Strangers, in this case, being anyone who isn't a Nazi or Japanese.
WWII has dominated the video game war scene, both on consoles and PCs, since the late 1990s, and had a fair amount of titles based on it in the decade before that. Wolfenstein, Battlefield, Call Of Duty, and Medal Of Honor are all highly recognizable franchises, and even series like brothers In Arms, Silent Service, Commandos, and Hearts Of Iron might get a few nods from your friends if you bring them up. Over one hundred games basedon the second World War have come out in the last two decades, whereas its older brother, nicknamed The Great War, has cranked out maybe thirty-something games in as many years. You'd think that, by now, someone may have noticed they're starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel for things they can do with the same conflict.
Well, the idea does finally seem to be gaining a bit of a foothold; EA's announcement of their Medal Of Honor reboot heading to Afghanistan, the attempted treatment of the latest Iraq invasion by Six Days In Fallujah, Modern Warfare's somewhat plausible takes on slightly altered, modern-day tensions, and even ridiculous interpretations like 50 Cent: Blood On The Sand all point to an interest in broadening the spectrum of war in the video gaming theatre. These are all fairly familiar conflicts to today's gamer audience, however, and I hope these baby steps turn into larger strides toward overlooked, but just as important, world conflicts, rather than stalling in the realm of the recent. While I'm here, I might as well highlight some fictional wars that may lend themselves to interesting gameplay experiences, alongside some very real ones.
The Korean War
If M*A*S*H could set a television viewing record with its final episode, I think that's a decent indicator that the Korean War has some potential as source material for other entertainment formats, games included. Bookended by WWII and Vietnam, the Korean War tends to be overshadowed despite it sowing the seeds of some of today's political confrontations, and being the last dance of legendary US general Douglas MacArthur.
Korea saw enormous fluctuations in the territory each side controlled over the course of the war, and the precursors of guerilla tactics that would evolve into modern-day insurgencies, and the tech level would be familiar enough to the bulk of current war gaming enthusiasts that introducing such a game wouldn't rock the boat too much.
The War Of The Worlds
H.G. Wells' science fiction classic would lend itself perfectly to a tense, harrowing retelling in video game form, be it modernized or in its original setting. Temporal setting would best be served as backdrop rather than having much impact on gameplay, however, as the real meat of the story lies in surviving the horror of invasion by an undefeatable foe. Stealth and flight would be the name of the game, perhaps broken up by some action sequences, such as the HMS Thunder Child's battle with two Martian tripods off the English coast (or something equivalent, based on the setting).
All I ask is the inclusion of the "zizizizoo" sound from the heat rays in the 1953 film version.
The Spanish-American War
It'd be interesting to see how gamers would take to a war in an island theatre, but without the convenience of airplanes to get around. That rules out the sort of approach taken with Battlefield 1942/3, and would require more of a level-/mission-based system, but alternating between naval and land engagements would keep things well mixed.
And in all honesty, who wouldn't want to follow Teddy F'ing Roosevelt up San Juan Hill?
World War Z
Already slated for a film deal, Max Brooks' take on the zombie apocalypse does an amazing job of building an alternate Earth, but with vignettes that leave a lot of blanks for the reader's (or player's) imagination to fill. A game based on World War Z could, much like the book, cover both the military and civilian survivor vectors, and span just one or all of the different phases of the war.
Personally, I'm a bit burnt out on zombies by this point, as there's just as much a glut of them as there are WWII games, but at the same time, I would love to go to town on some undead with a Lobo.
The US Civil War
I've played an older PC strategy game based on this war, but other than that, blue versus grey hasn't seen that much in the way of digital interpretation. Pretty surprising, given how much it defined the biggest consumer, nation-wise, of war-based games. Just the scale of the war lends itself to so many approaches, and some of the bigger battles, like Gettysburg, could be enough material for entire games in and of themselves.
Pace would definitely be an issue for some formats, given the reload speed of the period's firearms, but a command standpoint wouldn't be unapproachable. Mounted forces would lend themselves to things a bit more readily as well, with the infantry left to AI control.
