Suicide Squad: What Went Wrong? – Wisecrack Edition
Welcome to this special Wisecrack Edition on Battlefield 1, where we explore the game’s triumphs and failures – and what they all mean. Why did this epic franchise choose World War I? Will Battlefield redefine the genre? Is it a deep game, or are there mostly missed opportunities? Join us as we dig in and find out.
Written by: Alec Opperman
Narrated by: Jared Bauer
Directed by: Camille Lecoq
Edited by: Ryan Hailey (http://www.ryanhaileydotcom.com/)
Assistant Editor: Andrew Nishimura
Motion Graphics by: Drew Levin
Produced by: Jacob Salamon
Battlefield 1: What Went Wrong? – Wisecrack Edition
Hey Wisecrack, Jared again. We got some really encouraging comments from our Suicide Squad autopsy, so we’re trying it again. This time we’re diving into the trenches with my latest time-suck: Battlefield 1. Just a note here, we’re not out to tell you whether or not Battlefield is fun (it is), or if it’s historically accurate (it’s not), or if snipers are ruining the game (they might be). We’re here, instead, in good Wisecrackian fashion, to delve into the brains of the game. Battlefield 1 does something that most of its predecessors never dared to do, and that was to say something. Now, saying something in a game that’s 90% getting taunted by 12 year olds is difficult, but Battlefield tries nonetheless. But does it succeed in saying something? Let’s find out!
WWelcome to this Wisecrack autopsy of Battlefield 1. Spoiler alert for old War movies that you probably should have have seen already anyway. But first, some context. Setting Battlefield in the First World War is more meaningful than you might think. Of course, you could say the creators chose The Great War because they’d run out of modern wars after exhausting World War 2, Vietnam, the present day, the future — and you wouldn’t be wrong. However, I’d like to argue that Battlefield 1’s setting provides really fascinating insights into contemporary politics and how we think about war.
If you grew up around the same time I did, your childhood probably meant weeks of hunkering down in front of a TV to avoid the sun and murder Nazis. So – many – Nazis. This was an era marked by games like Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, and, of course, Battlefield 1942. World War 2 is a media darling for a reason. No matter where you land on the political spectrum, we can all agree who the good guys were, and who the bad guys were. And while World War 2 has been, and will likely continue to be, a hugely popular inspiration for media, it was really popular in the early 2000s.
I don’t think this is entirely coincidental. Call of Duty released in 2003, the same year the United States invaded Iraq. Medal of Honor, which launched in ‘99, released 8 of their 11 titles in the four years following the start of the Iraq War. Battlefield 1942 released in September 2002, the same month George Bush formally called for the ousting of Saddam Hussein and a year after the US declared a “war on terror” in response to 9/11. Meanwhile, this era saw hugely popular movies like Saving Private Ryan, which went on to inspire Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Enemy at the Gates, Pearl Harbor, and the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers.
World War 2 caters to everyone’s needs. For the proponents of the War on Terror and the Iraq War, which was, at its onset, the vast majority of people, World War 2 affirms the story of America-as-savior-of-the-world. We restored freedom to Europe, and we’re back to do it again. And for those against America’s continued involvement in the Middle East, World War 2 provided a comforting escape to the good ol’ days when good and evil were as clear as black and white.
So what does any of this have to do with Battlefield 1? World War I has never, in recent memory, been a popular war for media. But all the sudden it’s featured by a huge franchise. What makes this war resonate with gamers now? Sure its in the midst of its centennial, but it was a war where millions didn’t even die in the glory of battle, but from disease; a war where there are really no good guys or bad guys. Given our current shift in opinion about American interventionism, we no longer see our wars as conflict between good and evil akin to World War 2, but as a futile tragedy akin to World War 1.
This sense of tragedy is bolstered throughout the game by its use of pathos. Pathos is a Greek word for “suffering, feeling, emotion, calamity,” and, for Aristotle, is one of the three modes of persuasion. For a game that’s mostly about its multiplayer, Battlefield finds a lot of ways to inject pathos. And not just the usual “sacrifice for the greater good” kind, either.
For one, instead of infinitely respawning in the prologue, we’re told that we are “Not expected to survive.” We’re launched into a gray, bleak hellscape, where every time you die, you’re shown the name, birth and death dates of the soldier who just died. Rather than presenting an endless series of faceless deaths, the game gives the player a feeling of pity for the soldiers, and emphasizes the fact that each death is an individual human tragedy. These mini-obituaries share something with the original war story — The Iliad — in which Homer provides a mini obituary for almost every character that dies, no matter how minor, in order to make sure the reader doesn’t forget the cost of battle.
As thinker Jasper Griffin argues, while many stories use the “countless insignificant dead” as nothing more than a “mighty number for the hero to slay,” the Iliad draws emotion from the deaths of even the most insignificant heroes. In a genre that thrives on hordes of faceless people to kill – Battlefield 1 sets itself apart by forcing us to confront the actual human toll of the war.
Even the loading scenes of Operations mode don’t provide a coherent narrative so much as explore the emotional lives of soldiers from both sides: The hollow optimism of Brits fighting the Ottomans and American doughboys fighting the Germans, And the inevitable confrontation with the horrors of war.
Battlefield set itself up in a great place: showcasing the hopes, thoughts and dreams of soldiers during a war fraught with moral ambiguity. In the prologue, we see a Harlem Hellfighter facing off with a German soldier. They both lower their weapons in resignation. This sort of thing happened more than you might realize. You’ve probably heard of the Christmas Truce, where soldiers from opposing armies stopped murdering each other and even exchanged gifts. So, awesome. Battlefield sets itself up to explore this dynamic in its campaign; that Unlike World War II, we the audience are a little more primed to feel for the opposing side. But Battlefield quickly abandons this in the bulk of the single player. As soon as you move on to another war story, you’re faced with actual faceless NPCs for you to mow down, and fair enough – feeling sad for the enemy doesn’t make for very exciting gameplay in an first person shooter.
But if we had our Wisecrack way, it would be really interesting if the theme embodied in the Hellfighter stand-off was further developed in the game. We see similar confrontations explored in film. In World War 1 classics like “Paths of Glory” and “All Quiet on the Western Front,” the bad guy is not the enemy, but the war itself is. In “All Quiet on The Western Front,” a soldier is met with horrible remorse when he stabs an enemy combatant in a foxhole. In “Paths of Glory,” a captured German woman is berated by a bunch of rowdy soldiers before they’re overtaken by the beauty of her voice. The arbitrary division of humanity melts away as soldiers join her in song.
In World War 2, however, the bad guy is…the bad guy. Saving Private Ryan, for instance, shows us an act of mercy gone wrong: After Upham finds camaraderie with his German enemy, he gets his friends killed. This fact forces Upham to reevaluate his view of war, and Germans. Despite featuring some stories from the Central Powers in some of the loading scenes, only Allies are playable in the campaign. This is a tragedy, because the interactivity of video games can provide an unprecedented amount of depth to these kinds of narratives. What do the stories being told in Battlefield look like from the eyes of a German or Ottoman soldier?
Rather than diving into any of the interesting themes the game sets up: the world’s first “industrial” war, its morally ambiguous nature, the human cost of battle, we’re instead given generic stories about self sacrifice and personal growth. Video games are an incredible art form, one with tons of untapped potential. And yeah, I get it, this game is about yelling at people to play the fucking objective. But the creators of Battlefield 1 tried to do something insightful, and for that, we commend them. If you make games and are watching this, please do more of this.
But if you’re a lowly gamer like us looking for a great game that explores the psychological impact and moral ambiguity of war: play Spec Ops: The Line.