There’s a fine line to be drawn when basing a videogame on a war, especially in an era where social media and “outrage” culture are so prevalent. Ensuring that your game is respectful and honours those who were affected by these events while also creating a fun gameplay experience is difficult. When EA announced Battlefield 1 would be taking place during the First World War, there was a lot of trepidation. Despite the fact that we’ve had countless games that take place in the Second World War, the Vietnam War and, at least over the last decade, various Middle East conflicts, the brutality and sheer pointlessness of the Great War remained at least somewhat sacred.
With this in mind, EA and DICE put forth a lot of effort during Battlefield 1’s launch to swear up and down that they would take care to treat the conflict with the gravity and seriousness that it deserves (ignoring the Americanizing of the conflict and the lack of French and Russian campaigns). Of course, at the end of the day this is a videogame where you get points for killing other players, so their “concern” was certainly an attempt to cover their asses for the inevitable backlash.
However, Battlefield 1 received critical acclaim and players seemed to be enjoying it without much controversy or indignation– until recently. Some marketing genius in charge of the company’s Twitter account thought that #justWW1things was a clever and crafty way to merge modern meme-culture with the game’s setting.
“Who cares? It’s just a game. I don’t remember this kind of outrage with any other war game,” you say.
“The game itself doesn’t exactly do the conflict justice either, why get mad now?”
Here’s the thing. You can make a game based on essentially any war from history that included grand-scale atrocities and make it fun. We’ve played as Romans fighting Gauls (a genocide the likes of which wouldn’t be seen for another thousand years), Russian soldiers defending Stalingrad (people were literally eating their children), and the unintentional firebombing of civilians in the Middle East (ballsy move Spec Ops: The Line). However, none of these games have had such blatantly misplaced marketing campaigns that promised to be respectful and then made mustard gas and flamethrowers into #squadgoals and “too hot for the club” jokes.
You’ve got to pick a side here, EA. Either admit, full front, you want to make a fun game in a First World War setting that takes some rather grand leaps in historical accuracy and roll with that. People will be mad, but people will always be mad. Especially when dealing with such an incredibly powerful, depressing, and sacrosanct event like the First World War. We all knew this game wasn’t going to be a perfect and heartfelt take on the subject; sitting in a trench for days on end only to get your legs blown off as soon as you step foot on the ladder does not make for entertaining gameplay. But don’t try to play like you’re paying tribute to the brutality and suffering and turn around and post goofy hip memes with obnoxious hashtags. It’s not so much that the company is being flagrant in their disrespect, it’s that they can’t seem to make up their minds about which direction they want to go. I mean, they made a war crime (poison gas) a usable weapon. Have you ever seen the effects of mustard gas? Even Hitler thought that was going too far.
Speaking from a personal standpoint, I have stayed away from Battlefield 1 because of my interest in the Great War. I don’t want to taint my knowledge of and respect for the conflict by playing a videogame where I can blast my way through the trenches with some American kid calling me names over the headset. However, I’m not against the idea of Battlefield 1, and I’m certainly not going to stand on a soapbox and chastise EA for making it or other players for enjoying it. I can maintain my reverence for the conflict on my own without attempting to make other people feel bad for having fun with it. It’s a videogame after all, not a historical documentary. However, the PR and Marketing for the game has been all over the place, and this is what offends me the most. You cannot guarantee you’re taking the war seriously and then try to sell the game using joke memes and hashtags. Have fun with the game, but don’t be a dick about it. Also, get a new marketing team.