'Battlefield V' Needs to Do One Important Thing to Be a Great WWII Game
We're not only dishonoring their memory, but we're depriving the world of great stories.
The video game developer EA DICE formally premiered Battlefield V this week from London a live-streamed event featuring Daily Show host Trevor Noah, and during the special event, the developers revealed much that should please longtime fans and maybe anybody who knows about one of America’s forgotten fighting forces that has never appeared in a video game before.
Battlefield V will be set during World War II, a return to the franchise’s roots, and the game’s campaign will be taking players to locales that have traditionally been neglected in the World War II games of the past. If EA DICE is following the precedent it set in Battlefield 1 of diverse perspectives in its single-player campaign, it could mean that the most decorated military unit in American history will finally be recognized in a video game.
The 442nd Infantry Regiment fought valiantly in the European Theater of World War II, serving with distinction in Germany, Italy, and France. The men of the 442nd earned 9,468 Purple Hearts, 4,000 Bronze Stars, 560 Silver Stars, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 22 Legion of Merit medals, eight Presidential Citations, and 21 Medals of Honor, the highest of all military decorations. You’ve probably never heard of them, because despite these remarkable commendations, they’ve never been the subject of a Hollywood film or television series.
The soldiers in the 442nd weren’t white. They were Japanese American.
I came of age in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s when game developers were obsessed with World War II. More than 200 World War II games came out in that period. I’ve poured thousand of hours into these titles — Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, Battlefield, Day of Defeat, Brothers in Arms, Commandos, Company of Heroes, and Wolfenstein. None of them mention the 442nd.
World War II games have since developed the dubious reputation of being formulaic. When Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare propelled the military FPS genre forward into a contemporary setting, the market for World War II titles had plummeted and developers thought there were no more stories left to tell from the period. Everyone in my generation has stormed the beaches of Normandy and sneaked through the ruins of Stalingrad across a dozen different games. How much more is there left to play?
If you seek out the history of people who have been ignored like the 442nd have, there are a lot of untold stories. The men of the 442nd served even as their families were uprooted and sent to prison camps, driven by white nativism, the flimsy rationalization of the Niihau incident, and the resentful white farmers who wanted Japanese American land.
Star Trek actor George Takei has looked up to the 442nd as heroes from his childhood, when he was imprisoned with his family in Rowher and Tule Lake during the war. In 2014, he recounted one of the several astonishing campaigns of the 442nd, when the unit was tasked with breaking a stalemate at the heavily fortified Gothic Line on the Apennine Mountains.
Takei said that they scaled a rock wall during a moonless night. Some of the men lost their grip and fell to their deaths, but none of them cried out, for fear of giving away their position. After scaling the wall, the 442nd assaulted the German position and seized control of the Gothic Line, breaking a six-month stalemate in a half-hour.
It’s an astonishing story, but one that most Americans have never heard because our understanding of World War II is almost entirely through the eyes of white soldiers. The Japanese American soldiers who died to capture the Gothic Line gave their lives for a government that didn’t see them real Americans. The story of the 442nd is not just about war. It conjures complex questions involving race, nationality, loyalty, culture, assimilation, and service. There’s an opportunity for thrilling gameplay and a deep, meaningful story that we haven’t all played before.
The news that Battlefield V would take us to places like Rotterdam and Norway was relieving. EA DICE even sweetened the pot by announcing that the premium season pass is dead. In the new “Tides of War” model, all future downloadable content will be released for free.
The first expansion in “Tides of War” will launch in November 2018, a month after the game’s projected October 19 release, and it will deal with the fall of Europe. In Battlefield 1, which was set in World War I, the campaign was told through a series of vignettes, one which featured the Harlem Hellfighters (a regiment of African-Americans and Puerto Ricans who served on the Western Front) and a Bedouin woman who fought in the rebellion against the Ottoman Empire. If the Battlefield V is following that precedent for “Tides of War”, then I have high hopes.
When we ignore their contributions, we are not only dishonoring their memories, but we are forfeiting valuable stories that can challenge our conventional understanding of the most brutal war in history. Including some of these stories might make Battlefield V a great game — and an important one.