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Video Games depicting non-white involvement in the World Wars isn't ‘politics’, it’s history


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As a relatively new medium, video games have tackled far less social issues than others, like cinema. As it matures, and with the rise of indie studios, it has increasingly covered hard-hitting topics in our society, whether it be terminal illness in That Dragon, Cancer, WMD’s and nuclear deterrence in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, or racism in Mafia III.

While all do a commendable job with their ‘political’ subjects, with Mafia III being one of the best examples in gaming, overall games are still dragging behind.

Because of the nature of games and the stereotypical view that they are just childish wastes of time, rather than art, serious topics are not depicted in games enough because corporations like EA and Activision usually don’t want to put off potential customers by including social issues in their games. Not every game has to have a message or social commentary, but it doesn’t mean these shouldn't be approached or handled at all.

As these types of games are in their infancy, many often become outraged when newer ones attempt to cast a light on an issue usually not depicted by any medium. Two games that have been on the receiving end of this lately are Battlefield 1 and Sledgehammer’s upcoming Call of Duty: World War Two.

In this age of the alt-right, where displaying any kind of diversity is shouted down as ‘Globalism’, it is not surprising the outrage has centred around race. 

The uproar around Battlefield 1 began when they had an African soldier on their box-art. This was just the tip of the iceberg as DICE didn’t shy away from showing that World War One was not just fought by white Europeans. One of several campaigns focuses on the Africa-American unit: The Harlem Hellfighters, although in truth it's just a prologue

Now, the game doesn’t go into the US’ Army segregation or institutional racism, it simply shows that, yes, black people did fight in this war. That was already too much for some but what had sent some Reddit users over the edge was the race of some of player classes in multiplayer.

Each army in the game has four different characters representing the Assault, Medic, Scout and Support classes respectively. In the British Army, the Medic is Indian and the Scout is African, whereas Germany and the US have one African soldier each.

This has lead to many on Reddit to become outraged at alleged cultural marxism where DICE have to over-included non-white characters to appease the new climate of political correctness. 

Reddit user ‘LordoftheBanter’ (no, I am not making that up) told me that "precisely zero of the empires had such enormous numbers of colonial troops". 

When I confronted him with the statistic that in the British Empire’s forces 70,000 Indian troops died in the war and over one million served he informed me that "Indians were fucking pack mules and a minority of them at that. They weren't trusted to fight on the front as many of them were ‘barbarian Mohammedans’ who were feared to side with Turkey."

Like many who fear their white-dominated narrative of history being taken over, ‘The Lord’ has butchered a fact to justify his opinion that their participation was meaningless.

Where he has something partly right was in the Indian’s primary theatre of war against the Ottomans, many of the Muslim troops didn’t want to fight against the Ottoman Sultan who was seen as the Caliph of Sunni Islam. This was not an insignificant problem as a third of the Indian Army was Muslim but most still served, with the ‘Khalifit Movement’ only picking up steam in India after the War was over when the new, more secular state of Turkey was emerging.

But the majority of the Indian army was still not Muslim, so ‘The Lord’ has greatly misused a fact to generalise a whole groups involvement in the war. As well as the Ottomans, they did fight against the Germans in France and made great sacrifices. More Indians died in the Great War than Americans in the Vietnam War, but the Indians involvement is relatively forgotten outside of their own subcontinent.

You may think that I am just assuming this Reddit user only cares about the white narrative of history being changed. But if ‘The Lord’ wasn't actually annoyed DICE were ‘attacking’ the primarily White narrative of World War One, he must be solely concerned with historical accuracy in the game right?

If Battlefield 1 was historically accurate, more akin to the game ‘Verdun’, maybe I would be sympathetic to his argument, because if we are getting into statistics, Africans are overrepresented in factions like the German army. However, Battlefield 1 is not historically accurate.

Above: Screenshot of Battlefield 1 gameplay (credited to IGN)

In multiplayer, you can play a battle set in 1914 with most players running around with the MP-18 submachine gun. This was developed and almost solely used by German Stormtroopers in 1918, basically making this situation impossible and not at all accurate. Another submachine gun, the Hellriegel, was a prototype, with only one ever being manufactured, but as many players can use this weapon as they want.

