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Culture, Games

In my usual daily browsings I came across this article on PopURLs, which purports to explain the answer to the eternal question, “Why are there so many World War 2 games?”

Unfortunately, the article is absolute trash. What does this article set forth as the reason why WW2 games are so popular? That (a) soldiering is a ‘core fantasy,’ that (b) WW2 is the most important and largest scale war the world has ever known, with a dash of (c) it’s much easier to develop games with backgrounds people are already familiar with.

It’s absurd to me that we’ve got a full page article on why World War 2 games are popular and yet we don’t have even one reference to the elephant in the room: World War 2 games are popular because they present a clear moral universe. There are technical reasons relating to style of the game and historical versimilitude which make WW2 a ripe period for exploitation in game universes (Mostly about the level of technology at the time and why WW2 era technology works better for that style gameplay than, say, holding a spear in a Greek phalanx, or being a supersoldier from the 22nd century), but absent the grounding a clear moral imperative provides there’s not much to differentiate, say, World War 2 from Korea or Vietnam.

Why is this important? Because storytelling in videogames is still in its infancy, and modern cultural biases rail against portrayals of historical conflicts other than WW2, as having a clear moral angle. Because game storytelling is tapping into primal and undeveloped energies of play, e.g. “Cowboys vs. Indians” or “Cops vs. Robbers” it needs to have the moral angle to justify the conflict. Most games are simply too superficial to deal with any sort of deeper motivation than these delineations to tell their story, and our cultural vocabulary is so impoverished anyway that we struggle to provide compelling rationales for villains — Today’s most common constructed narrative for understanding, say, political opponents, is paranoid conspiracy-theory thinking.

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