Video Games

For the 100th Anniversary of WWI, Consider Maybe a Video Game


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.

NEXT: Federal Workers May be 'Bone-Headed,' But Government Is Not the 'Enemy,' Claims President. You're Screwed Either Way.

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  1. If this offers an “alternative ending” to “All Quiet on the Western Front”, I’m all for it.

    Watching that whole movie, very moving….get to the end….”you MOTHERfuckers!”

    War is hell alright.

  2. Yeah, this game makes war look like a real downer.

    1. As much as I did not really care for my own involvement in a war or two – I was in a flipping paradise compared to the folks in WWI.

      1. Yeah. The American Civil War, World War I and the Eastern Front in World War II are for me at least about the worst places imaginable.

        1. Out of curiosity, why do you include the Civil War? I get the other two, but what was it about the Civil War that made it so much worse than other wars? The scale? (I am only about 1/5 into “Battle Cry of Freedom” so I may learn soon enough.)

          1. The casualty rates were so horrendous. To give just one example, in three days at Gettysburg, 33% of those involved were killed or wounded. To put that in perspective, the allies experienced 10% casualties in two months of fighting in Normandy.

            1. Yes, the casualty rates combined with horrid medicine.

              Tactics had not evolved to keep pace with technological innovation – formed ranks of infantry against the highly accurate and bone-smashing miniball was devastating, not too mention advances in artillery.

            2. Ah, thanks. I imagine that’s a lot higher than most of the other 19th century wars.

            3. Imagine the conditions, too. Specifically in Gettysburg – July in PA, rotting bodies all around.

  3. Also consider reading Parade’s End and lots of Siegfried Sassoon!

    1. Read Goodbye to All That by Sasson’s friend and fellow Royal Welch Fusilier Robert Graves. Still my favorite war memoir.

      1. That’s a good one too.

        1. My wife bought me a first edition Memoirs of an Infantry Officer last year fro my birthday. I love it.

          1. That’s pretty fucking awesome, John.

            1. Nikki is right. What the hell did you do to deserve that?

              1. I really did marry the right woman.

  4. His death exacerbated conflicts in Europe that lead to World War I a month later.

    I’m pretty sure the conflict was just protests over a controversial nickelodeon released at the time.

    1. you didn’t

    2. What difference does it make FOE?

      1. At this point? No difference at all.

    3. *rises to begin thunderous applause*

  5. …particularly useful given how much less attention World War I gets nowadays (at least here in the states).

    Well, of course it doesn’t get much attention. The best villain they could find was Kaisar Wilhelm, a guy who seems an idiot, but not particularly evil.

    1. It doesn’t get the attention in the US primarily because our involvement proved to be pointless and the failure to create a peaceful post war world can in part be put on a Progressive hero Woodrow Wilson.

      1. To be fair, the following World War kind of sucked a lot of the oxygen out of the room.

        Uh, that looks like a tasteless joke, but wasn’t meant that way.

        1. WWI is really tragic for so many reasons, but one of them was the destruction of the former liberal order. Wasn’t perfect, but can anyone say it was worth millions of lives to make it marginally more democratic and more statist? I can’t, especially given the twin horrors of fascism and communism which resulted from a premature democratization of continental Europe.

        2. Sure. But people in England and France still remember WWI. It is not so much that it should be remembered here as much as it is there, it is that it is not remembered really at all. And that I think is due to pretty much the entire Wilson administration being put down the memory hole because it was a complete disaster that left even the term “progressive” so unpopular they had to invent a new name to call themselves.

          1. But the one thing they *do* remember about WWI is the sedition prosecutions and the Supreme Court decisions thereon, especially Holmes’ and Brandeis’ dissents. And that’s directly linked to Wilson.

          2. I am sure part of the incentive to remember WWI in England and France is the horrific casualties they suffered. You could argue they never recovered from the huge loss of men (which modern feminists would probably like to see repeated).

            The US didn’t suffer anywhere near the casualties.

