Should video games keep going back to World War Two?
By Joe Harker
If you know a few things about video games, then you probably know that there have been hundreds set during World War Two. From series like Call of Duty and Medal of Honour that attempted to provide a realistic portrayal, though often through the lens of Saving Private Ryan, to more outlandish ones like Wolfenstein, video games have found plenty of material.
For a time the main titles largely stayed away from the conflict after fatigue from so many WW2 games and the growing popularity of more modern shooters, but Call of Duty is trumpeting their return like a nostalgic homecoming.
Going back to World War Two could be "a messy prospect", partially because it is well covered ground and partially because the pop culture perceptions of the conflict have changed. Call of Duty has been criticised in the past for presenting World War Two as shown in Saving Private Ryan, rather than the war as it actually was. In some ways the war was used so often because it could be seen as a just war, with the Nazis as clearly evil antagonists that allow the player to live out a hero fantasy.
In the time when modern shooters overtook ones set in World War Two some games decided to deconstruct the hero fantasy often provided. One particular game, Spec Ops: The Line, was almost completely devoted to taking apart the fantasy provided from series like Call of Duty and made gamers more critical of the player's role. Even if games set during World War Two have enemies that most would not have a problem with killing, gamers are more aware and less willing to accept being handed a hero fantasy.
Perhaps game studios have also moved with the times, as CoD WW2 developers Sledgehammer Games have said that they "touch on some really dark subject matter". While the series has not shied away from showing some of the horrors of the conflict in the past, it may be more willing to delve into history. Studio co-founder Michael Condrey explains that they brought in a historian and have tried to portray more aspects of the war without being a hero fantasy for players. He said: "In no way do you want to glorify violence, but at the same time you can't ignore it. When you talk about Nazi Germany and the atrocities committed by Hitler's regime, how do you honour the cause?
"It would be insincere not to touch on what was really happening. From the politics at the time, segregation among the allies, the role of women, to the Holocaust. By turning away from them we would not have brought the right level of awareness or be able to honour what was really happening."