Nothing like a provocative title to get the readers, I always say.
As I play through the year’s good and great games and try to figure out which ones deserve which awards, I keep coming back to RUSE, a game that could be the biggest surprise of 2010 or the biggest underperformer of 2010 or the best strategy game of 2010. Though I can in no way claim to actually be good at it (the game has a weird pace that makes it hard for me to find the flow), I can claim to know that I know when I am seeing something unique.
Unique is not a word one associates with World War II, at least not in the gaming world. Even in terms of world wars, it was a sequel. Even as gamers complain about getting tired of the setting, though, games keep coming out that show how World War II the history is often meaningless when it comes to actually making the game.
Take RUSE. It is a game about deception, misdirection and seizing supply points. (You could say the same thing about Company of Heroes, only it requires a lot more micromanagement.) There is absolutely no reason for RUSE to be in WW2. The mechanics are irrelevant to the war – no battle looked anything like this, not that Blitzkrieg was historically accurate – and you can easily imagine changing merely the art and card titles and turning this into an elves v orcs game.
World War 2 is, as many gamers have feared, a default setting. The sides are familiar, the powers of the units are familiar and even the setting itself, be it Tunisia or Kharkov or Dieppe, is tilled soil.
RUSE and Company of Heroes and probably a bunch of those shooters that the kids today like reveal just how many really good historical games are only vaguely historical. Game history is like Colonial Williamsburg, a moment ripped from context to entertain for a few hours and maybe soothe a few contemporary worries for a while.
This is why I have become less and less exercised about accuracy in strategy games that make no pretense of caring about it. I am still deeply interested in what choices game designers make about history may actually mean, as the national character series reveals. But making WW2 look and feel like WW2 is not something RUSE is going for.
There are pitfalls in the “history as theme park” approach to games. Context does matter, as does some level of “truth”, even if accuracy doesn’t necessarily always figure into things.
But WW2 highlights one of the problems we will be addressing in this week’s podcast – how does a game’s theme connect to its meaning, and how do the mechanics fit into that space? You can read ahead at Soren Johnson’s blog. Parts one and two of his thoughts.
I never ask you guys to do homework. Don’t pout.