On The End Of A Quill

On The End Of A Quill

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

5 Twentieth Century Wars that are Underused in Videogames

Wolfenstein rewrites history
There was a time when you couldn’t buy a first person shooter that wasn’t set in World War Two, Medal of Honor, Battlefield, Call of Duty, all started out by throwing wave after wave of Nazis at you as you tried to save the world. Nowadays most shooters pack you off to the Middle East where terrorists are lining up to be shot. Often your soldier for hire will be sent to exotic far flung places around the globe, because those nasty terrorists could be anywhere, doing nasty terroristic things. While there is a multitude of situations you could place our hero in imaginary future struggles, think of pretty much all the plots to all the Tom Clancy games, surely there has been enough battles in the past hundred years that could have lent their setting to a videogame? Outside of World War Two and the War on Terror there has been very little that looks at other conflicts.

Turning Point: and a poor attempt at alt history
The Vietnam War has had a number of games based around it. The Battlefield series went there, and the Shell Shock games are set during that war. World War One and trench warfare was the setting for Iron Storm, but that was placed in an alternate reality where the war never ended and it was 1964. The Wolfenstein series is taking a similar route with its next game, where the main character B.J. Blazkowicz is still fighting the Nazis in 1960. Some alternate history games are excellent, see the Wolfenstein games, some are less so, see Turning Point: Fall of Liberty. If you prefer things to be a bit more true to life, then head to the war in Afghanistan with the Russian made game 9th Company; or fight against the Russians in that war with Rambo III, which may be a less accurate representation.

Warrior of Rome II on the MegaDrive
It seems post WW1 only gets a look in shooting game wise, as before this time guns didn’t hold much ammo, which took an age to load, and there wasn’t much in the way of tanks or long range weapons either. This type of warfare seems to fit better with large map based strategy games. Ancient Rome, to the Crusades, to the Napoleonic Wars, World War Two and beyond has been fodder for strategy enthusiasts, but First Person Shooters not so much. For an example of how these wars just don’t work as FPS’s, pick up Gods and Generals, which was set during the American Civil War and based on the movie of the same name. Once your slow firing pistol and musket were out of ammo you were left in an open field brandishing your sword like an idiot, though not as idiotic as some of the AI in the game.
View the Hell that was the American Civil War
So now let’s take a look at some wars from the recent past that are crying out to be made into first person shooters. I make this list in full acknowledgement that a number of these conflicts are sore spots on the memories of some nations. Often there is no ‘victor’ in the conflict as such and no real ‘evil bad guys’, a role that the Nazis conveniently fill so well in WW2 games. Plus, even when you are portraying the ‘good’ guys you can run into problems. Problems such as those that beset the still to be released Iraqi War game Six Days in Fallujah. This list is in the spirit of books and films that also look at these conflicts, and asks why videogames can’t do the same.

5) Korean War
Sam Fisher was banned in South Korea
M.A.S.H. on the Atari 2600
It is surprising that this war hasn’t been drawn on more by all types of media. It involved all the major players of the time, the U.S. and the British along with the U.N. and South Koreans on one side, with the Chinese and the Soviets allied with the North Koreans on the other. Starting in 1950 the battlefront swung wildly up and down the peninsula until it settled down somewhere along the 38th Parallel in the middle of ’51. It combined fast moving armoured warfare with combat stuck down in trenches. Casualties were over 2.5m before the signing of an armistice in 1953. Britain handed out two Victoria Crosses when a force of 600 faced off against 30,000 Chinese on the Imjin River. Over the duration of the conflict the U.S. awarded 136 Medals of Honor, this volume of awards per year is only topped by WW2 and the American Civil War in U.S. history. In comparison, since 2001, in Iraq and Afghanistan only 11 Medals have been awarded. Perhaps games haven’t looked at the Korean War yet because technically it still isn’t over, with both sides still in a state of cease fire. Or perhaps it’s because the only thing people think of when the Korean War is mentioned are random episodes of M.A.S.H.
4) Chaco War
This was the bloodiest war fought on South America soil in the twentieth century. Two Paraguayans and three Bolivians died for every square mile of the disputed territory.  It was between two of the regions poorest countries, who were both desperate to control the Chaco area because it was thought to be rich in oil deposits. The large oil companies of the time had interest in the region also and behind the scenes would have supported one side or the other. This war was the first time aerial warfare had come to South America, though in some very old obsolete planes. The population of Paraguay was a third of Bolivia’s, but it managed its war effort better and came out on top by the time a Peace Treaty was signed in 1938. The war was fought in a very arid region, often soldiers died more from lack of water and from disease than from the enemy. The importance of gaining accurate supplies from the air was crucial to the outcome of some battles. The region is still a bit of a powder keg today, as the U.S. want to build a base there to oversee ‘humanitarian’ efforts in nearby Argentina.

