• smcmanus

Tom, Call of Duty

Media critic Dawn Spring describes that, “The video game offers far greater potential for the creation and presentation of history than any other entertainment or interactive media.” Spring and myself both agree that video games can integrate history into their platform. Having a passion for video games and studying history, I have been lucky enough to play a few, my favorite is Activision’s Call of Duty World War Two. This game is part of a large series in the franchise which have had massive success. In the game you play as a young recruit named Red Daniels in the U.S. First Infantry Division. This unit in the game has fought in all the U.S. Army’s major campaigns in Europe. Daniels experiences combat for the first time on D-Day. After surviving the beaches of Normandy, your squad fights their way across Europe, engaging the enemy in iconic battle locations such as the Hürtgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge, as they make their way into Germany. The only veterans in the unit are the kind-hearted Lieutenant Turner and the hard-bitten Sergeant Pierson, who is striving for redemption for something that happened at Kasserine Pass, a North African battle where the U.S. Army was soundly beaten in its first major engagement against the Germans. Coincidentally, your character, Ronald ‘Red’ Daniels, is also striving to prove himself because of a shameful childhood memory involving a wolf that mauled his older brother (let this detail prepare you for the caliber of storytelling to come). The rest of the troopers are raw recruits, and keen to win the approval of their sergeant. Mark Jones describes the game as “A gripping story and it certainly doesn't shy away from portraying the horrors of war, earning the game a Mature 17-plus rating.” This is important to mention when considering the horrors of war and the violence in the game. (Not for kids)

It’s undeniable that the mass appeal of Call of Duty is due largely in part to the use of violence. The trailer for the game, shows Daniels tackling a German, followed by tanks pushing through the snow. The trailer then shifts to a plane crashing into a war-torn view of Paris followed by a cinematic explosion and gunfire. This trailer did more than grab my attention, but surprised me with how real the game looked. As an individual already interested in history and video games, this trailer had my full attention. I could fully understand the massive appeal to anyone that likes war and combat games. Following this explosion, we hear the raspy voice of Lieutenant Turner yelling at Ronald ‘Red’ Daniels to get to the heartland. The trailer proceeds to show Red running through gunfire and dodging explosions to get to his platoon. Just as you think Red has reached a safe place, a massive German army appears with flame throwers to transition into the massive Call of Duty logo across the screen. I later realized the trailer was hinting at some of the most powerful weapons used in World War Two. For example, the Germans with flamethrowers hinted towards other weapons like tear gas, rifles, revolvers, machine guns, explosives and the list goes on. This helps me understand how crazy and deadly World War Two was to these soldiers and also ties me into wanting to play to learn more about this massive war.

The violence is most clearly shown in the campaign; when it comes down to it, the goal of the game is to take out the Germans, free Paris, intercept a German Train, and ambush Nazi air sites. You also have to win battles such as the Invasion of Normandy, the battle of Hürtgen forest, the Battle of the Bulge, and lastly the Battle in Remagen. These were real battles the Americans fought in World War Two. The accuracy of the game falls into these battles. The first battle occurs right when Daniels lands on Omaha Beach with his squad on June 6, 1944. “D-Day" is the first campaign level in Call of Duty World War Two. From inside a Higgins landing boat, you get to join your squad to storm Omaha Beach. Daniels and his fellow soldiers must overcome the enemy defenses to serve as the tip of the spear for the Allied invasion. This is only a taste of the many battles Daniels will endure, but it gives an overview of the chaos of World War Two.

The historical inaccuracies regarding characters’ names and ages are hard to determine. I find this game difficult to see the difference between fiction and historical accuracy. The characters in the game are fictional, but the battles and events of 1944-45 are as accurate as a video game could represent. Some missions in the game are obviously fiction for example, one mission Daniels intercepts a German train by jumping off a Jeep. Later in the mission, Daniels manages to get inside the moving train from the roof and proceeds to kill all the Germans on board. This mission is clearly more for the entertainment of the player rather than pursuing historical accuracy. The small dialogue in the game may also be made up, but soldiers could have potentially discussed these topics. For example, Daniels discusses being home for Christmas with a few medals on his chest. Another example is Sergeant Pierson discussing popular culture such as a movie he saw before he was deployed and his desire to see his family again.

Because Call of Duty World War Two is a first-person shooter game that focuses on a single character, it doesn’t allow for a whole lot of historical accuracy from the first person perspective since this war hero is fictional. The impressive story line of Red Daniels comes at the cost of historical accuracy. However, I think that this also plays into making the game widely popular. I also feel that playing this game encourages players to research more into these battles and events that occurred in World War Two to offer a better understanding. Daniels is a young farmer from Longview, Texas, fighting for his country to become a hero, but he does not represent any known historical figure, leaving the player to choose how to go about the missions provided. The player is free to choose how they want to fight as a soldier, for example Daniels is described in the campaign to have the most morals in the squad by treating the Germans with respect because they have families at home. Daniels also keeps civilian German casualties to a minimum, but this is up to the player to decide. The freedom the player receives can shift events and battles thus making the historical accuracy highly questionable. Given this information, the accuracy must come from things outside of the main character. I found the architecture and background in the game to be very authentic to photos I have seen from World War Two. Also, the names and sites of the battles as previously mentioned, are fairly accurate since they are real battles Americans fought in World War Two.

Historian Johan Höglund describes another issue with Call of Duty’s Historical Accuracy. Höglund disagrees with the historical accuracy of the game describing that, “Call of Duty World War Two reinforces the notion that the United States saved the world from Nazism and racism, eliding the role that other nations played in the war.” The one key problem with Call of Duty World War Two is that it unfortunately does not include most of the allies of America in the War. I find this to be troublesome, but I feel that the creators from Activision intended to have a central American perspective rather than to include every other ally and nation. (More of an America verses Germany mentality). Having said this I still find this game to very enjoyable and employ many features of historical accuracy as I have mentioned above.

In conclusion, Call of Duty World War Two is a great example of mixing history and action into a video game. I have really enjoyed playing this game and it has given me a desire to research and learn more about World War Two. From taking history classes I was enthusiastic to see how the game would portray places and battles that I already knew of. I found the story line to be very creative and impressive and it helped me realize the reality of how deadly World War Two was. It also reminds me of the many soldiers who gave their lives and the similar stories to Ronald ‘Red’ Daniel they may have had. However, even if you aren’t someone who is already into history, the game is effective in displaying a heroic first-person shooter packed full of action which panders to a wide audience.

Bibliography

Höglund, Johan. "The Call of Adventure in Call of Duty: WWII." The Journal of Popular Culture 51, no. 6 (2018): 1453-1475.

Jones, Mark. “Call of Duty: WWII' Delivers Familiar Fare for World War Two Fans." The Independent & Free Press (05 March 2017): 1-5.

Spring, Dawn. “Gaming History: Computer and Video Games as Historical Scholarship.”

Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice (06 Nov 2014): 207-222.

Activision California. 2017., Call Of Duty: World War Two. Activision.

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Contact me for more information:

Sheila McManus

Professor, Department of History

University of Lethbridge

(403) 329-2540