Saturday marks 100 years since Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. His death exacerbated conflicts in Europe that lead to World War I a month later.
This week, as this anniversary approaches, top France-based game company Ubisoft has released Valiant Hearts, a video game that shows the experiences of those caught up in the extremely bloody struggle. As you can see by the trailer below, this game is not Call of Duty. It's not a shooter-style war game with players running around ducking behind walls and shooting down hordes of anonymous enemies or fellow gamers:
The game puts players in control of four different people with different backgrounds and nationalities (and an adorable dog) in a point-and-click style adventure/puzzle game. In addition to the mood established by the trailer above, the game highlights significant amounts of accurate historical information about World War I. Various knick-knacks the player picks up, from toys to tools, describe their historical contexts. Players will find actual letters written by those participating in or affected by the war. The gameplay is fairly simple, perhaps too simple for some critics. I haven't played the game yet (I plan to pick it up this weekend), but from watching others play online it seems clear to me that Valiant Hearts is really an educational experience gamified enough so that it doesn't grow dull. It's not a game you're really meant to be able to lose. And its cartoony style means it's also potentially a game to be used to introduce children to some heavy subject matter—particularly useful given how much less attention World War I gets nowadays (at least here in the states).
This game has also gotten lots of game media coverage. Though it has an "indie game" feel to it, the trailer above was actually highlighted in the recent E3 video game trade conference, a massive, annual multi-day show of what's coming in the industry. So in the midst of video clips from those typical shooting games everybody recognizes and revealing the latest iteration of Mortal Kombat, Valiant Hearts also generated significant buzz. The attention is a reminder that the growth and diversification of the video game industry has created markets for all different kinds of interactive expressions, not just the industry equivalent of summer blockbusters.