Although games like Doom and Dark Forces were the pioneers of first-person shooters (FPS) in the 1990s, the Call of Duty and Medal of Honor franchises revolutionized the way shooting games are played. The World War II theme of these games also revived an interest in the war’s history among some Millennials. While the popular franchises are moving on to more modern eras and near-future scenarios, some gamers wonder why there are not many World War 1 games compared to World War 2 games.
Writer Dan Crabtree stated on Kotaku that he had counted 59 games with a World War 1 setting on September 2013, including mods and betas. World War 2 games numbered almost 260. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, not only is World War 1 older than World War 2, the former has no surviving veterans to provide eyewitness accounts of The Great War. The last combat veteran, Claude Choules, passed away at age 110 in Perth, Australia, in 2011, and the last survivor who served in WW1, Florence Green, 110, passed away in 2012. With a handful of artifacts, letters, and videos, game designers and developers have little to work with to bring the details to life with the same level of historical accuracy as WW2 games.
While World War 1 saw a dramatic change in how wars were fought with the use of tanks and armored vehicles, long-distance artillery fire, air combat, and ground tactics upgraded from those of the 19th century. Gone were the days of cavalry charges and Napoleonic formations and tactics with which many military leaders of the time were familiar. With the prevalence of machine gun fire and chemical warfare, both sides of the war hunkered down in dirty, wet trenches for months amidst shelling, barbed wires, and enemy snipers. Even worse, many soldiers suffered from “trench foot,” dysentery, and other diseases from the close confines and human waste that permeated the trenches on both fronts. This depressing environment is not something game developers would want to create with the same gusto as WW2 games.
WW2 clearly had obvious “villains,” such as Hitler, Tojo, and Mussolini, that the Allied Forces would crush under the banner of freedom. The Pearl Harbor attack, the invasion of Poland, France, China, and Russia, and the genocide of millions of Jews and other people that the Nazis did not like were atrocities which called for heroes to come to the rescue. However, WW1 lacked the black and white distinction between who was “good” or “evil,” which makes it difficult for game developers to create the classic “heroes versus villian” storyline. In fact, WW1 was the result of decades of struggles of power and balance among European nations in the 19th century. While nobody wanted to slaughter each other outright, somebody had to fire the first shot.
The Great War began after Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, of Austria-Hungary were assassinated on June 28, 1914, by a Bosnian Serb. Austria-Hungary used this as an excuse to declare war on Serbia with Germany as its ally. This led to a chain reaction of alliances formed among the European nations. The United States remained neutral until 1917 when the English intercepted a telegram – later known as the Zimmermann Telegram – that was sent to Mexico from Germany. In the telegram, the Germans told the Mexicans that if they sided with the Germans, they would help the Mexicans retake their former territory, including Texas. This triggered the Americans to enter the war on April 6, 1917.
Crabtree wrote that the Treaty of Versailles that marked the end of WW1 “lacks the momentous uproar of a march on Berlin and an Allied flag flying from the top of the Reichstag.” Therefore, an action-packed FPS with a less complex storyline may also explain why there are not many World War 1 games, which may not be as easy to make and sell as a WW2 version.
While FPS WW1 games may lack the type of action and plot that gamers enjoy in WW2 shooters, strategy games, such as Valiant Hearts: The Great War and Warfare 1917, have found success in the WW1 setting. However, WW1 shooters may eventually be “in.” Writer Andrew Laughlin wrote on Digital Spy that it is possible for game developers to immerse gamers into the WW1 setting like WW2 games. Since most of the gaming market is in the U.S., the Americans had a mixed and lesser involvement in the Great War. Laughlin cited Dan Todman, Ph.D., who is a history professor at Queen Mary University, who said American troops did not engage in combat until the “final allied push to victory in 1918,” even though the U.S. entered the war about a year earlier. Even so, American troops fought in some pretty intense battles in the final months of WW1, starting with the Battle of Amiens on August 8, 1918, and participating in the armistice about three months later.
Alternatively, rather than having huge war campaigns, game developers could use skirmishes and raids as a FPS game. In the Battle of Somme in 1916 and other battles that involved trench warfare, there were many night patrols and trench raidings that could spark a story. Espionage, sabotage, and various covert operations could make a FPS WW1 game resemble the Thief franchise, which focused more on stealth than Rambo-like combat. While there are not many FPS games that possess these stealth elements, perhaps this would be a good reason why game developers should try to steer toward a World War 1 setting.
By Nick Ng