The Comfort Zone of World War II

Call of Duty is going back to familiar grounds. This year’s game is made by Sledgehammer and will take us to the famous campaigns of the Second World War.

Once I tried to impress my crush by telling about my fascination with the Second World War. It did not have the desired effect. “Ugh, what is it with all the men being obsessed with that war? There are so many other interesting periods in history!”

Ouch! She was right, actually. Just like The Godfather, home brewing and sharks, the Second World War is one of those things that are genuinely interesting but get disproportionate hype from men that think it’s cool.

No wonder it was such a popular vehicle for games and other popular media in the late 90s, early 2000s. A generation of young people learned about the Normandy landings and Operation Market Garden through blockbusters like Saving Private Ryan, Medal of Honor Allied Assault, Band of Brothers and later Call of Duty.

History Out of Favour

But the craze came to a sudden end. Call of Duty went modern and then even futuristic. Medal of Honor too, before taking a break altogether. Television and film went after the post-9/11 paranoia and governement conspiracies. Post apocalyptic and Word War 3 with Russia became popular themes, and the 1940s conflict seemed shelved. A Inglorious Basterds-themed spin-off from Brothers in Arms was cancelled and Company of Heroes 2, Sniper Elite and films like Monument Men resided in the fringes of media attention.

So is it yet time to return to the battlefields of Normandy, Stalingrad and El Alamein? Is the decision for Call of Duty to go back to their roots the right one? Personally I want to say yes and no. I do prefer historical eras over modern, specualtive fiction like the Modern Warfare series. But the choice to go back the Second World War is understandble and satisfying, it’s also not very ambitious and slightly lazy. At least competitor Battlefield went for a largely unknown virtual battleground and took the Great War of 1914 as a setting.

Power Fantasy

I’m happy to come back to D-Day and the beaches of Omaha, but at the same time the words of my crush from fifteen years ago are right as rain: there are so many other interesting periods in history. The Spanish Civil War, Russian Revolution and the civil war that followed, the Mexican Revolution. Or a bit closer to the present: the Balkan Wars or the several proxy-conflicts of the Cold War (previously only covered in CoD Black Ops). And even if you went for World War 2, why not explore the lesser known battles? Think about Malta, Yugoslavia, the Middle East, China or Indonesia.

World War 2 is easy because it’s at first sight a very morally black and white conflict. We can justify the murder of Nazis. And it’s a power fantasy for many men. Perhaps also a comfort zone for a lot of Western people, because it didn’t have the complications of many other wars. The familiarity we have with it makes it press our happy buttons regarding nostalgia and a breeze for our moral compass. I look forward to Call of Duty: WWII. But I hope for the coming years we are going to visit some uncharted territory too.

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