Bullets whizz around your head. Tank cannon shells explode around you. Your best friend has just been blasted into minced meat and his white hand lands next to you. Perturbed, you look at your own hand and in horror, you realize you are a white, cis, male, soldier in World War Two’s Western Front.
I am of course referring to the Polygon article that is harpooning Activision and the latest Call of Duty game for not being ‘diverse’ enough; which is quite funny considering the effort the devs have put in so far. In today’s overly sensitive period where anyone and anything can be construed as racist, a nazi or a fascist, Activision is being rather bold in bringing the Call of Duty franchise back to its World War Two roots. However, fun and games aside, let’s about why and how Polygon decided to attack Activision and the current Call of Duty game’s dev, Sledgehammer, on the diversity issue.
“From what we saw and heard about this game today, that tradition doesn’t genuinely include brothers of other races, or brothers who don’t identify as male. It’s important to note that segregation was still very much enforced during the time period, including within the American military. And judging by the attention Sledgehammer is paying to period firearms and the sounds they make, Call of Duty: WWII is all about preserving historical authenticity.”
That’s a small excerpt from their article. It appears that Polygon seems to understand the game and what the devs are doing but then decides to go ahead and miss the point altogether.
They’re basically wondering why is it that whenever it is a World War 2 era game, it’s always played or told from a white man’s perspective. They are also wondering what happened to all the… non-straight, non-white, non-male or basically anything other than a cis, white, male characters and why you can’t play as them. They are rather insistent in the article that you be able to play as one of each type non…whatever it is and that these particular characters have a story.
Well, I’m sorry to burst your bubble sunshine but the majority of combatants in World War 2, especially those on the Western or European theatre, happen to be white males. The devs wish to focus on this particular theatre and period, which is fine as long as they’re within historical context and trying to be reasonably accurate. Furthermore, most of the combat actions involve white men shooting one another, sometimes even with a tank. I'm pretty sure that in a game, you would want to be the one of the people involved with the excitement or battles.
Polygon also rather vehemently jerks a finger at Sledgehammer and accuses them of reducing people of race, gender and sexuality down to a marketing shopping list. Even if be that as it may be, the historical stats don’t seem to add up in favour of these people even remotely appearing in the story either as characters or in the background in significant numbers. There are simply too few of them for them to have a sizeable representation. Thus, the few who do make it as characters in the game should actually count towards their stat accurate representation. Take it at face value, at least Sledgehammer seems to be willing to acknowledge the contributions from these particular groups. Can’t say much about the LGBTQ++ crowd though, I’m not sure if such stats even existed back then to quantify them, since society was generally more conservative situation in those days.
Throughout the article Polygon repeatedly mocks and calls Sledgehammer’s showing of people of colour and women as insincere marketing. I don’t think Sledgehammer’s intention is to showcase their inclusiveness per se… I think they’re actually trying to sell their game as it is. Inclusiveness and diversity is nice but don’t you think that gamers would rather focus on the bits of the game that actually matter to them? We want to see a gloriously rendered world with a great story. We want Mr. Torgue explosions. We want a good game that is fun and exciting, period. Anyway, let’s try and look into the real statistics in World War 2.
Of historical facts and figures
Let’s start with the more easier topic they’ve brought up in the article, the lack of African-American soldiers. While I’m not too sure how many soldiers were gay in World War II, I can tell you off the bat that the Western Front or the European part of the war had a lot of Caucasians involved, even without looking at the statistics first. You had the Russians, the Germans, the Americans, British, some Australians and Canadians, the French and also the Italians. Not to mention the resistance movements other occupied countries like Poland, Greece and the Balkan regions.
With regards to the actual stats, I went and dug up the numbers on African Americans who served in the various branches of the US Army World War II. The numbers here are from the 1941-1945 period. The total number of Americans in the army at the time was about 12,209,000 after rounding. The total number of African Americans that did manage to participate in the war during that period was 901,900 after rounding off. So, that’s about 7.38% of the total army being made up of African Americans. A relatively small number if we’re being honest. Therefore, you’re naturally going to have a lot more white guys as opposed to black guys.
In that sense, Call of Duty’s inclusion of black soldiers should technically already count as win for progressiveness rather than be ear-marked as merely marketing. The African American numbers are so small within the US armed forces at the time that it would sort of beggar belief that the main characters would even run into even a few at the time.
But what about the women? Well, women during World War II were treated rather differently depending on which where she was. In general, women in the US army served in non-combat roles, apart from helping to man anti-aircraft guns. There were very few cases where women pretended to be men in order to go to the war and actually fight. The Germans were a little more open minded about this and there were a few women who served in the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS as auxiliaries. Women in Nazi Germany mostly opted to volunteer as nurses. For the British, women took part in the Home Guard and like their American counterparts actually went to take the men’s places in factories to help with the war effort. Again, women also served in non-combat duties.