            1. We suffered over 100,000 deaths in really less than a year of fighting. It was pretty bad for s though not as bad.

              1. Doesn’t even compare. England had 800,000 while France had 1.3 million. Relative to population size it was catastrophic for them, not so much for us.

            2. Still a huge deal in Australia because of the way ANZAC is still seen by many as a “coming of age” for the country. The interest seems to be growing as more young Australians not only visit Gallipoli but go there on April 25 for the commemorative services:


              4400 may not seem much but it is quite a trip to get there.

              1. I remember Anzac Day from the 50s as a grand day of national mourning mixed with a morbid mood of national self congratulation. It was always preceded by about a week of classes in the history of WWI and WWII from the very earliest grades.

                I left Australia in 1963 but it seems to me from what I hear that the whole Gallipoli thing has had a resurgence after a slump in the late 70s and 80s when Oz was going through its version of Vietnam Syndrome not to mention a vague sense of “what was the point of so many of our young men dying for an Empire that we really didn’t get much out of?”

                I suspect the resurgence may have had a lot to do with the last survivors dying off through the 90s and the 00s reviving a notion of how great the sacrifice had been.

      2. Or what you said.

        While I was kind of making a joke, I think your last point fits in with my broader point. When th drums of war died down, it was pretty damned hard to say that all that carnage was in support of a noble cause or grand underlying principle. The Kaisar’s Germany or the Austro-Hungarian Empire were not particularly more evil than those we were aligned with. And it’s not particularly demonstrable that the U.S. had any huge strategic interest in the outcome of the war.

        1. In the end, I can’t see how it mattered to the US if Germany ruled Europe. The only “good” our involvement did was end the war sooner. Had the US not gotten involved and made the German cause self evidently hopeless, the wary may have dragged on longer than it did.

          The problem was that Germany owned the best third of France and without American help the allies were never going to evict them. The Germans were never going to agree to a peace that didn’t let them keep some of France to justify its starting the war. And the Allies were never going to agree to a peace that left Germany in possession of a any significant part of France.

          1. Well, yeah, but “Let’s throw thousands of our boys into a meat grinder so that France doesn’t have to give up territory to Germany!” just doesn’t really cut it as a rallying cry (Hell, I’m not sure it would do all that much for me if I were French.).

          2. Re: John,

            The Germans were never going to agree to a peace that didn’t let them keep some of France to justify its starting the war.

            Remember that the war was started by Austria-Hungary as a reprisal against Serbia, and that Germany did not get involved until Russia declared war on Austria-Hungary. The whole thing had “bad idea” written all over it but America’s involvement did make things much, much worse by giving the Allies an edge they did not deserve, especially Great Britain who only entered the war to keep her Navy mighty and the seas for herself. It is not like their worries about the Hoshseeflotte were unjustified as the German Imperial Navy was of very high quality manned by highly skilled and motivated sailors, but there was actually more sense in staying out of the fray as it sucked the Royal Treasury completely dry.

            1. It was insanity all around. Germany convinced itself that it was surrounded and either had to start the war then or face defeat at the hands of France and Russia in the future and England convinced itself that it was worth going broke and sacrificing a generation to keep France as a world power.

              England should have faced up to the reality that after what Napoleon did to it, France was never going to be a world power again and intervening to try and maintain a balance of power on the continent was hopeless.

              1. Train schedules. It’s what started the Great War. Once Russia began to mobilize, German and then France had to do the same, and Germany had to go to war as soon as possible before Russia and France could fully mobilize.

  6. Picked this up for my kid during the Steam sale. Cute graphics and fairly educational, though there were of course some details that needed correcting. Too simple for adult gamers, though.

    My two cents *shrugs*

  7. OT:
    UC seems to be having trouble making up its mind:

    “UC considering ban on Uber, Lyft, Airbnb”
    Why would they do that, you ask? Well among other issues:
    …”these services are not fully regulated”…
    Can’t have goods that aren’t “fully regulated”, now can we? Those scoots you’re wearing; do they have the government approval stamp?…..ft-airbnb/

  8. 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.

    And we’re still feeling the repercussions of that damned war to this day: Big Government, proggies, undermining of civil liberties, economic fascism, Big America, 200 million dead, FDR, the New Deal, Stalinism, etc.

  9. With this 100th anniversary, it makes it all the more remarkable that I remember watching a number of World War I veterans marching in our little town 4th of July parade when I was a kid in the 1960s. But it makes sense it retrospect, as a typical WW I vet would have been in their late 60s or early 70s at those parades, which I remember very clearly starting about 1966. But even more amazing was there were a couple of Spanish-American War vets in at least one of those parades, though they were riding on a float, not marching themselves.

    I’m only 53. It’s quite something when you consider how many generations and experiences can overlap with your own even in a limited span.

    1. Re: C. Anacreon,

      I’m only 53. It’s quite something when you consider how many generations and experiences can overlap with your own even in a limited span.

      What’s more remarkable is that the XIX Century for the most part saw very small wars save for the Franco-Prussian war, with veterans from each conflict not seeing another war for decades, whereas the XX Century saw the most destructive conflicts ever with veterans of the first, particularly officers, fighting the next one, and veterans of the second one fighting in several other conflicts around the world in an endless sequence of wars and devastation on a global scale. The XX was indeed the Century Of The State.

      1. The Crimean War was a lot bigger than I thought it was. Over a million people died in that war.

        And the German staff were really haughty about the American Civil War. Von Molke called it two armed mobs chasing each other across a vast wilderness. After they experienced the Franco Prussian War they shut up about all of that. Fighting with repeating rifles and explosive shell artillery wasn’t as easy as their staff models said it would be.

        1. Re: John,

          The Crimean War was a lot bigger than I thought it was. Over a million people died in that war.

          Yes, I was quite surprised by that myself, albeit most casualties were on the Russian side. However, the lessons the Allies learned had more to do with logistics than with the futility of war itself. People still found battle glamorous right to 1914.

          After they experienced the Franco Prussian War they shut up about all of that.

          And because the Franco-Prussian war ended so quickly, many wrong lessons were derived from it. The General Staff expected the next war to conclude as quickly, just a question of fielding a bigger army faster than the other side. This is what probably drove Schlieffen’s overoptimistic plan, thinking that one could field and manage five huge infantry armies and defeat France in 42 days with no concern about the logistical limitations of the era and the slow speed at which soldiers travel on foot. Plans requiring such exact timetables could only be carried out after mechanization.

          1. One of the Franco-Prussian heroes, Graf von Zeppelin, was an observer during the U.S. Civil War. He supposedly learned a lot from seeing surprise flank attacks, the Union’s use of railways and mobile artillery, and use of overwhelming manpower.

  10. As you can see by the trailer below, this game is not Call of Duty.

    The trailer itself is quite poignant. I tell you, tears rolled from my eyes during the scene with all those crosses. When one considers that, very recently, rows of dead soldiers were found in the fields of Flanders who were waiting to go over the trench when a shell covered them and suffocated them, you realize that this was an entirely different conflict with such horrors the like of which were not witnessed again or, at least, not in that grand scale. One cannot even begin to imagine how was it like for soldiers on both sides to live in muddy trenches with the smell of biological decay filling every nook and cranny, with the knowledge that, at any point, you could be shot in the gut and lie in the mud, slowly bleeding to death, or be choked by mud, or be torn apart by a shell. I can’t imagine sleeping in such filth, or eating, or living. I can’t stand the State.

    1. It really is hard to imagine a war experience that is worse than the western front of WWI. It makes Vietnam look nice in comparison.

  11. I hate sidescrollers.

    A sidescrolling puzzle story game with overwrought cut scenes even more so.

    Just make a fucking movie and hand out rubics cubes at the ticket box.

  12. Dan Carlin is doing a series of podcasts about the Great War. He does fantastic work. State Police spokesman

    1. Gah, bad copy/paste. Here is the link

  13. Whenever I thought about the war of the WWI of Vietnam, my eyes got full of tears. However, this multimedia gaming conversion of this war is a creative idea to play. I am thankful to that company Ubisoft, Who applied this concept of Valiant Hearts In such a meaningful way.

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