong as ever? The Ottoman Empire’s motivation for joining were muddled. The change in Russia was in part provoked by the deaths on the Eastern Front.

    All of this is to indicate the fact that World War I brought about massive results and changes does not mean it was guided by a “purpose”. The simultaneous accidental detonation of nuclear stockpiles the world over would result in massive change but would not be the result of a “purpose”.

    • dsch says:

      So much this, especially the part where the author tries to distinguish ideology from, evidently, some other kind of brainwashing (what would that be, hypnosis?). It’s not easy to write for a popular audience, but it is eminently possible to do so without strawman arguments and distortion.

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  44. tigershuffle says:

    Robert….. not sure if you have seen this too link to twitter.com
    Well worth a follow on twitter too :)
    Great article by the way :)

  45. Emeraude says:

    the generals weren’t treating their military resources without care

    Some choice quotes from the Battle of the Somme British General, Sir Douglas Haig:

    The nation must be taught to bear losses. No amount of skill on the part of the higher commanders, no training, however good, on the part of the officers and men, no superiority of arms and ammunition, however great, will enable victories to be won without the sacrifice of men’s lives. The nation must be prepared to see heavy casualty lists.

    Success in battle depends mainly on morale and determination.

    The way to capture machine guns is by grit and determination.

    The machine gun is a much over rated weapon.

    Add to that a myriad of documented anecdotes, like Senegalese Tirailleurs dying before ever seeing one battle because no one had bothered to equip them properly for winter, death quotas, soldier being court martial-ed and executed for being issued the wrong color trousers – the list could go on… and while I would not dare to say no one in the upper military cared I certainly wouldn’t say care was was the cief value on display.

  46. slothcat84 says:

    Maybe a good game for kids who enjoy any FPS, but I am sure some historian such as yourself will be somewhat disappointed. Having to buy the French Army through DLC? Give me a break… I’ve been watching it in Beta and it looks like WW2 with WW1 skins.