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Why Battlefield 1 Has Me Torn as a History Buff and a Pacifist

Here’s my deep, dark secret: I’m terrible at the Battlefield games even though I enjoy (most of) them.

I’m one of those people who enjoys reading history books. My idea of settling in for the night is with some obscure documentary on Youtube, or going head to head with strangers on QuizUp over WWII trivia. The movies I put on when I’m sick and cooped up in bed are Black Hawk Down and Fury. While I’m not quite comfortable saying I’m partial to war stories, I will admit to being fascinated. Whether it’s rubbernecker syndrome or just wanting to be fully aware of the trauma of history remains to be seen.

It makes sense that I’d be drawn to the Battlefield series. The first game I ever played on the PS4 was Battlefield 4, and while I appreciated the difficulty of combat (my gamer confidence takes a hit in any FPS game, but especially this one) and the high-quality production value, it solidified my preference for more historical settings.

The series has teetered between being accurate and somewhat respectful and being total jingoistic war propaganda, but it’s not as though gamers don’t know what they’re getting into in that regard. It’s easier for me to engage with games set during combat that doesn’t feel so immediate and modern—and that maybe reads less like recruitment material for the US Army.

That’s why Battlefield 1 is a return to type for me. Set during World War I, its draw will of course be the FPS mechanics—and the multiplayer specs, which I’ll get into below—but mostly its ability to immerse players in the Great War itself. For fans of the franchise, and history geeks like me, that’s an opportunity difficult to ignore, even if we might be pacifists at heart.

People who know far more than I about WWI have critiqued the trailer’s historical accuracy. The consensus seems to be that Battlefield 1 got the big stuff mostly right and some of the details wrong. But I’m not expecting 100% devotion to real events. As a fan of war movies, I know that battles are often combined, historical figures amalgamated, and the entire thing is given a bombastic Hollywood sheen. It’s the same in games. But it is nice to see that the designers and writers paid such close attention to the small details and, according to what we’ve seen in the trailer, seem to be making an effort to not completely rewrite history for the sake of spectacle.

Historical accuracy aside, here’s where I’m really getting excited: the game supports up to 64 players in multiplayer mode. The emphasis on playing as a squad has been very present in Battlefield 1 press so far; while there is a single-player campaign, the focus is heavily on multiplayer combat. According to the Dice team, playing without a squad will significantly increase the game’s difficulty.

There’s several multiplayer maps, covering iconic terrain like the Alps and the Western Front. The range of weapons—actual WWI-era weapons, from trench clubs to bolt-action rifles—is impressive, and in my opinion the armory available to players in this series has always been the best part. I’m pumped to use a sabre and a flamethrower alongside old and new friends in my squad. I’m going to commandeer every single biplane I see. Every single one.

Having said all of that, and being excited for it, I’m hyper aware that on October 21st, I will pay money for a gratuitously violent piece of entertainment that takes liberties with very real, very important history. I’m aware I’m keying into a culture that frequently glorifies the horror of war and benefits from the military-industrial complex.

I know this won’t bother every gamer—and I know some will give the series extremely wide berth for the same reason—but some of us do grapple with our choice.

Amanda Jean
Amanda Jean is an editor and the host of The Hopeless Romantic, a podcast all about queer romance lit. When she’s not wrangling manuscripts, you can find her watching documentaries, gaming, reading too many books on true crime, and caring too much about fictional characters.
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Amanda Jean
Amanda Jean is an editor and the host of The Hopeless Romantic, a podcast all about queer romance lit. When she's not wrangling manuscripts, you can find her watching documentaries, gaming, reading too many books on true crime, and caring too much about fictional characters.

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