On the 11th of November 1918, the gunfire of the trenches ceased. No longer were the Allies or Central powers going to wake up to the sound of bombs blasting. No longer would they smell the foul stench of dirt, blood or mustard gas; nor would they worry if this morning would be their last. War was over, a dawning of peace had begun, or at least so they had thought. A lot has changed in 100 years, but sadly, war hasn’t. Guess Fallout was right after all.
Through the trials and tribulations of the last 100 years, we have plenty of resources available to teach us never to repeat what has been done in the past. From books to movies, museums and cenotaphs dotted in every city, town and village, the scars of yesterday still show on the skin of modern Britain today.
However, we live in a more advanced world; a more technological, impatient and material world compared to how it was when I was in school. Back then, history lessons were basically talking in great detail about The Fields of Passchendaele or watching Blackadder Goes Forth at the end of every term. We need to find new ways to engage in the youth, to give them the same experiences we had and thankfully, video games may be the answer.
Recently, Bandai Namco along with Aardman Studio’s and DigixArt released 11-11: Memories Untold. We’ve reviewed the game and despite a few pacing issues, we could all agree that the narrative was superb and did a wonderful job tackling a wide range of emotions in a war that claimed the lives of millions.
The one reason why the narrative for 11-11 worked so well was because the developers tried to do something your Call of Dutys of Battlefields either fail or refuse to do: 11-11 took two soldiers from opposing sides and made them human. The plot of Harry’s wide-eyed optimism of adventure slowly dissipating before your own eyes coupled with the likelihood of Kurt finding his son dead on the battlefields of Europe made for efficient and powerful storytelling, bringing a sense of gravitas unmatched by most World War 1 games.
11-11 wasn’t the first game to try to create this narrative however. In 2014, 100 years after the outbreak of war, Ubisoft released Valiant Hearts. Compared to 11-11’s jaw-dropping and bold watercolour effects, Valiant Hearts has more of a graphic novel approach to its material, but the one aspect both games have in common is that they use the gaming medium to deliver compelling, almost heart-wrenching narratives that will keep any player invested until the credits roll.
I have to admit, I don’t think I openly wept at the ending of a video game until I came across Valiant Hearts. There will be no spoilers here, but pick up the game and see for yourself. If you’re a world war hobbyist like I am, you will not be let down. Unfortunately, after those 2 aforementioned games, there isn’t anything else on the market, except for action heavy first-person shooters that suspend disbelief to almost breaking point.
With video games becoming more influential than ever, why do we need more narratives that show the tragic sonnets of the theater of war? The answer is much more simple than you think – because the younger generations simply do not understand. I’m only 30 years old, so I’m still a spring chicken in the eyes of my older contemporaries. In my experience working in schools, the education for Remembrance Sunday is still there, but can more be done in engaging students in showing the importance of Remembrance Sunday or the powerful symbol of the poppy?
It can be tricky to engage younger generations onto the importance of Remembrance Day. It isn’t their fault entirely, and this isn’t an article where I tut my head and say “kids today” like I see on local community social media pages that blame everything on children. On the contrary, if I was in their shoes, I don’t think I would really understand the importance. In my opinion, it’s unlikely that they have relatives that experienced the horrors of the World Wars.
When I was a child, I used to love to study the World Wars, partly because I had grandparents with connections to the war. My nan was carted off as an evacuee across the country, my Grandad would reminisce as a teenager how the Blitz was the “worst fireworks display he ever saw” and how a German bomber “ruined his suit for a job interview”, how his dad lied about his age to join the fight in the World War One trenches, got shot in the leg and the war was over during his recovery all in a two-week period.
The point to this is that because of our grandparents, we all had connections to the war, no matter the detail; it gave us all a sense of the fighting spirit and the tragedy the UK had during such dark times. Today’s youth sadly do not have that luxury and this is why we need games like 11-11: Memories Retold and Valiant Hearts and need to make more of an effort to show the weight that was on those soldiers during these conflicts.
It’s all very well and good chucking out a new Call of Duty of Battlefield and saying “point and shoot” and I am not trying to have a pop at developers and say that they shouldn’t stop making historical shooters – there is fun to be had with such a genre. However, what I would like to see more are developers and publishers taking more bold steps like 11-11 did to tackle the horrors of conflict. In the end it can help younger generations better understand the consequences of war and could serve us better in the future.
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