Thursday, August 03, 2017
The Wrong Battlefield?
Back in November I was given some brief exposure to the gameplay of Battlefield 1 by a friend in London.
Now it would be fair to say that I've been finding computer games less and less engaging as I grow older, but there was a lot more to this experience than incurious indifference.
Back in the day I dabbled with other murderous first person scenarios which were surely conceived in at least as much poor taste (Carmageddon, Wolfenstein etc.), but given a couple of days reflection I realised that I have never felt as profoundly offended by any game as I was by this one.
This might be a very subjective response by a lapsed historian like myself, but I suspect there are some more objective cultural triggers behind this which are worth exploring.
The Second World War has become our primary meta-narrative of warring worldviews, the ultimate triumph of good vs evil, life over the cult of death etc. As such, it kind of lends itself to gameplay.
The Great War on the other hand has a very different place in our collective imagination. As we roll through the various centenaries we Brits have commemorated the conflict with a bloody moat of poppies around the Tower of London and, just recently, a melting soldier of mud in Trafalgar Square.
It has become the modern western world’s Memento Mori, a politically acceptable cult of death. Which is why I think re-spawning avatars a la Doom seem somehow especially inappropriate.
The western front is not just any battlefield, it’s where something in our civilisation died and as with any death of personal significance, it marks a painfully irretrievable loss.
A similar if more subdued form of vexation took hold of me during the recent and otherwise enjoyable Wonder Woman movie.
I gather the comics were set originally in WWII, but the decision was taken to place the emergence of Diana's somewhat aggressive brand of pacifism during the earlier conflagration. Along the way the First World War was given a bit of a makeover such that it took on many of the characteristics of the next one.
This piece of chicanery was only just legitimised by the proposition of the movie's basic mythology that the warlike Amazons are somehow against all war, and it is certainly true that the no-nonsense pacifist position encounters less resistance from WWI than it does from WWII.
Anyway, unlike many people in modern discourse, I do understand the important difference between being offended myself and believing that everyone should be offended.