A Farewell to Arms: Battlefield V, Women, Prosthetics and Idiots

When Battlefield V was announced, one of the most prominent aspects of the first trailer was that one of the characters was a woman and had a prosthetic arm, and let me be the first to say that the response to this detail was – to say the very least – a bit vitriolic.

It’s a solid trailer, all told. Battlefield is known for its chaotic, big-scale battles, and seeing our heroine fight for her life as the situation gets more and more out of control is emblematic of the sort of escalating mayhem that I’d come to expect.

But no, you see, people were furious at the fact that Battlefield – a series renowned for historical accuracy and its depiction of the gruesome reality of war – starred not just a woman but a cyborg woman, their words not mine. The responses dipped into bigotry pretty quickly. “When can we shoot Nazi feminists?”, one person asks. “In Battlefield 6 you’ll be able to choose your sexuality!” How very original and funny.

It’s something that’s followed Battlefield V like the plague since its reveal, and dominates discussion of the product more than any other facet of the game. A thousand comments, joking or otherwise, that seem to demean the game’s creative decisions as “pushing an agenda”. On a PC Gamer article about Hell Let Loose, a game with a similar large-scale WW2 theme, the top comment is some asshole cracking a yuk at this game’s expense.

Like most bigoted criticisms it’s essentially the same joke every single time.

And with DICE actually having removed the prosthetic limbs from the game, I wanted to urge them to reconsider; not only do I have a great appreciation for the concept of the prosthetic limb and all it’s done throughout human history to benefit people, I am also greatly frustrated by those who mask bigoted and misinformed beliefs behind a crude veneer of altruism.

Lady Marmalade

I’ll pop my cards on the table right now if that headline wasn’t clear – I have zero issue with women and prosthetics being present in Battlefield V, and I think the use of “historical accuracy” as an argument against their inclusion is – for 99% of those arguing it – cowardly bollocks to hide sexism behind.

Let us consider, first of all, that women actually did fight on both sides in World War II, and I don’t simply mean that they contributed dramatically to wartime efforts away from the theatres of battle (though of course they definitely did that as well) – I mean they fought, from reserves like the Indian Women’s Auxiliary Corps or the Canadian Women’s Volunteer Service to active combat roles like the British SOE, sending women to Nazi-dominated nations as secret agents and covert communicators.

British women manned anti-aircraft cannons and shot down Nazi planes. Lyudmila Pavlichenko, a sniper in the Red Army, is credited with 309 kills during World War II and is a double-recipient of the Order of Lenin amongst other awards. To say that women didn’t fight in World War II isn’t just being misinformed, it’s outright ignorant – and the legwork to learn all about their involvement in the war is only a Wikipedia click away.

The Balance

They didn’t fight in as many numbers as men did, of course, and not every army deployed women as front-line soldiers, but this is where we come to a very simple argument which permeates gaming as an art form; it is part of the game’s fantasy to allow anyone to fight in World War II, in dynamic battles that can dramatically shift in the favour of either side.

You can easily say to yourself “okay, in this particular fictional World War II battle there are more women”, or you could justify it to yourself with a little narrative. Perhaps a base was routed and the women had to take up arms. Perhaps this is an undocumented division of a given army. Perhaps – like every single multiplayer battle in the game – these are all just a bunch of random nameless soldiers thrown together and told to shoot each other and maybe stand by a flag for a bit.

The real World War II wasn’t fun, it was one of the darkest times in history – I’m not sure anyone has to be told that. But we won, and that’s honestly fucking amazing, so being able to step into the shoes of the soldiers and fight in vast battles simulating the great victories against the Nazis is something I’m sure a lot of us can agree is quite a fun thing. But that means several realities of the war have to be left on the cutting room floor.

Your character doesn’t need to eat or drink, or manage dwindling supplies. The heat and cold of the battlegrounds do not affect your character whatsoever, and they can sprint indefinitely before steadily aiming their weapons without penalty, only needing to moderate breathing if operating a sniper rifle. Your guns don’t require cleaning, oiling or maintenance. If you reload your gun and you have rounds left in the magazine, they are automatically redistributed into full clips so you never accidentally put in a mag and only have two bullets to fire.

