Published on May 22nd, 2016 | by Don Guillory0
Hellfighters are on the Horizon: A Look At The African American Story Of Battlefield 1
When I first saw the new Battlefield 1 trailer, I was blown away. For years, I have been loyal to the Call of Duty franchise. I’ve liked the gameplay and storylines, as well as the online multiplayer. However, with the deviation from their formula of realistic battles and scenarios in order to incorporate more of the ideas and issues found in Mass Effect, and Halo. The sense of being virtually transported into real periods of warfare was gone. This is what brought many fans into liking first person shooters. You were able to enter this world that you heard or read about in history books or saw in historically based war films. With Battlefield 1, gamers have that chance. Unlike previous versions of both franchises, the warfighting goes even further back than WWII, Vietnam, and the War on Terror. Battlefield 1, places its audience in the period that came to change the conduct and execution of warfare; The Great War.
The Great War, or WWI as it became known by in later years, involved Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and the United States. Nations fighting in the conflict experienced the deaths of 11 million service members, 20 million wounded and injured, and deaths of over 7 million civilians. It was hailed as the “War to end all Wars” due to its brutality and the manner in which it consumed the nations involved. It influenced art and literature and it also changed the perceptions about people.
When we learn or are exposed to WWI, we typically receive a very Eurocentric viewpoint which leaves out multitudes of people who fought and died in this war. We are stuck discussing the impact of trench warfare and often overlooking the various circumstances and terrain involved with this war. From early views of the trailer, it looks as though Electronic Arts is attempting to remedy this fixed viewpoint of the war. Early indications are that one of the playable characters is an African-American soldier which demonstrates a push for greater inclusion within the gaming world, especially with such a large franchise as the Battlefield series.
When I thought deeper about the trailer and what this would mean, I was compelled to consider the contributions of military regiments like the “Harlem Hellfighters” who honorably served in WWI in fighting against the Germans. What many gamers may not have considered with respect to this period are the challenges that faced men like this. They were perceived as second-class citizens at home and were not allowed to fight as part of the American Expeditionary forces in Europe. These men were under the command of French forces during the war. With the Battlefield 1 releasing this Fall, this opens up a great opportunity to have more inclusion and diversity within gaming that does not rely on downloadable content like the Freedom Cry expansion to Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag.
The opportunity exists to expose and explore aspects of the war that have mostly been overlooked. It allows us to look at the circumstances involved and the obstacles face. They were confronted with prejudice and bigotry at home and within the military. People did not want them to succeed. When they did, they were met with attitudes like this: “We must not eat with them, must not shake hands with them, seek to talk to them or to meet with them outside the requirements of military service. We must not commend too highly these troops, especially in front of white Americans” —General John J. Pershing, in a secret communiqué concerning African-American troops sent to the French military stationed with the American army, August 7, 1918. This was their reality. It is my hope that much of the issues that they faced will be raised and integrated into the game’s storylines.
Inclusion is a major factor that is often overlooked in the storytelling of periods and a continuance of omission, whether deliberate or accidental permits more of the history to become buried. Uncovering historical elements and actors allow greater authenticity and ability for perceptions to become adjusted.
With historically based games, especially in popular franchises, we allow for more gamers to have stories from their cultures and histories represented. It allows for those unfamiliar with these periods to become more exposed to them and permit enthusiasm to learn more about them. The future of gaming will represent fundamental changes, not only with the technology implemented, but demonstrating a clearer and more complete picture of history.
The Great War was incredibly expansive and innovative with respect to warfighting and social issues that resulted. It also reveals the areas in which society was too dug into their positions and unwilling to move forward on the road of progress.
Battlefield 1, at least from early expectations will change the way that we look at war-based gaming and first-person shooters in that they are more than a game that lacks depth. Electronic Arts’ move should allow for a desire to have more aspects of their games pursued and brought to the attention of gaming and mainstream communities.
As a gamer, historian, and African-American, I cannot describe the anticipation and excitement that I have for this game’s release. I grew up not having many of my heroes represented in textbooks. It felt as though they were invisible, or mythological. Their feats, although true, felt as though they were far-fetched. With Battlefield 1’s release, we not only get to see our heroes, we get to fight as the “Men of Bronze.”