The reveal of the new WWII first person shooting game Battlefield V prompted a strong reaction from some fans, but not exactly in the way its developer, DICE, might have intended. Online, a contingent of disgruntled players has been pushing back against the “inaccuracies” of the game, specifically the developer’s decision to include female soldiers on the frontlines. But DICE has a message for these angry voices: their female characters aren’t going anywhere.
On Twitter, DICE general manager Oskar Gabrielson addressed the dustup. “First, let me be clear about one thing,” he says. “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.” He adds that the studio is committed to creating games that are inclusive and diverse, as well as fun. “The Battlefield sandbox has always been about playing the way you want,” he concludes. This sometimes means offering fantastical experiences that are neither realistic nor historically accurate, “like attempting to fit three players on a galloping horse, with flamethrowers,” writes Gabrielson. “With BFV you also get the chance to play as who you want. This is #everyonesbattlefield.”
Battlefield V executive producer Aleksander Grøndal echoed this sentiment, explaining via Twitter that “We will always put fun over authentic[ity].” Gabrielson’s assertion that this is #everyonesbattlefield is a direct pushback to the #NotMyBattlefield tag, which has been circulating since the game’s reveal. The conversation around #NotMyBattlefield, which has spread throughout the game’s many online communities, is a muddled, often toxic mess. While some claim they’re angry over the “unrealistic” nature of the game — concerns that are disproportionately leveled at the idea of women on the battlefield and not, say, flame-throwing horse acrobatics — others are less subtle in hiding their distaste for what they see as caving to PC culture.
Since publishing a story on this topic just yesterday, I’ve received hundreds of comments via tweets, DMs, and emails from fans arguing about the minutia of what exactly has drawn their anger. Predictably, mileage varies from questionable to outright misogyny. “Sorry, but you can’t whip 20-year-old women into shape the way you can 20-year-old men,” wrote one. “If that was the case, the natural thing would have been that the women went to war and the men would have stayed home. See, you liberals have to corrupt everything and try to rewrite history to make yourselves feel better.” Others have dismissed the issue entirely as an “SJW” crusade. “You SJWs only increase how much gamers despise you when you constantly shove your stupid identity politics into everyone,” wrote another. “We’re not going to allow you to hijack our hobbies.”
While a smaller number take broader issue with unrealistic items like cricket bats and katanas, for most, these fantastical features are simply part of the fun — it’s only the inclusion of women that “ruins” the game. “Overall to me it’s immersion braking [sic] to have too many women, and a little insulting to the great lengths women went through to help their homeland back in the Second Great War,” one said to me via email. “At the end of the day I do think woman should be represented proportionally equal to men, but I am against doing if it means tarnishing the reputation of a franchise by ignoring reality for the sake of political correctness,” wrote another. “I would not be against certain classes that have historically had female fighters having female fighters. Take for example the Soviet sniper class. If they had a percentage chance to spawn as a female, equal to the ratio of female to male snipers in the Soviet Union I would not be opposed.”
It’s an odd argument, given that the Battlefield series has never been about total authenticity, as its developers have loudly reminded fans this week. Twitter users have gathered GIFs of some more bombastic moments of the game, from soldiers razing a field with blowtorches on horseback to a player leaping into an aircraft in flight by grabbing onto it. These aren’t interactive war reenactments; they’re action fantasies set against a historical backdrop. Women have played a role in wars across history, yet they’re rarely represented in any capacity, accurate or not. If a developer chooses to explore that in its own way, with whatever creative license it sees fit, why should it inherently shatter the experience of the game? Why is this game, unlike the 15 others before it, “hijacking” ownership of the right to revisit a specific action fantasy about World War II simply by expanding the breadth of women’s roles?
The problem with many of the arguments in #NotMyBattlefield is they fail to acknowledge that any game in the series requires a suspension of disbelief — they’re already suspending it around absurd, but entertaining fighting tactics, as well as immersion-breaking, necessary game elements like respawns, on-screen displays, and usernames in multiplayer settings. To suddenly protest the inclusion of women, regardless of their nationality or number, in defense of realism or accuracy glosses over the fun-before-facts ethos that has always driven the series. (It also raises the question of how players might enjoy what is truthfully a horrific experience.)
Ultimately, the cherry-picked criticism of the game’s creative license around gender and the complaints that embodying a different gender is a fundamentally game-shattering experience seem less about rigorous historical exactitude and more about whose fun matters, and if some people’s fun shouldn’t matter at all. The ire around Battlefield V raises the question of who gets to participate in the fantasy; the answer says more about the person than the game itself.