Forgive the incendiary title, I’m terrible. I know.
Anyway, video games and gender are back in the news, because the upcoming Assassin’s Creed game lets players be a female viking raider. There are a lot of hot takes flying around and honestly I don’t know Viking history well enough to take a proper stand, so I’m going to analogise and take us back to 2017 when this whole goddam thing happened in a totally different game.
I know I come across as a dirty indie games snob, but I have a dark secret: I fucking loved Battlefield 1. I haven’t played in a few years, but I dropped almost 1000 hours into it and was still playing regularly through Turning Tides. I liked the slower pace when compared to other Battlefield titles; I liked that each shot felt like it counted; I liked that, at times, it actually managed to get the grandeur and horror of the Great War across while still being a fun time. It was not always historically accurate.
This is the Austro-Hungarian Standschütze Hellriegel M1915.
We know very little about it. Those three pictures are the only pictures that exist of it. The developers at DICE had to guess what the left-hand side of the weapon looked like, because there is no information available about it. It was a prototype, and the pictures were distributed by the Austro-Hungarian government as propaganda about their technological advancement. It’s not clear it was ever deployed in battle. The odds of the average WW1 soldier encountering one are astronomically low.
It’s also the most popular gun in the game.
Mechanically, I get it: it’s the weapon that acts the most like an assault rifle from a more conventional Battlefield game. BF1’s weapons tend to be slower-firing and have worse range drop-off than the modern weapons of other titles but the Hellriegel is a solid downwind automatic in the midst of a bunch of bolt-action rifles. If you were coming from BF4 then it would’ve been more comfortable and less clunky compared to the more authentic WW1-era weapons. The era-authentic automatics like the MP18 pale in comparison.
If you care about historical accuracy, it’s a fucking abberation. We don’t know if the thing even worked, but it’s inescapable ingame and it totally changes the way games play out. An automatic that good would’ve totally rewritten what World War 1 looked like, and it does precisely that in Battlefield 1: rewriting the war so it’s less stagnant, more rush-friendly, more based around automatic weapons. It’s fun, but it’s not historically accurate; I don’t particularly care and neither do the player base.
They care about historical accuracy uh … selectively. You know where this is going.
The In The Name of the Tsar DLC added Eastern Front maps and armies into the game. On certain maps, the Russian scout (sniper) is a woman. The historical background DICE gave for this is the 1st Russian Women’s Battalion of Death, an all-female unit formed in 1917. The odds of the average soldier encountering them were pretty low.
They’re higher than them encountering a fucking Hellriegel, though. There were 300 soldiers in that unit, and as far as we know there was 1 Hellriegel and it maybe didn’t even work. The female snipers are pretty rare in-game too: they only appear on certain maps, and only for the Russian army. The Hellriegel appears on every map, in the hands of Americans and Germans and Frenchmen and ANZACS and occasionally even actual Austro-Hungarians. It is more common than the famous Short Magazine Lee Enfield .303, the Mosin Nagant M1891, the Springfield 1903. In The Name of the Tsar dropped in September 2017, almost a year after the core game’s launch. The Hellriegel was in the game from day 1. In that whole year, I did not hear a single complaint about the historical accuracy of Battlefield 1.
But the lady sniper? Hoo boy, that was a shitstorm. The community was furious. Reddit and ingame chat exploded with takes about how DICE were kneeling to the SJWs and were spitting in the face of history. The mask came fully off for a few days, and it was ugly.
But the fact they didn’t care about the Hellriegel really shows this thing for what it is: they don’t actually care about historical accuracy, they just know that it’s a way to sound objective when you’re really just mad about FEMINISM and THE SJWS. Online debate isn’t about defending your actual position, it’s about winning, and if winning changing your outward gripe to something more palatable then that’s what they’re gonna do.
Which is why, when I hear people online complain about “historical accuracy”, I roll my eyes. Not because I think it doesn’t matter, but because it’s almost always, in my experience, cant. It’s coming from people who are perfectly fine with glaring historical inaccuracy if it means getting to shoot a gun with more pew-pew but come down like the hammer on the thought of a Russian female sniper in a 20th century conflict (perish the thought).
Why were people fine with the Hellriegel? Because it’s fun. Because an accurate simulation of WW1 would be awful, and giving it a zippier gun that appeals to fans of the modern Battlefield games gives it a broader appeal. And that’s fine, media is allowed to take structured breaks from reality to make itself better, but if you’re going to accept that point then you’re going to have to accept that maybe you might run into a lady sniper from time to time.