You might be rolling your eyes at all of this. Thinking that all sounds silly, that obviously it’s a game, and those “realistic elements” are too hardcore for a game like Battlefield. And you might be right – but what about things that wouldn’t be there like the Churchill and Tiger tank, present in maps set in 1939-40 but first introduced in 1941 and 1942 respectively? You can use a Winchester 1907 or a Mauser M1916 – guns introduced in the years in their name and long since obsolete in actual military engagements by the time World War II came around.

Media like Fury, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, Call of Duty: World at War all depict World War II with fictional soldiers and events, even going so far in the latter game as to say that it was actually the game’s protagonists Dimitri Petrenko and Victor Reznov who raised the Red Army’s flag over the Reichstag to end the Battle of Berlin, ending the war.

That’s not historically accurate either, none of that shit is. But somehow, the straw that broke the camel’s back for a lot of people was a larger than normal amount of women.

And don’t even get me started on ROBOT ARMS!

Real Talk

I’m gonna make a presumption here, as a lot of the people making fun of the prosthetic arm in the trailer had anime avatars. But I imagine when they think about artificial limbs, they think of Fullmetal Alchemist, of Edward Elric and his amazing Automail replacing the body parts he used to bargain with God for his mother’s and brother’s lives.

His English voice actor’s a sexual predator, but let’s just focus on the arm for now. Stay with me.

Similarly, characters like Sekiro and Venom Snake in Shadows Die Twice and Metal Gear Solid V respectively have a variety of prosthetic limbs, but when I pointed out on Twitter that those games received no “cyborg” mockery for their male protagonists whereas Battlefield 5 got dragged through a ditch feet first for daring to show a prosthetic on an unnamed soldier, I myself was subjected to a lot of people telling me how stupid I was and how it wasn’t comparable because Sekiro and MGSV have fantasy or alternate-history settings.

The impression I got – aside from the fact that there’s a lot of irony in over 100 insecure men wading in to defend their mockery of a game against a tweet humorously pointing it out – was that they seemed to view prosthetic limbs as a weird, out-there science fiction concept. Something that couldn’t possibly exist, and certainly not in a World War II setting.

And yes, while Sekiro’s bizarre firecracker arm and Venom Snake’s RO-CKET-TU PAAAUNCH are definitely beyond the realm of their 1800s and 1980s settings, the simple idea of a prosthetic arm on a military combatant is as old as history itself.

Armed and Dangerous

I’ve long been fascinated by prosthetic limbs. Accessibility is one of my life’s greatest passions, and allowing people who live with disabilities to interact with the world with the same strength as an able-bodied person is something I won’t ever not be in constant awe of – whether that lets people live as a person or fight for what they believe in. You only have to watch the Paralympics for a few seconds and you’re overwhelmed by these paragons of human achievement.

Case in point – the two very first ever recorded examples of a prosthetic were for war and society respectively. As described in the collection of Sanskrit hymns known as the Rigveda, the warrior Vishpala was granted a “leg of iron” after losing her original. She fights alongside the Ashvins, twin gods of medicine, making her the original Battlefield player to hog two medics in her squad.

She really had a leg up on the competition, ah ha ha ha!

The second prosthesis we know about is a big toe, dated 950-750 BC, owned and worn by an Egyptian noblewoman. This actually informed our knowledge about Egyptian culture; you might think they would have made her a special shoe, but wearing the traditional sandals was so important to her identity that the makers accommodated that desire.

I’ve honestly always really liked that. The very first examples of artificial limbs in recorded history and they’re helping restore people to the same level as they would have been had they not been handicapped. Magnificent.

Punch It

If you’re still convinced prosthetics are unrealistic in real life, I could talk about the Roman general Marcus Sergius, who had an iron hand made so he could hold his shield in battle. I could mention Götz von Berlichingen of the Iron Hand, who lost his right arm to cannon fire, had a replacement made that allowed him to hold weapons, ride horses and write – in 1505 – and literally invented the phrase “you can kiss my ass”. What about Group Captain Douglas “Dogsbody” Bader, an RAF flying ace who crashed, lost both his legs, re-enlisted as a pilot and got right back in the plane?

