Historical Accuracy Vs. Political Correctness In Gaming

The Dilemma of the Modern Game Dev




There are several annual certainties in the life of a gamer, such as the fact almost all of your income will be wasted on games you’ll likely never launch, thanks to those oh-so-tempting Steam sales – another is the inevitable release of yet another Call of Duty (COD). Yes, it’s that time of year again, another COD has been announced and this time, the franchise is returning to its Second World War roots — or is it?

I want COD for Christmas, Granddad!

Parents, and grandparents, will scratch their heads as the youngest in the family asks simply for ‘COD’ this Christmas, but after the initial fish-related-confusion has passed, Granddad might be pleased to learn his grandchild is taking an apparent interest in WWII. That is the name of the new COD incidentally: Call of Duty: WWII – it couldn’t be much clearer, this is a game based on major real-world events.

The infamous global conflict has inevitably appeared in a multitude of games over the years, and it was a WWII-era game that kick-started the COD series, back in 2003. Since then, we have had a further three COD games set during this devastating period of our collective history; the most recent being World at War (WaW), released in ’08.  In WaW, it was clear who were the ‘bad guys’ — if Nazi’s were not horrific enough, Treyarch famously turned them into flesh-eating zombies.

Parents, and grandparents, will scratch their heads as the youngest in the family asks simply for ‘COD’ this Christmas, but after the initial fish-related-confusion has passed, Granddad might be pleased to learn his grandchild is taking an apparent interest in WWII. That is the name of the new COD incidentally: Call of Duty: WWII – it couldn’t be much clearer, this is a game based on major real-world events.

The infamous global conflict has inevitably appeared in a multitude of games over the years, and it was a WWII-era game that kick-started the COD series, back in 2003. Since then, we have had a further three COD games set during this devastating period of our collective history; the most recent being World at War (WaW), released in ’08.  In WaW, it was clear who were the ‘bad guys’ — if Nazi’s were not horrific enough, Treyarch famously turned them into flesh-eating zombies.

For the release of Call of Duty: WWII, Sledgehammer Games have decided to keep Nazi iconography to a minimum within the single player campaign, and completely omit any trace whatsoever from the multiplayer aspect, to avoid causing offense.

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It is worth noting that the last time COD was set during the Second World War, swastikas were prevalent throughout many of the multiplayer maps and there was no backlash of complaints. Sledgehammer’s argument is that they want to retain some historical accuracy within single-player but believe multiplayer should be about bringing a community together.

Image result for waw dome

A Battle of Two Insignificant Moral Powers

Given the immense popularity of COD multiplayer and the addictive continual cycle of replayability that online multiplayer brings, this is the primary experience over a prolonged period for the majority of gamers. That experience will be defined as a simple series of meaningless battles between two insignificant, opposing forces sharing an apparent equality of ethics.

Nazism, is self-evidently a vile ideology, and, the horrors and atrocities that took place at the hands of the Wehrmacht, the SS, the Gestapo, and, the Nazi Party headed by one of the most hated men to have ever lived, are undeniably just that – horrific atrocities, but, sadly, they did happen, and to paint over these horrors, not only prevents immersion for those fully aware of the war but can also potentially distort the understanding of the war for less-educated audiences.

Selective censorship & ‘progressive dictatorship’

It is also a dangerous approach, given the fact that there has been no word of any exclusion of Soviet iconography. If the hammer and sickle can be seen proudly flying, despite the abhorrent atrocities also carried out by the Soviets under the rule of a malevolent dictator, Joseph Stalin: what impression is this giving off to the audience? Selective censorship implies that certain harsh facts of the war are so bad that any reference needs to be eradicated, while others are ‘fair game’. This was not a particularly pleasant period of our collective history, and the truth is that a multitude of parties were guilty of repugnant actions. Either censor equally or not at all.

Confusion over the war is inevitable, particularly when considering a further choice of political correctness over historical accuracy, undertaken by Sledgehammer Games — women, and ethnic minorities, within the ranks of all armies, including, ironically, the German army. Equality, and, equal opportunities, are a positive aspect of contemporary life: something that certainly could not be said under the rule of the Nazi Party in the ’30s and ’40s.

It is a difficult and contentious cause for debate. On the one hand, gaming has been a male-dominated pastime, and promoting an increase in female gamers, is a good thing. Gaming should be an inclusive and accessible hobby. But, on the other hand, gamers broadly love immersion within their games, and, a game with a historical setting which is barely recognizable, is certainly not immersive.

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Ironically, transparently turning a blind eye to the atrocious acts of the Nazi’s, airbrushing over their true persona and making them appear to be progressive and inclusive, is a major catalyst for justified offense.

Image result for cod wwii multiplayer

Fantasy; Dressed as History

Few would disagree that this was a period full of unpleasant events and scenarios, but, as unpleasant as they may be, they happened. Surely, if developers want to ensure political correctness is strictly adhered to, picking a historical setting such as WWII is begging for controversy. Perhaps, if the restriction of female and ethnic minority characters within a fascist army, really would cause a widespread public offense, then WWII, and indeed, pretty much all historical wars should be avoided in the gaming world. Utter fiction would be the only way forward.

An overly zealous approach to political correctness is not a new phenomenon and it is certainly not unique to Sledgehammer Games. There were similar groans about Battlefield 1. Many will also argue that games such as COD can never be truly immersive and realistic, due to their arcadey nature. This may be true, but, as with any good film, book, or game: if a genuine event or period within our history is used as a setting, a certain degree of plausibility needs to be present. That is not to say that artistic license should be non-existent, but, generally, media that does not portray itself transparently as fantasy, yet distorts reality within a historical setting to such an extent that the setting almost becomes unrecognizable, does not go down well with most audiences.

Seeing a plethora of women, and, ethnic minorities, happily fighting for the Nazi’s, and therefore fighting for the success of fascism, is bizarre to the well-informed, and dangerous to those unaware of the historical truths. The Germans were undoubtedly the ‘bad guys’ during this conflict: they should be treated as such. By removing any trace of evil, Sledgehammer has made this game a level playing-field of not good against evil, but, merely of A against B.

It’s a good job, the aforementioned grandfathers are unlikely to know any of this, prior to purchasing for their grandchildren — this utter eradication of the immorality of the Axis powers would surely offend ex-servicemen, who fought to topple the rise of fascism.