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Battlefield 1 Holiday Extravaganza

British and German troops meeting in No-Man’s Land during World War I
British and German troops meeting in No-Man’s Land during World War I

History teaches us about ourselves; and games combined with history can offer unique insights into who we are as a species - up until you confuse the Siegfried Line with your bottom line

Pope Benedict the XV famously urged "that the guns fall silent, at least upon the night the angels sang." It was 1914, a short while before Christmas, and a long while before the Great War would end. His plea for sanity in the face of trench riddled hellscapes, at least during a time held sacred, fell on deaf ears, especially with the military higher ups of the time. Still the Christmas Truce of 1914 became a reality. By no means was it a universal occurrence along the trench lines, but rather a sliver of war weariness and fraternity in some parts of the front where a respite was desperately needed in a conflict that, as the soldiers were told, should already have been over and won by then.

Caption: Xmas 1914 - A friendly chat with the enemy
During Christmas 1914, along parts of the Western Front unofficial truces between British and German soldiers took place. In the trenches on Christmas morning carols were sung and rations thrown across the opposing lines. It was not long before the more adventurous soldiers started to take matters into their own hands and venture into no-man's-land. Here they exchanged food, tobacco, cigarettes, drink, badges and buttons. Both sides saw the lull in fighting as a chance to find the bodies of thei

Accounts of the Christmas Truce are varied and plenty. Ranging from soldiers simply calling a cease-fire to recover and bury their dead to exchanges of gifts and football games across the trenches. These small pockets and instances of humanity, in a war that turned into a pointless meat grinder, resonate all the way into the present. Such events deserve remembrance and contemplation, because they remind us that man will be kind to man, given the chance, even under the most dehumanising moments conceivable.

Electronic Arts and DICE were very well aware of the historical backdrop to the newest instalment of the Battlefield franchise. They, painstakingly, made sure that The Great War was well represented and depicted with historical accuracy within the game's mechanics, visuals and aesthetics. That is why every other player is running around with a never-jam machine gun, and medics can reanimate people by poking them with a needle, but those are small and ultimately forgivable sacrifices needed to keep the latest Battlefield re-skin afloat. The two giants of gaming were also aware of the Christmas Truce. Digging around in the game files during beta revealed a planned Holiday Truce dog tag.

Battlefield 1 - Holiday Truce Dog Tag
Battlefield 1 - Holiday Truce Dog Tag

A Holiday Truce dog tag. Announcements for the game's Holiday Update promised to tag all players simply for logging in after December 22nd. This clearly deserves the most sarcastic round of applause you can muster. No mechanic somehow alluding to or illustrating a very unique moment in history, no way of getting the player to lay down arms for even a second, no nod to the brave souls who defied orders in the death soaked trenches just to be human beings for a short while. Hell, even a FIFA World War I re-skin would have done, anything more or other than a dog tag. I guess, even an optional feature commemorating the event could have potentially hurt sales or upset players, and in a way, close-to-not-doing-a-damn-thing is a sensible move for any business under such circumstances. It's either that, or just plain laziness and ignorance, but I sincerely hope EA and DICE are run by more conscientious and responsible people than that, hence that damn dog tag. 

In stark contrast, Blackmill and M2H games World War I shooter Verdun received a small DLC pack allowing players to throw snowballs, play football, sing Christmas carols and send post-cards. In a move rarely seen in the games industry, they then decided to donate all net-income from the DLC to a charity aimed at helping children trapped in war zones. Even players that are not interested in purchasing the DLC are permitted to enter the specially designed instance for a limited time after a certain number of regular matches and join in on the commemoration, if they choose to do so.

There is no artistry, courage, boldness or bravado left with the big dogs and their tags - too much money involved, too great a fear of diminishing returns and loss of brand prestige. Setting Battlefield in World War I was a move aimed at circumnavigating market saturation with Modern Warfare shooters by way of a shiny yet hollow re-skin. Two small studios, banded together, managed to contextualise an important moment in history through game mechanics with Verdun, in a simple and meaningful manner, while EA and DICE... dog tags.

 

Verdun - Christmas Truce
Verdun - Christmas Truce