Controversy simmers over Battlefield V

Screenshot of the Battlefield V Open Beta title screen (captured on a PlayStation 4)

Electronic Arts’ (EA) and DICE’s triple-A World War II shooter “Battlefield V” has been shrouded in controversy, specifically related to the game’s level of historical accuracy, ever since the game’s initial reveal trailer earlier this year.

Some fans took issue with the outlandish aesthetics of the soldiers, such as Japanese katanas and prosthetic arms, that would likely not appear on the battlefields of western Europe, while others disliked that women and minority races were being represented on the frontlines, an element that they said could potentially damage people’s perception of the second world war.

“From the perspective of the person playing the game, the question is, of course, are they smart enough to delineate that it is just a game, or just entertainment, or are they actually learning from playing the game?,” said Delta political science professor Cirian Villavicencio.

“But is it a medium to take really seriously?,” he questioned. “People should be smart enough to know the difference between entertainment and historical fact.”

“In today’s market, in today’s world, video games are supposed to be inclusive, we know that, we live in a diverse society, and that’s the market logic at work, where they have to sell their product to a vast amount of people for the sake of making money” Villavicencio said.

Delta history professor Dr. Sarah Seekatz echoed this in an interview.

“As a historian, I think we should always strive for historical accuracy, but I realize that people in the media are trying to make money and get fans, and some of those fans are going to want to learn more about history and that’s a powerful thing because then they’ll take the time to explore,” Seekatz said.

“We as people who like games and who want to be gamers, we want to feel included in that history. And so it makes sense to us that there would be a woman, even if it’s not historically accurate, because it allows us to engage with this game that we’re playing in a way where we feel represented and seen,” she continued.

“And the sad reality is that a lot of this history, if we’re doing a game about World War I or World War II, people of color and women were not seen as equals, so there’s no way for them to be a part of that story unless we tell a bigger story or kinda change the rules a little bit,” Seekatz concluded.

Soon after the reveal and subsequent backlash, many DICE developers defended the game and their decisions about core game elements on Twitter.

“We will always put fun over authentic[ity],” DICE executive producer Aleksander Grøndal wrote in a May 24 tweet, referring to the franchise as a whole.

DICE’s General Manager Oskar Gabrielson wrote in a May 25 tweet “First, let me be clear about one thing. Player choice and female playable characters are here to stay.”

He would go on to say “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. Our commitment as a studio is to do everything we can to create games that are inclusive and diverse. We always set out to push boundaries and deliver unexpected experiences. But above all, our games must be fun!”

This sentiment would later be reflected in a Gamasutra interview with then-EA Chief Creative Officer Patrick Soderlund while discussing the Battlefield controversy. Soderlund has since left the company.

Referring to the players upset about the game’s historical accuracy, Soderlund said “These are people who are uneducated — they don’t understand that this is a plausible scenario, and listen: this is a game,” a comment that would further outrage opponents of the game.

“Today gaming is gender-diverse, like it hasn’t been before. There are a lot of female people who want to play, and male players who want to play as a badass [woman],” he added

Soderlund would go on to tell players who have a problem with the game’s portrayal of WWII to “either accept it or don’t buy the game,” a statement many seemingly took to heart.

Wall Street Journal writer Sarah Needleman tweeted news that pre-order sale reports from market analyst group Cowen indicated that Battlefield V was significantly behind its competitors in August.

Since then, DICE has been hosting developer livestreams on video streaming site to address the concerns of fans and disseminate information.

During a Sept. 8 livestream, DICE producer Andrew Gulotta announced that they would be toning down the wackiness of the cosmetic options for soldiers.

“We heard the community, we understand there were some concerns about, hey, where’s the authenticity? We want players to be excited about customizing their characters with authentic gear,” Gulotta said.

“We dialed it back a bit. It was pretty crazy. We wanted to offer some authenticity, and that’s important to us, that’s important to our players.” He later added

Although cosmetics are being toned down, the game will still support the option to play as women and people of different ethnicities.

The “Battlefield V” controversy is just an element of the grander topic of historical accuracy in mass media in general, including movies, television and even the internet.

Entertainment properties will often change elements or events when portraying historical event, forgoing accuracy in sake of narrative or aesthetic, and some fear that it could have a detrimental effect on society.

“[This] is not new at all, history is a powerful weapon that has been used by many groups for a long time, including the united states, and media for a long time has been shaping how we see history and the histories that we tell,” Seekatz said.

The issue actually reminded her of a film called “Birth of a Nation.”

“[‘Birth of a Nation’] told the story of the Civil War and largely what happened after the Civil War and it was totally inaccurate, and it was really damaging in the way that it depicted people of color in particular, but because it was such a popular film, then that became the way people thought the history actually happened,” Seekatz said.

When it comes down to it, it’s important that people get their facts from reputable sources.

“The problem with our society is that, yes we have the right to information, but not the right to accurate information, so that means that responsibility is beholden to us,” said Villavicencio.“You have to know the what the authoritative sources are, you even need to categorize media, part of media literacy is that you know the difference between fact based news and [entertainment] and maybe that is a problem with [media] if people aren’t well versed in their history.

“It’s tied in to civic engagement, it’s tied in to voting, so there is a consequence for knowing fact from fiction or from hyperbole or exaggeration, because you have to act on it and engage the process and vote on something, and you want to make sure you are well informed,” Villavicencio said.

Delta students have mixed feelings on the topic of historical accuracy in media.

Some agree that it should be accurate, but realize that sometimes, concessions must be made.

“I think it is kinda important because then they’re just putting out false information, but at the same time, movies and television are fiction most of the time,” Delta student Desiree Moya said.“I kinda care but it’s not too important to me [that something is historically accurate].”

Delta student and theatre tech major Chris Meyer said “they should be fairly accurate,” but he admits that “you don’t want to bore the audience at the same time.”

Others bring up the fact that people should not be getting their knowledge of history from media like TV, movies and video games.

“You still have to do your research, because it is important, it’s our history and we should learn more about it,” said Delta student and law enforcement major Guadalupe Bravo.“Even if we are going in different directions and technology is advancing, I feel like that’s still needed.”

Delta student George Gutierrez said “it’s OK” for media to be inaccurate, however people shouldn’t get “ a lot of [their] facts from movies”

Some take the issue a little more seriously.

“[Creators] have their right to put out whatever product they decide, But I don’t agree with changes to history when it’s supposed to be set that context” said Delta student and film major Trevor Manley.

“If you are taking on a subject that is historical, there should be some accuracy to it,” he added.

As for me, I can’t wait to play as a katana wielding, one armed British woman come Nov.  20.