Things like tanks are way too maneuverable, the abundance of semi-automatic rifles isn't accurate and mustard gas dissipates after 20 seconds: the game isn't accurate. It is designed to be fun but is also trying to reflect the general atmosphere of the conflict. So why does anyone actually care that there are more Africans running around in the German army than there should be, when you can play as the British army, in 1914, with a German submachine gun four years before it was ever used?

Obviously, this argument doesn't hold and it’s simply a case of people being irked that non-whites are finally being represented in a larger way. This was a colonial war above all else and this is what the racial makeup of the factions represents - it is not trying to alter history.

This sort of thinking has carried over to new heights with Call of Duty: WW2 and what will be depicted in its campaign. Not shying away from generic World War Two shooters of yesteryear, it follows the 1st Infantry Division of the US Army, from the landings at Normandy to the fall of Berlin. 

What is interesting is that they are going to dive into racial elements of the war. One of your squad mates will be Jewish, helping the Holocaust hit home a little more, but what has greatly annoyed many is that Sledgehammer will show that the US Army was institutionally racist. This has been largely ignored by film and television, with Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, Band of Brothers and The Pacific all largely ignoring this fact. The undisputed heroism of the soldiers and the infallible cause of their fight has made many to hesitant to

The undisputed heroism of the soldiers and the infallible cause of their fight has made many to hesitant to criticise aspects of the allied war effort. Even the Soviet Union is giving a relatively free pass whether its largely forgetting they invaded Finland and Poland, massacred Polish officers and carried out mass rapes in Mongolia. It's largely ignored because 20 million Soviets died fighting the Nazi’s. The US Army had far less controversy so criticism of it is even less.

But people should remember the African-Americans who served couldn’t fight side by side with their white comrades. They also faced institutional racism back home. 

There was still almost endemic segregation in America, particularly in the South, where they didn’t have access to the same facilities and opportunities as whites. They could not access the best schools, most never went to University and most grew up in impoverished areas. They faced police brutality and also the threat of lynchings from groups like the Klu Klux Klan.

America was largely an institutionally racist nation in the 1940’s and it’s not too hard to see the irony that African-Americans were willing to fight and die for an even more racist nation but they were not treated equally back home. 

Showing the racism of the war is a bold step by Sledgehammer and as we move even further past the Second World War hopefully more people will be able to criticise the negative aspects of the conflict.

Again this has annoyed people on Reddit, with Reddit user ‘ConcernTro11’ writing "because racism against blacks is soooooo underrepresented in the media right? Maybe you enjoy being lectured about politics in your game but I don’t."

Racism is generally underplayed in the media, particularly in the US, but including the institutional racism of the US Army in a World War Two game isn't ‘politics’. The only political aspects of it are that right-wingers tend to ignore the history of minorities in their own nations, while liberals often want to include it-but all political leanings aside, it is objective history.

Above: Screenshot of Call of Duty: World at War Gameplay (credited to BBC)

For many like ‘Tro11’, even shedding a small light on the more negative aspects of the war is too outrageous and everything should just conform to the white heroic narrative of the past, and as another Reddit user ‘880cloud088’ perfectly summed up "it is ridiculous that the changing of HISTORY is in question nowadays to spare feelings".

That is exactly right, it shouldn't be changed or shied away from and you must question the views of those who don’t want the struggles of non-whites in the World War’s to be represented in any media.

In this age of Trump, Le Pen, Norbert Hofer and Brexit, the far right have been giving a new voice and this is evident on social media. They shout down any diversity as ‘globalisation’ and call out any new attempts to showcase minorities history as ‘white genocide’. This made up phenomenon causes people like ConcernTro11 and LordoftheBanter to become annoyed that events like World War One and Two are now being told in a way that recognises the sacrifice of non-whites. 

Solely singling out that racial makeup of European armies as the only historical inaccuracy, in a game like BF1 which has many, proves this. They hide behind selective history when it suits them to further their own narrative.

In the case of Call of Duty, many are uncomfortable with acknowledging the flaws of the US army in its arguably most noble venture. Both games are showing us objective history in different ways. Despite its deliberate inaccuracies, Battlefield 1 is trying to show us that many non-whites were involved where Call of Duty is going to attempt to depict the discrimination African-Americans faced from their own nation while making the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

While it may take a team of a certain political leaning to showcase these topics, its is objective history. DICE and Sledgehammer should be commended for trying to shine lights on aspects of the two most important wars in our collective human history that were not so flattering. 

Call of Duty: WW2 will be released in November this year.

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