The War Of The Five Kings
Since George R.R. Martin will inevitably pass away before he publishes the next book in his Song Of Ice & Fire series, nevermind the rest of the books after that, the conclusion of that Song will be left to someone else, and it might as well be gamers. Be it taking up with one of the houses, or rotating the player through the stories of more prominent characters like the format of the books' chapters, the land of Westeros will be ripe for the playing once no one's around to keep the material from being whored out.
I just want to see Asha Greyjoy rendered in sexy HD, when it comes down to it.
The Falklands War
If nothing else, this was one peculiar conflict, over a handful of islands that the UK went far out of their way to keep out of Argentinian hands. The Falklands would lend itself nicely to an air combat focused game, with modern aircraft choices and action against aquatic and airborne targets, something that hasn't been seen as a primary focus since Top Gun on the NES.
Aircraft carrier landings would actually be possible to complete this time around, however. Also, you can't go wrong with a little Margaret Thatcher. If nothing else, it'd be a great way to shed some light on a war most kids today know little to nothing about.
The War To End Wars
Not the War To End All
Wars, mind you - that happened. The war in question here comes from Stephen Baxter's Xeelee Sequence of novels, which present a future timeline where humankind, after multiple conquests and occupations by other, alien races, decides it's going to take over the galaxy. Along the way, they run into the Xeelee, an implacable foe and, eventually, the only thing standing between us and absolute domination. The war effort becomes a steady grind around which the entire human culture and economy is built, and ends up lasting for millenia, until few of the people fighting even know why we started.
The setting is rich with space combat possibilities, as well as ground-pounding drama with the odd trench warfare fought on meteors crawling with forces, flung by humanity into the Xeelee lines toward the later centuries of the conflict. They're also really good books, which I recommend to any sci-fi fans who like consistent science behind their fiction.
While providing a setting for Assassin's Creed the first, and inspiration, to some extent, for Dante's Inferno (the poem, which led to the game), the Crusades haven't been directly addressed in game form. With nine of the damn things, not counting several adjuncts, there's plenty of territory and combat to explore, and plenty of stories to tell (or make up).
Addressing some of the earliest polarizing events between Western Christianity and Middle Eastern Islam might be considered sensitive material by some, it's just as likely to provide some publicity through controversy via those channels.
The Butlerian Jihad
Let me state that, first and foremost, I love Frank Herbert's Dune
novels, and I despise
the horrible things his wiener kid, Brian, has done with what he left behind. That being said, it's not as if anyone could screw things up any more than Brian Herbert has, so they might as well make a game based on it.
The Butlerian Jihad refers to the end of an era of machine domination over humanity, not unlike the future under Skynet in the Terminator mythos, but on a much larger, interplanetary scale. Seeing as how it led to so much of the iconic content in the legit Dune universe, it'd be worth exploring, or at least exploiting for the sake of fighting piles of killer robots, on planets that haven't seen much action since the Sega CD.
The Anglo-Zulu War
I would love to see this as a game so long as the player got to experience things from both sides, because the difference of tactics and fighting style was so great between the two forces. British warmaking had only evolved so much since the birth of America and the war of 1812, whereas the Zulu fought in a much more mobile and fast-paced fashion.
That, and not many seem to know or care about much of the conflict in Africa, even the stuff that's still going on today.
The Unification War
I frequently waver on whether or not I'd like to see any sort of game set in Joss Whedon's Firefly
universe, but I think the war between the Alliance and the Independents would be pretty safe ground to cover, without having to tiptoe around established canon. I know there was an MMO announced that vanished into obscurity, but I think telling the story of this war would be much better suited to story missions tied together with narrative cutscenes rather than something more persistent.
Cameos from some of the series characters would be easy enough, given that Mal and Zoe were obviously at the battle that ended the whole thing, and Wash, Jayne, and Book were all old enough to have been involved somehow, nevermind that several of them are already quite familiar with doing voice work for games. Emphasis on the cameo aspect; I'd rather not have a Firefly game that just panders to the fans when the war was so much bigger than one or two characters.
Joss Whedon's already done a great job expanding the franchise in comic book form, so getting his blessing, if not his hands directly on the whole thing, doesn't seem altogether impossible.
War's definitely a moneymaker when it comes to games, but if some of these, or some of the numerous other, incursions throughout real and less-real history start getting introduced to the pot, what's been a stone soup for so long might actually mature into a much more delicious, murdery stew.
(Asha Greyjoy image by Nawia