Everybody has heard about the Battlefield V messy situation, right? Why is world so up in arms about it? Accusations fly everywhere ranging from over zealousy to hatred towards women, to ignorance and historical washing.
I took the noble undertaking of diving straight into the mud of shitty accusations across the internet and did my best to try and understand what’s going on. I think I might have an idea, hear me out:
The origin of this debacle is much more innocent, yet more complex, and I boiled it down to the lack of understanding the mechanics behind true and factual historical analysis and media portrayal. For this one I had to dig out my History’s bachelor’s degree and put it to test! Join me, either you’re a BF5 frivolous hater or a feverous defender and let’s raid each other trenches and find out how you are both wrong.
-Historical Authenticity vs Historical Accuracy
Who doesn’t enjoy their definitions in the internet? I sure do. Let’s get this out of the way:
Historical Authenticity is the feeling you obtain from identifying a collective image of something historically plausible based on your own knowledge, ideas and perceptions. I.e- A medieval knight from the 14th century wearing armour from the 12th century can feel “real”- since it fits your basic idea of medieval warfare- while not being historically realistic or accurate. Now imagine that the same knight would be wearing a Japanese katana and Kevlar armour. The felling of authenticity would shatter right away. Authenticity is all about conveying the feeling of realism.
Historical Accuracy is the effort of trying to replicate to the utmost extent of our knowledge and technical skills the real-life counterpart of said historical event down to the most minute detail in a digital environment.
-Expectations and Preconceptions
Memories of Battlefield 1942 are fond to me. It was my second or third World War II game I’ve played. I bought the game and it couldn’t really run on my pc at the time, So I took it to my cousins’ new home computer and we played it for hours on end, one life was his, next was mine. He drove the tank and I fired the gun. I controlled the airplane and he would drop the bombs. Good’ol improvised co-op. I remember thinking we were the Eisenhower and Monty of back then, when we could end matches in minutes, we could predict the AI moves, we would plan bombing runs and sink approaching landing crafts, killing bots by the dozens.
The feeling persisted as I grew older and so did the games, my tastes expanded to other genres and soon I was a WW2 buff, delving into books and documentaries, building Airfix models and playing every World War game I could find, and it didn’t matter if it was good or bad. My own idea of games being realistic depictions of war only grew stronger. I soon expanded my interest into modern warfare and medieval warfare. I was so high in my own strategic and knowledge castle that I considered myself the utmost authority in World War 2 gaming and history. I knew all the battles, all the regiments, all the guns, all the statistics, I knew everything there was to know about this conflict- or so I thought. Even with my deep understanding of history, videogames tainted my concepts of warfare and history, I was not mature enough nor
did I possess the correct mental tools to be able to separate what was real and what was authentic, and my first mistake was to assume I knew that.
I remember my first encounter with the ArmA series to be a rather harsh. I would go on accusing the game of being “unrealistic” and “making no sense”. This had nothing to do with Medal of Honor or Battlefield I’ve played so much! You couldn’t even see the enemies, battles were so slow and boring and sometimes they never even took place. Sometimes I would die without ever seeing my enemies and killing them without they saw me. It made no sense in my head. War was a visceral, close quarters and personal affair. I was not supposed to be hiding in a bush for 45 minutes waiting for a convoy to arrive, its expected of me, the virtual soldier, to get out there and find the convoy, charging it head front and mowing down enemies by the thousands. And I thought I was right. Time and further study showed me I wasn’t.
This is all to say: I can understand where you are coming from, you have a perceived notion of what is historical and what isn’t and that’s an important part of professional historical analysis and good on you for thinking critically. As everything else in life, closing our hatches can be our demise and it will lead us down the narrow path of meta-ignorance: A state in which one is so ignorant about something it fails to realize he is.
Historical perception is something curious, since we cannot ever truly understand what happened in war, we can have a basic picture of it based of either historical accounts and records such was live witnesses, writing records, maps, schematics, video and sound and even empathy towards those who were there. While for the most part records are true, they are also filled with small cracks. Witness accounts not always match, images of the same thing result in different conclusion, some writing records have been destroyed or damaged, etc. And those cracks are filled by our own preconceived notions of the world and society we live in mixed with a bit of historical fantasy we ourselves take for real. Those asking for historical accuracy in Battlefield V and seeing the game as such are not inherently wrong, they just lack the deep historical knowledge to understand what true warfare was like and assume that something historically authentic is historically accurate. Something I’ve done before, but Battlefield is the former, not the later.
