Some Thoughts on Battlefield 1


Battlefield 1 isn’t an anime, of course, but it does happen to fall within my wheelhouse in that it takes place during WWI. Before I get any further, I want to stress that I will NOT be talking gameplay here – I’m much more interested in examining the choices made in terms of who you can play as, what moments in the war in which you can play, and the locations. I will only be touching on the single-player mode.

Actually, before even getting into deeper details, the title – Battlefield 1. Even if I didn’t know who made the game, the title alone would tip me off to the fact that this is an American production, as the usage of the numeral 1 in any of its variants (i.e. “1”, “I”, “one”) points to American naming conventions concerning the conflict – World War I, World War 1, or World War One. In Britain, in contrast, it’s (generally) either the Great War or the First World War; interestingly, which one is opted for tends to be generational.

Looking over the various scenarios, I was a bit surprised at the diversity in terms of location while being simultaneously not surprised at the lack of diversity (albeit perhaps a touch disappointed). They do manage to unchain things a bit from being wholly focused on the Western Front, and I’ll give them credit for being a little creative in the Western Front options in that they start it off with the Harlem Hellfighters. At the same time, it’s largely Anglocentric in it’s outlook, even when considering the presence of Gallipoli, and with the fact that in the Middle Eastern storyline, Nothing is Written, you play as a Bedouin. In the latter case, you’re working with T.E. Lawrence, after all, and for all that Gallipoli was re-worked as Australia’s national myth, its inseparable from British historiography of the conflict (and, not that the game at all implies it, there were waaaaay more British troops at Gallipoli than there were of Australians – hell, there were more French troops at Gallipoli than Australians!). Australian popular conception may look at it as the start-point of an independent Australia, but Britain popular conception still wishes to insist that if only X, Y, or Z had been done differently, then the Entente obviously would’ve won.

To drop off the tangent, though – I haven’t touched on the storyline, Friends in High Places, which involves an American pilot. Admittedly, I’m inclined to be totally dismissive of it, as I think it’s an incredibly silly scenario. That being said, the fact that the player character is American is wholly superfluous to how things shake out – he ends up flying for the British, after all.

If the outlook is not particularly diverse, though, the locations give a decent bit of variance, and in turn allow for some variance in terms of the types of warfare which are engaged in. There is a distinct lack of trench warfare, by and large, which isn’t exactly shocking – the type of games that the Battlefield series puts out really aren’t the type that would go along much with defensive warfare. Of relation, the scenarios are weighted toward the latter half of the war – four in 1918, and one in 1917, with the lone exception being one in 1915. Given the preference for more situations in which single combatants could be more active, this makes sense, although I do think not having anything to do with the Race to the Sea in 1914 is a missed opportunity. But I am also going to assume that going for later bits of the war worked nicely in terms of letting more tech appear on the battlefields, such as tanks and flamethrowers (I am pretty skeptical about the validity of the latter on the Alpine Front, especially in the hands of Austrian forces, but will bite my tongue and not carp about it). I’ve heard that some of the thinking behind the game was to demonstrate the industrialization of warfare, too, and leaning toward the later bits would give more opportunity for doing that… although this was pretty industrialized stuff even from the get-go.

Speaking of industrialization! No scenarios involving playing as a member of the artillery! But I suppose that’d be harder to work a dynamic story around. I guess “then we sat there and opened up on the enemy for five days” isn’t exactly the stuff of drama. (Not that it was necessarily typical, but the chillest WWI memoir I’ve ever read involved an artilleryman.)

And, not only do we not have any artillerymen floating about, there is also complete lack of stuff on the Eastern Front. My understanding is that the story mode of Battlefield games doesn’t tend to allow one to play as the “bad” side, but it’s been long enough since WWI that I am a little surprised at this. I bring this up because Tannenberg would seem like an excellent scenario to include, but playing from the Russian side couldn’t play out well, as it’d be difficult to even work in any personal triumph with that (“…and then my commander shot himself and I spent the next four years in a prison camp!”). But Russians don’t exist at all in this game; is the political situation too tense to contemplate controlling a Russian in any scenario? Or is it just a bridge too far to include a front that involved a tremendous amount of tormenting of civilians by both sides?

I am convinced, by the way, that the only reason that the player character in Nothing is Written is female is out of a desire to avoid getting anywhere near questions about Lawrence’s sexuality, especially given rumors of an interest in young Arab men and boys (I will note that scholarly opinion is that he never had consensual sexual contact with anyone – per Lawrence, he was sexually abused at one point during WWI). Otherwise, there are far more plausible scenarios they could’ve used in which one could play as a woman – the invasion of Belgium, the 1st Women’s Battalion of Death, and SGM Flora Sandes in Serbia are the ones which come immediately to mind.

But – if Russia being involved in the game at all would’ve perhaps have created issues, I suppose given how things went in the Balkans in the 1990’s would make it hard for people to stomach playing as a member of Serbian forces.

Other scenarios which surely weren’t touched for being tricky from a modern standpoint – the campaign in East Africa (how to tackle the impressment of one million African men into the British military, of whom at least 95,000 died largely due to mistreatment? ditto roughly the same for the Germans, although they didn’t keep records), and the Siege of Tsingtao (that time the British turned down Chinese offers to eject the Germans from Tsingtao and instead had the Japanese do it).

I could probably go on fairly endlessly, though, if I keep discussing other things which could’ve been included as stories in the single-player mode, so I’ll put a halt to that. I also, incidentally, have some schoolwork to get done regarding the conflict! As fun as it is to look at modern representations of the war in pop culture, unfortunately duty does call.

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3 Responses to Some Thoughts on Battlefield 1

  1. jtron says:

    I don’t have anything substantive to say except to thank you for this article; I don’t have nearly as much background on that war as you, and I appreciate your informed opinion!

  2. Intriguing article. I understand I’m a little late in posting my comment though the article was to the point and the details I became trying to find. I can’t say that we agree with everything you could mentioned nevertheless it was emphatically fascinating! BTW…I found your web site through a Google search. I’m a frequent visitor on your blog all of which will return again soon.

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