3) Algerian War of Independence
Indy visited Algeria, but mostly to chat up women
This is the war that brought down the French Fourth Republic in 1958, helping Charles de Gaulle to come to power and start the Fifth Republic. What is interesting about this conflict is that everyone seemed to be fighting everyone else. It was never solely the French versus the Algerians. A large number of Algerians would have considered themselves French and would have wanted to stay part of France. Those who wanted to break free from French rule generally divided themselves between the Algerian National Movement, the Algerian National Liberation Front, and even the Algerian Communists. But they often clashed with each other, while the communists would have been influenced by the communists in France and would have initially been against liberation. The French fought the Algerian insurgents, for a great depiction of urban warfare of this time watch Gillo Pontocorvo’s The Battle of Algiers, but as the war dragged on it was seen that Algeria must be given its independence. So the French had then to contend with those who did not want them to pull out of Algeria; the French Algerian Front was formed in 1960, while the Secret Armed Organisation upped their bombing campaign and assassination attempts in an effort to bring about a political collapse. Torture was used by the French during the campaign, conveniently forgetting that France was kept under the thumb of an oppressive regime less than two decades earlier. France did not even recognised the period as a war until 1999 and it has deeply scarred relations between the two nations. So perhaps it is not surprising that a videogame has not used it as its subject matter.
2) Second Congo War, or Africa’s First World War
Star of Africa on the C64
Ever since King Leopold took an interest in extracting as much resources as he could from the Congo (1885), it has remained one of the bloodiest areas on the planet. The Second Congo War started in 1998 and ended nearly five years later in 2003. In that time it brought in 9 African nations, over 20 armed groups and left over five million dead, it is the deadliest conflict since WW2. Don’t fancy playing as a soldier from any of those nations as they try and bring stability (read: exploit the Congo’s resources), then how about as one of the 20,000 U.N. peacekeeping troops as they launch military operations against the various rebel groups? Of course whoever attempted to make a game that sprawled this massive area of dense rainforest might have to gloss over the fact that everywhere you look there are brutal genocides happening and child soldiers running around.
1) Indochina War
Conflict in Vietnam on the Apple II
The French again! After WW2 ended they were determined to hold onto their colonial possessions and this war went on from 1945/6 until 1954. Unfortunately the French seemed to forget what being exploited as a colony was like under Nazi occupation and went straight to fighting the Viet Minh. Also failing to notice that the Viet Minh had fought bitterly against Japanese occupation and weren’t going to roll over when the French strolled back into town. The conflict brought in other neighbouring nations at times too, as well as some of the big hitters. China and the Soviets supplied the communist Viet Minh, while the U.S. gave assistance to the French. Campaign after campaign was launched as the years went on, with big victories and big losses being dealt on both sides; but as public opinion in France turned against the war it seemed that everything they tried to keep Vietnam in the French Empire was failing. Soon the French had lost control of most of Indochina except for enclaves in the main towns and cities. When the end came it was in a spectacular military defeat for the French at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. High up in north-western Vietnam, surrounded by hostile jungle was the town of Dien Bien Phu which had been heavily fortified by the French and could only be supplied by the air. After a number of successful attacks in early 1954 the French thought they were making inroads into the operations of the Viet Minh in the area. But come March their airstrip was destroyed and they were reliant on parachuted supply drops, at the end of the month they were surrounded by 50,000 Viet Minh. It became a war of attrition as the circle around the French became ever tighter. By May the situation was so bad that the French were asking the Americans to drop a nuclear bomb to help turn the situation around (Operation Vulture). On the 7th of May the town fell and over 11,000 prisoners were taken by the Viet Minh. The garrison at Dien Bien Phu accounted for a tenth of total French forces in the region, its prestige and global standing took a massive blow. This war did make it into Sid Meier and Ed Bever’s Microprose game Conflict in Vietnam as a prelude scenario to the main battles in the game covering the Americans in the sixties and seventies; and a Vietnamese game company did release an FPS about the war in 2010 called 7554, but by all accounts it isn’t a very good game.
There isn’t a year in the twentieth century were two opposing forces didn’t come to blows. It seems strange that only a fraction of these events are used as source material for videogames. What do people think? Are there other conflicts which could lend themselves to a videogame interpretation above the five just mentioned? Should developers steer clear of real world conflicts and instead put their energies into imagined scenarios featuring made up armies? Is portraying a conflict in a First Person Shooter somehow worse than moving a battalion from one hex to another on a map? Shooting games are massive sellers. Books and movies based around war are hugely popular. So is it possible to marry the two without being labelled as exploitative? Right now, I’m not so sure.

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