Perhaps it's my bleeding heart for times long gone or my need to gobble down fun facts like I was some sort of historical Cookie Monster, but whatever the reason be, I am a History major, and I specialize American history. Now, when it comes to America as a nation, one time shines a grim spotlight upon the once separatist nation: the Second Great War, or as it's better known, World War II. I don't think I need to go into the details of this conflict, but for those of you with an outside view on things, it was basically the last time that we didn't start a war we were involved in, and was definitely a high-point for us as a nation; after all, because of our involvement, the Allies were able to overcome the Axis powers.
Now, I'm not one to think it was only because of us American, G.I. Joe heroes that the war was won for what basically amounts to the "good guys", but I will say that they Allies would have been in an even rougher spot than if we didn't become involved. However, it seems many game developers, movie studio executives, and literary authors, almost all of them being American, have forgotten that there were other nations in the war apart from the U.S., Japan, and of course, that good old punching bag of 20th century history, Germany.
I say this because, without a doubt, almost every property that is based upon the darkest days of history are all primarily about Americans, and their struggles against a tenacious Japanese nation and a Jew-hating Germany. However, very rarely do we see the other side of things, or really, any other side at all.
Why is that?
Well, for one, no one in their right minds like Nazis. No one. Nazis represent the epitome of historical evil, and only a bigoted, racist, ubermensch of a force such as the Nazis could overshadow a tragic nation under the most-notorious sociopath of all-time, Joseph Stalin. Hitler's regime made people forget about the U.S.S.R (Well, Hitler and the fact that they were allies...), and Stalin killed over twice as many people as Hitler's Horrific Concentration Camps.
We have seen the evils of Hitler and his Nazis time after time, and that's not to say that it's lost it's effect, after all, we're talking about the worst genocide ever seen by history this side of Christian Theology, however there comes a time when other angles should be explored. Whether it's terrific games like Valkyria Chronicles
(Number 8 spot? HELL YES.) or terrible ones like Velvet Assassin
, or really even just pretty good ones like Wolfenstien
, I think we've got the idea; Nazis are evil.
However, that is one of the things that I hate about videogames, and really, basically all of entertainment as a medium; we never get to see it from a German perspective. Unless it's a film like Inglorious Basterds
, where a sympathetic Nazi officer is one of the main characters, Nazis are painted as larger-than-life, Captain America
-era goons that stomp babies for pleasure and eat their cereal with the blood of homosexuals (Not that they aren't like that in the Tarintino film, but I digress).
Despite what many will claim, while the majority of Nazi officers were inhumane swine, there were many foot soldiers who were simply the victims of circumstance; forced to fight a war for a country they loved but a government they hated. Nazi Germany sought turncoats and their family almost as much (well, okay, not that
much, but a lot) they sought the Jewish. There was no "hopping the border"; it was fight and die for your country, or you and your family will be arrested, or worse, killed on the spot.
I'd love to see this angle; a Nazi campaign in a videogame from this perspective. A game where you are are playing the role of a German soldier who must fight a war he doesn't believe in. Or even better, how about a campaign as a complete and utter beats of a man; a true-blue Nazi. It can be a character piece about the state-of-mind of a man who has been turned into a faceless, nameless cog in the machine of Nazi Germany because of Hitler's charismatic performances that literally turned a nation of normal German people into a group of Ultra-Nationalist Bigots.
To switch countries, but not sides, how about a game based upon a Japanese perspective? A game about a man who is bound by a code of honor and sent to fight the Americans in Guerrilla Warfare. He could be sympathetic character, or rather, he can be a brainwashed machine, angered by the American Internment Camps, or rather, it could be post-Hiroshima/Nagasaki, and he could seek vengeance against a nation that killed thousands of civilians.
We will rarely see these, and that's a shame, because these are things we haven't seen much of before. People are reluctant to build any type of story based upon an enemy that society has deemed, and for good reason, irredeemable, even though often, a serious, fair treatment of taboo subjects such a sympathy for historical enemies make for some incredibly great stories. Hell, just look at Arrested Development
! Half that show is incest jokes! And it was the best show television has ever produced!
Joking aside, there are a few examples of games that really surprise me in terms of how they tackle the War we're all so obsessed with reliving. One of these is very recent in fact: Call of Duty: World at War
. As the black sheep of the series, being lodged between two of the largest games of all-time, I thin kit's unfair to pass upon such a wonderfully under-rated game.
That isn't to say it's without it's flaws, but I think that one half of this game is the greatest Wold War II FPS I've ever played when it comes to the narrative it tells, and really, now that I think about it, the intensity of the thing. I'm talking about the Soviet side of WaW
, which for my money, is the best depiction of the USSR soldiers that games have ever offered, which is in stark contrast to the rather hackneyed, jingoist American side, which is decent in it's own right.
The strength of USSR campaign is in the trio of characters that lead it: Dimitri Petrenko, Reznov, and Chernov. More than any other trio of characters in any other World War II game, they symbolize the different types of USSR soldiers that existed. Reznov is a charismatic, heartless leader who has a grudge against the Nazis and a stern way of leading, Chernov is the hesitant, frightened man who is picked on by Reznov for being a coward, and Petrenko is the faceless soldier who never dies and never defies orders given to him.
You see, you as Petrenko are given no way to respond to Reznov's horrific, if not totally badass, enjoyment to killing Nazi; you are voiceless, faceless, forced to carry out these orders, yet unflinching and unquestioning to any order given. To a certain effect, you have no conscience, much like Reznov. But unlike Reznov, this is not because you are amoral, but rather you have been trained to never question such orders, especially against such an irredeemable foe.
Chernov serves as the players conscience, the man who is seen as a coward by his comrades, but in reality is a deep-thinking, questioning soldier who fights for the fear of losing his own life to both the Nazis and to Reznov himself. SPOILER ALERT
, after spending much of the game believing your allies and Reznov that this man is merely a hesitant coward, you find his diary after he is killed, and in it, it is revealed that he has always seen the Reznov's actions as extreme, and to a point, evil, for the way he revels in his enemy's death.
These three represent the different kinds of people that fought the war for the USSR; some sought vengeance for the Motherland, others followed their orders, and some wished they could turn away from the atrocities they were witnessing upon both sides of the fence.
In the end of the game, after raiding the Nazi stronghold, Petrenko is mortally-wounded by a dying Nazi soldier, who is summarily eviscerated by Reznov, and despite your grave wounds, Reznov asks you to place the Soviet flag upon the pole; the final act of Petrenko is an order from Reznov. He sacrifices his presumably dying breath to follow an order by Reznov; that is the kind of steadfast belief these people had in their cause.
When it comes to WWII, we've seen it from every possible angle of the American side, but we rarely get to see it from a different perspective, and I truly am thankful for a game like World at War
for taking a step toward seeing something different. After all, the Soviets may not have been America's enemies, but they we're surely almost as inhumane as our enemies, and it's great to see this kind of depiction of them in a game. A damning, yet sympathetic depiction that truly shows the faces that a war can create. Faces of inhumanity, faces of skepticism, and sometimes, faces of nothingness.
LOOK WHO CAME: