“Historical Accuracy”: Response to the Battlefield V Reveal Highlights Toxicity and the Erasure of Women in WWII

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On May 23rd, DICE released the first trailer for Battlefield V. The trailer and release of the cover image has resulted in negative reactions from mostly male gamers on Twitter and Youtube. Although some critique has been about gameplay and the strong resemblance to Fortnite in speed and character customization choices, the majority of it has been about the choice to put a woman on the cover of the game as well as the ability to play as a woman in a game set in World War II, with most claiming the game is over-representing women. Using the hashgtag #NotMyBattlefield, angry gamers repeatedly called the trailer and cover art “PC culture,” “SJW,” and “historically inaccurate.” They have also explained that the “real customers” of Battlefield are being alienated by the inclusion and have further acted to push out women from the FPS community.

Beyond those talking points, others have taken to transphobic, racist, and sexist language, primarily against women tweeting in favor of DICE’s choice to include women. The response seems to be visceral without knowledge of other franchises currently producing games with women represented in gameplay, like Sledgehammer’s Call of Duty: WWII, or understanding that women in combat roles for the Allied forces is a historical fact.

Ultimately, the “backlash” over women being featured as predominant characters in the game is unwarranted, given that those upset with the inclusivity of the game have been using Call of Duty: WWII stills as a comparison of the accuracy they want in their WWII shooter. Clearly, opponents using it as a comparison have not played the campaign or multiplayer of the Sledghammer’s latest game Call of Duty, even though they’re making comparisons. Women and People of Color are included in the game, something the creators have commented on, specifically due to the inclusion of characters of color on the Axis side as playable in multiplayer, which is inaccurate to the time:

“Multiplayer is this gritty, immersive experience, but it’s also about putting you – this is about you – in World War 2, and so, that evolution of your character means it’s important for us to allow you to choose to be you, and to have a hero that represents who you are, whomever you choose that to be.

“So, if you’re a female, or you want to play as a female, if you want to be any one of the multinational cast of characters to represent who you are, to look up to and respect as your avatar, we want to give you that opportunity. Now, the challenge there, which is real, is half the time you’ll be playing on the Axis team. That was a decision we made intentionally. We want it to be you and we’re willing to have you be you, no matter what side of the conflict you’re on.

“I’ll come right through the front door on it: we know that didn’t happen in the German forces. We know there was a lot of racism and racial tension in the 40s, so you wouldn’t have a Black German soldier fighting next to the other Germans. We want this to be about you. We’re not making a statement about the authenticity of the Axis force. We’re making this about putting you in this social space and you into your soldier. And we want that to be rewarding and meaningful.” – Michael Condrey, Co-founder of Sledgehammer Games

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Multiplayer character customization which allow skin tone and gender changes in Call of Duty: WWII, photo from Gamespot review.

The inclusion of diverse characters in multi-player games is the norm now, with everything from gritty Call of Duty to the cartoony and expansive Overwatch universe. Developers are realizing the diversity of gamers and are working at making their games more inclusive and meaningful to people of different positionalities. Centered around the trailer, the sexist and transphobic comments on YouTube and Twitter have highlighted the very reason some women stop playing FPS multiplayer games, myself included. The harassment in these replies and comments serve as a highlight of the abuse women face online when speaking in-game and just trying to communicate with their teams.

All of that being said, women will also be featured in the Battlefield V campaign- as they were in Call of Duty: WWII. Reviving the war stories theme from Battlefield 1, the campaign will be focused on unexplored stories from WWII. This includes a young resistance fighter in 1943 Norway who is “about to pay the unthinkable price to save her family.” By opening up their campaign to explore untold stories (for video games), DICE was able to expand representation, not because of a political agenda, but because women fought and died in WWII. By all accounts, Battlefield V is not looking at the American involvement in the war, instead they are covering histories of the Eastern Front before the United States.

Although women from the United States did serve in WWII, European nations, most of which were fighting on their own land, were extremely open-minded in the inclusion of women and non-white servicemembers, specifically in the areas of combat. DICE moves forward with this storytelling in order to expand the historical accuracy for all audiences while playing the campaign instead of repeating the same American WWII narrative that is in all of popular media and gameplay. Covering these forgotten stories is where historical accuracy and realism comes into play, because not every WWII stories has a man at the center of it.

Contrary to #NotMyBattlefield comments, DICE is not disrespecting the soldiers of WWII by including women. As many people pointed out, there were many women in combat during WWII, including women like the Russian sniper, Lyudmila Pavlichenko, who has 309 confirmed Nazi kills. This included 36 enemy snipers and was only stopped when she had to be removed from the field due to her growing status a month after she was wounded by mortar fire.

By holding that only the men of WWII are deserving of respect, those commenting are erasing the women who fought and gave their lives for their respective countries during WWII. This has been quickly called out by women and men alike, specifically those with great-grandmothers, and grandmothers who served. They have been sharing their storied and highlighting the reality of the women in WWII. From spies, French Resistance Fighters, Russian snipers, Partisans, and POWs, women were present during WWII. Here are a few tweets celebrating their relatives:

While the backlash may be loud, it is not the community as a whole. As people share their stories of relative in WWII, the amount of interactions and support they have gotten speaks to a turning tide in gaming, as does the increasing number of playable women characters. If you want to see more stories about some heroines of WWII, you can check out this list here.

In preparation for this article, I reached out to female veterans to get their take on the Battlefield V “backlash,” since it often their presence in the military and their service that is erased when people are upset by women in military based games. After speaking with Becky, a former Sergeant in the Army Reserves, she explained how the erasure of women’s service takes place:

“People love nothing more than to continually erase women’s contributions at home and abroad from the narrative unless they can do lip service and trot them out simply to point out that they aren’t being misogynist…Men have always been fragile that sharing space with a woman would tarnish their idea of valor, and its especially ridiculous when its a video game, and there isn’t any actual valor or honor involved.” She then explained that “they [#NotMyBattlefield] want shadows and ghosts of that feeling of belonging, nobility and strength (all things the military promises but rarely actually delivers) but they also don’t want to do a goddamned thing to get that feeling for themselves, so they bitch about video games rather than doing anything.”

Much of what Becky’s quote sums up the response that has been shown. She highlights those who believe that by adding women to a WWII video game is disrespecting men who served, as if women, by existing are an affront to how they perceive valor. When in reality women have been fighting, existing in the real world, and as highlighted above, in WWII. SImilarly, I corresponded with a veteran who served six years in the Army (shes asked that I not identify her for both professional reasons and because of the toxicity around the topic), She also spoke about the erasure of women’s service: 

“I try to make a conscious effort to stay off of online forums regarding women in games and women in the military because it is so depressing. Sometimes it feels like everything that women have fought for and all the strides we made have been for nothing. To think that in 2018 there are still so many men that think that the only thing women are good for is cooking, cleaning, and having kids is so disheartening. The fact that so many men are upset about a woman character in a game is upsetting, and frankly, a slap in the face to the women that died while serving in the military (including WWI and every war preceding and every war since then).”

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The people of #NotMyBattlefield don’t seem to understand that women have served in the military and some have made the ultimate sacrifice. They speak on disrespecting men who died as if women don’t exist in the military. Some have taken to explaining that women have served in fewer numbers compared to men in various wars. While that is true, their sacrifices are just as important to commemorate and erasing their contributions is, as the veteran says  above, “a slap in the face to the women that died serving in the military.”

Around the topic of how women are treated in the gaming community at large and how that is reflected in the response to the  Battlefield V cover, Haylee, a Marine Corps veteran had this to say:

“The people who are reacting to this battlefield cover the way that they are I have felt with these kinds of people quite a bit. I get called a fake gamer and a whore constantly by people like this. They feel so entitled and that the title “gamer” is only for a special group and anyone who doesn’t fit their definition isn’t allowed entry. I don’t fit their definition so I get attacked daily for it. These boys don’t care About historical accuracy they care about their “real gamer” cult being preserved. And the thought of someone other then them being the face of gaming or a game upsets them.”

As Haylee highlights, Gaming has long been looked at as a boys’ club. Female gamers are often the target of harassment and even have the been the victims of doxxing and swatting for simply speaking up and proving that assumption wrong. This response makes it evident that female gamers are still being shunned by some in the community, even as developers have begun to notice us through the creation of more games with female protagonists and added women characters into multi-player games.

DICE featuring a woman on the cover of their game, and highlighting a woman in the trailer, is a testament to the changing tide of representation in video games. Although this can somewhat be attributed to women speaking up and the use of Twitch, Twitter, YouTube and other social media, and making sure that we are visible in the industry, companies are about money. At the end of the day women in gaming make a large part of the $30.4 billion a year industry. In fact, as of 2017 women make up 42% of the gaming community, making their contribution to yearly earnings around $13 billion. Gaming is anything but a boy’s club and companies know this.

When it comes down to it, Battlefield V including women is par for the course of shooter as is the ability to extensively customize them — granted the brighter color scheme and other additions very well may be drawing from games like Fortnite. However, at the core of the game like the most recent Call of Duty provide different experiences to players in their campaign versus their multi-players. Where this historical accuracy and the telling of gritty and immersive WWII stories is the backdrop of the campaign — and DICE has not released anything contradicting that — the multiplayer arena is a place for all gamers to mold their characters to their liking and engage in team play.

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To send this point home, Battlefield 1, a previous game in the franchise which is being brought into the conversation, does in fact feature a woman on the load screen and the purpose of the “In the Name of the Tsar” expansion was to bring a woman soldier class into the game. Not only did this expansion explore the Russian side of history and the stories they also added the Russian Scout as a playable class in multiplayer. This expansion was met with the same “historical accuracy” argument that is now being thrown at Battlefield V that has no bearing. Based on the 1st Russian Women’s Battalion of Death, which was established in WWI in 1917, this all female Russian military unit was the inspiration for the expansion and the class addition to multi-player that it included. That being said, the aforementioned female soldier class addition from “In the Name of the Tsar” was initially supposed to be involved in the base game, however, DICE had scrapped the idea because of the very argument being used against Battlefield V, “realism.”

Having proven to be a vocal minority — so far as Twitter analytics are concerned — I’m certain that Battlefield V will keep moving forward as planned. In fact, DICE GM Oskar Gabrielson didn’t pay the complaints any mind, by both acknowledging the ways that people have played Battlefield in the past (exploiting glitches that go against “historical accuracy” and reaffirming DICE’s commitment to making sure their games are inclusive for the entire gaming community:

“First, let me be clear about one thing. Player choice and female playable characters are here to stay…We want Battlefield V to represent all those who were a part of the greatest drama in human history, and give players choice to choose and customize the characters they play with…The Battlefield sandbox has always been about playing the way you want. Like attempting to fit three players on a galloping horse, with flamethrowers. With BFV you also get the chance to play as who you want. This is #everyonesbattlefield.”

However, the spotlight is again on the gaming community to make it clear that toxicity in our community will not be tolerated. I have been moved by the amount of male gamers who have taken #NotMyBattlefield to task, and it’s reaffirming to see that you are welcomed in a community that is often plagued with sexist comments and other general toxicity. While those who are upset that a woman is on the cover a video game may be loud, the support I have seen has been louder. The work isn’t done but it’s well under way.

Battlefield V releases October 19, 2018 on all platforms.

 

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Author: Kate Sanchez

As the in-resident scholar, most of my blogs will discuss heavier issues: representation, gender, race, etc. I believe that pop culture teaches us things and I look forward to letting you know what see when I watch movies, read comics, play games, and binge watch 26 episodes in one sitting. But don't worry some posts about my feels and I won't always talk about the heavy things (just a lot of the time).

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