By Sam Coles:
War has been depicted in video games as far back as I can remember, but the usual argument is that it glorifies it which is mostly untrue but I can understand why people think this due to the interactive nature of the medium. War games have shown us the true horrors of war, with harrowing endeavours from the beaches of Normandy to the dark and damp rat tunnels of the Vietnam War. I want to discuss a few examples of how it shows how horrible it was for these men and women that serve in the military.
Call of Duty: World at War
Call of Duty: World at War when it as first announced I was rolling my eyes, because at that point I was feeling the fatigue of World War II shooters as I had been playing them for 10 years almost. However what we got was one of the most unapologetic depictions of the Second World War as they ramped up the gore as well as the tone being really dark.
It throws it in your face at the start of the game, there is no patronising tutorial it starts off you being a prisoner of war at the hands of the Japanese where your squad mate is being torture where he then has his throat sliced open. It’s a memorable moment as I thought Is this how they actually acted in the war as I was a naïve 15 year old at the time. Surprisingly the BBFC only gave this game a 15+ probably due to historically context, but even when PEGI rated it they gave it a 16+.
The game also takes the battle tactics of the time with the Japanese, the don’t just sit there plinking at you from cover they Banzai charge you, lay traps and send in Kamikaze pilots. It shows an unapologetic authenticity with the Second World War, because the game doesn’t give a damn about your feelings.
It doesn’t stop there when you play as the Soviets, it focuses on story more as the gameplay is stock and generic as you have the Germans fight more regulated as oppose to the barbaric and guerrilla nature of the Japanese. You start off in the streets of Stalingrad with your dead comrades surrounding you, you fortunately survive the endeavour and you find Sargent Reznov where he wants revenge for the massacre.
This is truly where the campaign gets dark with the subject matter, because the closer you get to the heart of Berlin the more blood thirsty the Soviets become. They start doing things that just as bad if not worse than what the Nazis are doing, where they execute surrendering soldiers in horrific fashion by throwing Molotov’s at them and mowing them down with machine gun fire. Some of these happen just off screen and you can miss them. The hypocrisy from the Soviets is at a high because they acting are acting in the exact same manner as the Germans did in Stalingrad, acting as if it justified. Call of Duty World at War’s campaign still sticks with me even 10 years later with its tone as I can’t think of one moment of levity.
Now I know what you’re thinking “Halo? How is that a good depiction of war”? Well compare to the other games in the series, Halo: Reach’s tone is completely different it doesn’t have an over the top and epic atmosphere. The tone is serious and it shows that Spartans are not unstoppable killing machines, as they are well… human.
The fate of the playable character is sealed at the start of the game as you see your helmet stick out of the ground, after the heat of battle as the ash settles on the ground. Noble team are picked off one by one over the course of the game, and this it’s not built up half the time as sometimes they will be taken out in mid-sentence. It shows a darker side of the conflict between the human race and The Covenant, plus the ending of the game where it is just you and enemy where you have to “Survive” which is impossible and you die fighting for Earth.
The Spartans in this game are not shown as super soldiers in this game, although they have those abilities but they act in a more down to earth and believable manner as there sarcasm is realistic.
Spec Ops: The Line
Now I expect you are sick of me talking about Spec Ops The Line, but this is the ultimate example of showing horror of war where it puts the weight of killing people on your shoulders. The game never backs down and shows you horrific images, where the game starts to berate you for your actions.
As I have said before the scene that still sticks out to me to this day which makes me feel horrible every time I play it is the white phosphorous section. You are tasked of clearing a camp which you think is filled with enemy combatants, however after the dust has settled you are forced to walk through your destruction as you see soldiers writhing around in pain screaming and moaning. It’s not until you come across a crowd of civilians chard to a crisp, this is where the story of the game flips and the main character snaps, it shows what a soldier goes through in war and how it affects the mind.
War is not easy to depict in a respectful manner in video games, as you have to make the game fun. However these examples deliver dark and horrifying stories where soldiers are trying to survive whether it is physically or mentally.