The Russians or Soviets were the odd ones out in this period. When Hitler declared war on them, the Soviets scrambled to put troops on the frontlines, eventually the order extended to include women as well. There are stories of angry Russian women variously sniping Nazis, dropping bombs on them and even buying their own tank to go and kill Nazis with. We’re going way off topic however.
The important one that was mentioned in CoD: WW2 was in fact, a white French lady, who is part of the French Resistance. This representation is actually accurate, well, statistically anyway. According to another quick Wikipedia search, women made up 11% of the French Resistance, but they did participate in the fighting though. Women in France at the time were actually regressing socially due to the politics at the time. Efforts were indeed made to keep the women away from both the workplace and subsequently, directly fighting in the war, even as freedom fighters. The latter thinking was actually quite common throughout the Western world at the time, which was why women were kept away from active combat duties as much as possible. Personally, I don’t think it’s so much to do with saying men are superior to women; a warzone is not a place for people generally, so men purposefully trying to keep women out of it should actually say how much the men folk value their women and children.
But anyway, so just based on the 11% stat, that you’ve a female French Resistance fighter who is also a leader should actually be another great victory for progressives on the video game front. However, this is not enough for Polygon, even if it flies in the face of decades’ worth of factual research and even simple Google searches.
And your point is?
The major point here is that Polygon seems to be outraged at the Call of Duty franchise for the sake of being outraged. There is nothing to be gained here apart from: a) pushing an agenda of sorts, and b) publicity, which latterly seems to be more of the point, in a rather ironic fashion. Bad press is still press after all right?
The whole story is also rather weird because the lead designer Glen Schofield has wanted the new game to be both awe-inspiring and has stressed many times the importance of telling the story. I believe that Schofield’s insistence on the retelling of World War 2 is in fact for the reason he fears that we will forget this earth shaking event. He wants to show the new generation that: yes, a war this terrible had indeed happened. This was a war that was fought by a generation of men and women who are now almost entirely gone. World War 2 was about fighting REAL Nazis and Fascists who wanted to rule the world.
It should also be noted that throughout some of Schofield’s interviews, he tends to bring up his grandfather quite frequently, so perhaps this game is also his way of honouring his grandfather. Schofield’s focus is on the war itself rather than all the other atrocities committed during the war such as the Nazi gas chambers and not forgetting the horrors experienced on our side of the war, namely the Japanese Occupations, the Nanking massacre as well as the infamous Death Railroads. Polygon therefore appears to be then be focusing on the wrong aspects of the game and indeed the war itself, doing a disservice to both the devs and the real life veterans who fought for the freedoms and rights they are now abusing.
Polygon, if you want to rant and rave about the lack of diversity, I would suggest to go and make your own game and if people are indeed supportive of your stances, I’m sure it will actually be a big success.
An ideal fix for Polygon?
Ok, let’s assume that for some reason Sledgehammer and Activision decide that Polygon is right and that they need to fix this “issue”. What can they do to appease Polygon while keeping CoD: WW2 more or less the same?
Remember that Word War II has two fronts because there were essentially two big enemies to the free world at the time? Japan and Germany? Activision and Sledgehammer could actually very easily solve this so-called diversity problem by allowing gamers to fight the Imperial Japanese army, as they did with Call of Duty: World at War. Perhaps Polygon has forgotten about Call of Duty: World at War then.
Anyway, that being the case the simple answer is DLCs. Just crank out DLCs. You can have a DLC where you fight in an all-African-American unit with their own story. You can make another one where it’s an all-female French resistance team. Another bigger DLC that focuses on the Pacific War theatre. The DLCs could also perhaps include additional models for African-American and female French resistance fighters. Basically, take Polygon's own demand and answer it.
The DLCs will mean more cash in the pockets for both Activision and Sledgehammer and then maybe, just maybe, they can be left alone to make more games for real gamers rather than bend over backwards because of some outrage or other.
I hope you've enjoyed reading this but as this is a rather serious thing, I am going to cite my sources to prove that the stats are accurate. Please feel free to comment on anything you feel might be an issue with the article.
Original article on polygon = https://www.polygon.com/2017/4/26/15438184/call-of-duty-wwii-trailer-reveal-diversity
Female soldier for multiplayer = https://www.gamespot.com/articles/call-of-duty-ww2-has-female-soldiers-in-multiplaye/1100-6449704/
Black american soldiers in the American Army = https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_African_Americans#World_War_II
Women in WW2 = https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_World_War_II
Number stats for US soldiers serving in WW2 = http://www.wwiifoundation.org/students/wwii-facts-figures/
Other ethnic minorities for US soldiers numbers in WW2 = https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnic_minorities_in_the_US_armed_forces_during_World_War_II#Statistical_information
French resistance = https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Resistance
11% stat for French Women in the resistance = https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Resistance#Women