Earlier today (yesterday if you’re in a GMT negative time zone) Corvus Elrod mentioned that he was watching Band of Brothers, the Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg epic miniseries that does some pretty great things (in my opinion) with its World War II setting. His quote was that “It's good, but I don't find that war related media interests me much”, which is fair enough. It prompted a bit of a quick whip-around in the twittosphere about the abundance of attention paid to the 1939-45 period by both Hollywood and the videogame industry (to the point where it has now become kind of a joke).
Matthew Gallant then asks “Why isn't there then a similar degree of fascination with, say, the Vietnam war?” At first glance it seems like it’s purely an issue of ‘Well, we won the second World War’, the same for which cannot be said of
So if it’s entirely dependant on ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ a particular campaign or situation, then how can we explain the continued focus on the world wars (or even just the Second World War)? Is it just another case of western euro-centrism? On twitter again, Scott Juster, from the experience points blog notes that WWII was “an extremely well documented war. Photos, audio, and video make for an abundance of sources.” Which is quite true. (By the way, sorry for not reading your blog more often guys) Corvus did, however, acknowledge its importance in the formation of national identity, particularly a new American identity in the context of a rapidly globalizing world.
In doing some quick googling for this post, I came across this article in Newsweek from Dec 07, ‘Why WWII Videogames are Hot’ which suggests yet another possibility that I hadn’t quite considered fully before but which seems the more I think about it quite a plausible explanation. The author describes why that particular conflict makes such good videogame fodder, saying:
The close-range infantry combat of Operation Market Garden illustrates why World War II, particularly as it was fought in
Europebetween 1944 and 1945, has become such popular videogame fodder. The Allies' 11-month campaign across Europe to was, "to a significant extent a rifleman's war," says historian Niall Ferguson. And though soldiers depended heavily on air and armored support, "they still had to do a lot of ditch-to-ditch, house-to-house fighting—the perfect setting for first-person shooter games." Berlin
Which seems to hit the nail on the head in a way the previous explanations didn’t – how many times have you heard about a Mod for a popular FPS game that aims to reproduce The Great War only to be shouted down by people claiming (and perhaps rightly so) that it would be boring (or even frustrating) to partake in a ‘massacre’ like the battle of the Somme. I mean, Christ, who really who wants to be part of a military action where, in just six weeks, a nation like New Zealand can lose nearly one whole percent of it’s population in war casualties. The First World War has been likened by some to a ‘meat grinder’ that absorbed a whole generation of
Since gameplay is such an important factor in determining suitable settings for a war game, with that in mind, the reason the Vietnam War has largely been avoided comes slightly more into focus. Not only is proper ‘jungle’ notoriously difficult to depict realistically, not to mention notoriously demanding on videogame hardware, but lots of foliage makes for hard to discern targets. Even in a modern game like Far Cry 2, it can seem like the enemy AI is somehow omniscient – able to see through otherwise dense undergrowth to pinpoint your exact location even it would be plainly impossible for the human eye. Actually, I wonder if the non Vietnamese soldiers felt something like this, and whether it couldn’t be incorporated as a game mechanic, but that’s a bit of a digression.
So to as visual proof of how hard it is to properly see through Vietnamese jungle I’m including here some photos’ taken on my own trip to Vietnam back in January of this year and along side them screenshots of two Vietnam FPS games - Battlefield Vietnam and Vietcong: Purple Haze.
Vietcong: Purple Haze
Somewhere in the Mekong Delta - about 2 hours drive and another hour by bike south and west of Ho Chi Minh City.
I still have yet to see anything in a game like the impenetrable walls of foliage that the Vietnamese jungle presents - and that's probably for the best unless you want a game about going everywhere via boat or roads. Actually, that does remind me of one game...
If you're interested in more of my pictures from the trip in January (all taken by my Dad, an excellent photographer), I've uploaded a choice selection to my flickr stream.