I failed to recall (Correct me if I am wrong) a single game in the franchise that where historical accuracy was it “raison d’etre”. They never really pretended it was either. Graphics got better, gameplay got more intense and the gun handling might have felt more authentic and the feeling of “realism” or “accuracy” to their real-life counter-parts might have increased slightly. It comes as weird to see so much fuss about demanding for a return to something that never existed in the first place. Remember Battlefield Bad Company 2 when, in the starting mission all the Japanese soldiers were carrying M1 Garand rifles and building a “Black Super Weapon” of sorts? In Battlefield 3 you could use a robot to kill people by slowly welding them to death and proceed to destroy a Main Battle Tank? Or BF4 with its futuristic DLC with railguns and hover tanks?
Weirdly enough, Battlefield 1, from what I can recall, was the one that made a slight effort to be at least interpreted as something more personal and tried to give a human face to a tragedy ridden war. It still fell flat on its face the moment you shouted “Avante Savoia” and started to mow down dozens of Austrians by carrying a machine gun terminator style dressed up in a medieval armoured suit. At least it tried, something it has never done before. Even in the (arguably) most memorable section of the game, when you are said “this is frontline combat, you are not expected to survive), this WW1 entry proceeds to squat and shit all over realism when it gives everybody semi-automatic machineguns. Battlefield games are nothing more than
Hollywood, dramatized and exaggerated, over the top and flat out unrealistic yet authentic depictions of its real-life counterparts. The successful formula of Battlefield is based on taking the interesting and engaging and charismatic bits of war and removing the boring slow ones to give you a very confined, adrenaline stocked experience.
-The “This is just a game” argument
This is not a valid argument, I’m sorry. Coming out on reddit saying a videogame is not a history book so it can do whatever it wishes is just wrongful thinking in and of itself when the company is trying to sell you the game advertises it based on a real-life conflict that’s still too close to heart to many people, mainly in countries where after matches of the war are still felt to this very day. Remember Battlefield 1 launching without French troops and everyone agreeing that it was wrong, distasteful and disrespectful to launch a game focused entirely on World War 1 and block behind a paywall a nation whose sons died in a senseless war? The same feeling can be applied here. History is pride for a lot of people, some ethereal, ungraspable concept that drives a lot of people’s lives. I’ve worked with some polish colleagues and they talk a lot about World War 2 and how it changed their country and culture forever. You can really see the pain in the speak and the pride in their words for how their grandfathers fought. These subjects are very sensitive.
History is the never-ending thread of mankind greatest achievements and mistakes, but one that will always drive us forward. And when a company advertises something as an immersive experience, based in such an historical landmark it sets expectations and those preconceived notions begin to set themselves, and that’s only natural.
By this I don’t mean that war must be replicated in its most raw and gruesome realistic ways, but this side of the argument must understand that unmet expectations create a lot of discontent and anger, especially if one feels they have been manipulated. “The secret to a happy life is low expectations”, we all know that.
We also know that Battlefield V is actively trying to be historically authentic, and for some people, certain aspect of what was showed broke the feeling of authenticity and the illusion was shattered. Unfortunately, both sides decided it was best to crap on their hands and throw shit at each other rather than trying to understand what happened.
-The merits of historical authenticity
Some of the best games doing public service for a better understanding of history are full of historical inaccuracies, but is history anything else other than the paths of our past? Does the fact that in games such as Total War roman soldiers wear the wrong kind of belt or sandals matter when the games are focusing on letting you know more important and impactful aspects of history such as the roman political landscape or reforms?
These distilled versions of history are great for people that are not interested in delving much into it but won’t mind learning a bit while they are having fun. The same can be applied to pretty much every historical game you can think about. Age of Empires is historical authentic but far from realistic or accurate, especially today. Company of Heroes is a prime example of this. It feels so much like you’re playing a miniature version of a World War 2 battle. The men of war series take it a notch above and improves on some of CoH short comings. Even paradox games will fall flat on their faces if you analyse them with just a little detail and their pretence
for historical accuracy will immediately fall into authenticity- but they are great at engaging people with history and they incentivize further research.
What you need to get out of this conversation is that there are more positive aspects than negatives to historical authenticity when done right and focusing on the right aspects. To be honest I believe Battlefield V will do this. What if there are women fighting? Will you realistically pay attention to it while playing? Doubtfully so. And if you do, in the heat of combat it’s just another soldier on the frontline and you don’t care, if it shoots you, you will shoot back and move on to the next enemy, just like you would in real life.
Have fun with it, be glad there are women in there, so your girlfriend can be a badass by your side if she wants to. Be glad you can tower flak guns in jeeps and do drive by’s, real war is terrible enough to recreate in videogames. Celebrate the fact that those who are handicapped can customize their character, so they can identify themselves more with it.
More people having fun is more people playing the game and series you care so much about. Give it a little rest and enjoy another fun stomp through one of the most dire and disgraceful times of human history. I doubt anyone that died in that conflict would feel disrespected by the notion that their sacrifice is being used to make people come together and learn more about a conflict that they fortunately never had to go through.
Now can we please go back to enjoy videogames?