Or, why I’m tired of hearing the American side of the story.
Recently the newest iteration of the Call of Duty franchise was announced: CoD WWII. And with this latest entry the series is returning to its historical roots in much the same way that EA did with their Battlefield franchise. And personally, I’m a big fan of this. As a student of history, I always love to see developers delve into the past. The events of the 20th century shaped our modern world, with dozens of nation clashing in the most terrible conflict humans have ever engaged in.
But if American portrayals of the war are to believed, the war was effectively won with the D-Day landings and the subsequent march on Berlin. With Allied soldiers closing in the suicide of Adolf Hitler would lead to victory in the European Theatre, and Matt Damon would get to go home. Similarly, this latest CoD will follow a familiar trajectory with its single player campaign being described thusly: “Call of Duty: WWII focuses on the actions of a squad from 1944 to 1945 in the European theatre of conflict, at a time when the Allied forces were starting to gather strength on their march into Germany. The campaign will cover fighting in occupied France, Belgium, and across the Rhine into Germany.”
During episode 490 of IGN’s Playstation podcast, Beyond, editor Marty Sliva (who saw the game behind closed doors) described the D-Day landing depicted in the game. This won’t be the first time CoD has depicted the famous amphibious assault, let alone the Normandy campaign, and it seems overdone to me. And that’s saying something, as I am an Australian, and we kind of wrote the book on glorifying botched naval landings.
Speaking of which, Battlefields 1’s vignette style of storytelling allowed us to experience a lot of different perspectives that you don’t get to experience very often in video games. Being able to play as an Australian Digger during the Gallipoli campaign was a fantastic inclusion, not only because that particular battle is carved into the Australian psyche, but because I can’t think of another game off the top of my head that even allows you to play as an Australian, let alone an Italian or Bedouin.
And I think that’s the point I’m driving at here. Recently Polygon published an article titled “Call of Duty: WWII’s ‘diversity’ is nothing more than marketing”, in which the authors take umbrage with the diversity, or lack there of (which is fascinating, when you consider their writing staff are almost entirely Caucasian), in the CoD: WWII reveal trailer. Hell, I don’t think Polygon even knows what Polygon is upset about this time, but it got me thinking. In fact, that article is the reason I find myself writing this piece, just not for the reasons they were driving at. There IS a lack of diversity at play here, but it is not a matter of racism or sexism, it’s a matter of perspective.
Let me preface this next part by saying that I appreciate the service of the military of all nations, not just my own. It’s a job I doubt I could take on, and I respect the sacrifice of the individuals who dedicate their lives to the service of their country, past and present. I also appreciate that the Call of Duty games are made by American companies, and have every right to depict their stories as they see fit. But the simple fact remains: the United States did not enter WWII until December 7, 1941, and did not land troops in Europe until November 8, 1942, with the advent of Operation Torch and the subsequent liberation of Italy. The D-Day landings, and the final push on Berlin wouldn’t begin until June 6, 1944. But the Second World War began on September 1, 1939, at which time the United States was determined not to be drawn into the war, maintaining a strict neutrality for the entire first half of the conflict.
That is not to downplay America’s contribution to the resolution of the war, the conflict would have gone on for years without them. And the United States were instrumental in the Pacific Theatre, doing a lot of the heavy lifting as far as combating the Japanese went. But I would like to see this conflict be explored BEFORE the bombing of Pearl Harbour. The darkest days of the war, and some of the most brutal, desperate engagements were fought without the aid of the United States. During the bleak early days of the conflict, when Hitler’s victory seemed almost a foregone conclusion, America remained neutral, despite the pleading of the Allied powers. There were three whole years of fighting before Americans arrived in Europe, and some of the heaviest fighting took place in areas that would be be fascinating to explore in a CoD game.
For example the fall of France. Once thought to be the greatest land power in Europe, and thus the world, the French where caught completely off guard by the stunning speed and ferocity of the German’s never before seen Blitzkrieg tactics. In just six short weeks, France would fall to the Nazi’s. I think we are far enough removed from the conflict now to explore the German side of the conflict (at least I think so) and the elation they must have felt at this stunning victory. But to play from the point of view of the French forces, desperately trying to counter this new style of warfare and fighting for their very survival, would make for an incredibly emotional narrative experience.
Likewise, the contributions of the Red Army are often overlooked in the mainstream narrative of WWII. Long before American boots landed on the shores of Normandy, the Russians broke the back of the German army in the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk. Historians have often described the battles of the Eastern Front as having been fought with a desperation and ferocity that was virtually unknown to the soldiers of the Western front. To be fair, earlier CoD games in the series have touched on these events, like Stalingrad, but they barely scratched the surface. The Russians engaged the most elite divisions of the German Wehrmacht at the height of its terrifying power, and won (despite being woefully ill equipped, and suffering hideous casualties).
And personally, and admittedly somewhat selfishly, I would like to to see the African campaign explored, and play as soldiers of the Commonwealth. For example, Erwin Rommel, commander of the Afrika corp and arguably the finest German commander of the war, was undefeated in his conflict with Commonwealth forces in North Africa. Until he came upon the town of Tobruk, which was defended by a small garrison of several Australian brigades, some British artillery and a small contingent of Indian troops. Ordered to hold the city for a minimum of eight weeks, Tobruk was held for five months, despite Commonwealth forces being vastly outnumbered and under-supplied. Known as the Rats of Tobruk, because of the way in which the defenders would emerge from their trenches and foxholes and scavenge supplies from the fallen Germans and Italians, this name would (in typical Australian fashion) be worn as a figurative and literal badge of honour, who would afterwards take on a golden rat as their insignia.
These are just a few examples of areas of the war that did not feature American soldiers. And while I imagine Americans make up a majority of the audience of gamers that buy Call of Duty games every year, even they must be tired of playing out the same tired scenarios. Take a page out of Battlefield’s book and let us see this conflict through different lenses! Some diversity, but not for diversity’s sake, could reinvigorate the franchise. After all, isn’t that why WWII is the setting this time around, because we all got tired of futuristic shooters?
What do you think, would you like to see a different side of this conflict? Let me know in the comments below, and as always thanks for reading!