Further to the point, what’s important to remember as well as the real-life examples is that even within the crazy fiction of all of the fictional stories I mentioned, the prosthetic limbs are themselves treated with a base level of realism even if their eventual capabilities are beyond the real. Edward Elric’s metal limbs are able to act as though he’s using a flesh-and-blood arm, but he still needs to go through a year-long acclimatisation process involving great pain and embarrassment (and it’s mentioned that usually it takes a person three years) which is similar to the real-life adjustments people with prosthetics have to make in their lives.

Even though it’s extremely advanced within the story, Venom Snake’s arm is not really that high-tech at base level, and doesn’t really have a lot of fine motor control.

Even Metal Gear Solid V and Sekiro, filled as they are with telepathic soldiers, Men on Fire, demons and magic, are still powerfully respectful of warriors who must rely on prostheses. Hell, they even form an indelible part of the characters’ identity – Sekiro is Japanese for “one-armed wolf”, and…well, MGSV is called The Phantom Pain. The loss of something so important, and the ability to fight in spite of it, is a major theme of both stories.

Why are we still here? Just to suffer? Every night, I can feel my leg… and my arm… even my fingers. The body I’ve lost… the comrades I’ve lost… won’t stop hurting… It’s like they’re all still there. You feel it, too, don’t you?

– Kaz Miller, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Again, much like the presence of women in combat, the use of prosthetics in every battle in World War II and on the ground wasn’t as widespread as depicted here, but in my opinion it’s as much of a hand-wave as the presence of a Mauser or Tiger. Perhaps the character list their arm and hasn’t been extracted. Perhaps a doctor raced to give them a prosthesis so they can still hold a weapon – the left arm, for instance, is only used to support a rifle, to say nothing of weapons that can be used with one hand.

I really must confess once again: if the people making fun of Battlefield V did so out of the belief that these other games can get away with such things because it’s fiction and the unnamed woman from the trailer is boycott fuel because she can hold a gun and shoot some dudes, then your argument holds about as much water as a gas explosion.

Standing up (and sitting down)

To their credit, DICE stuck firmly by the product in the face of the criticism, now-iconically saying that if people didn’t like the game, then they shouldn’t buy it. A lot of the people who hated the game like to repeat that as some sort of rallying cry – that EA didn’t care about the players, so they wouldn’t give them any money – but honestly it’s something that gave me a resounding respect for DICE and indeed EA.

It made clear that if people were going to think that way about the product, they weren’t welcome to play it. And if they weren’t a fan of that, well – here’s a newsflash – EA and DICE didn’t give a fuck. And good riddance to those people, honestly.

Unfortunately, however, DICE decided to walk back the customisation present in the game, and this included the prosthetics, so unfortunately it’s not possible to play as a character with that aspect in the finished version of the game. I would urge DICE to reconsider this and re-enable such items, if only to stick it to the idiots who think they were able to effect any changes to a game by whinging about things they’re wrong about.

Less money, more problems

Battlefield V was listed by EA as a “sales disappointment”, but you’ll forgive me if I don’t place too much stock in how much of those lost sales were directly a result of people boycotting it. There were, quite simply, a great deal of factors that prevented players – even those that were interested – from dropping full price on the product. Girls and prosthetic limbs likely had next to fuck all to do with it.

For a start, the game’s actual sales statistics were 7.3 million copies in two months, which was one million short of EA’s predictions. It’s still a million less copies, but it’s hardly a ‘failure’ – possibly a result of an overconfident prediction, and the game launched in a pretty stacked period, competing even indirectly with Pokémon Let’s Go, Hitman 2, Tetris Effect, Fallout 76 and Darksiders III to say nothing of games that didn’t just come out in the same fortnight.

EA CEO Andrew Wilson pointed fingers at the marketing, saying the game lacked a “creative centre”. And personally, I would actually agree – Battlefield 5 is ‘more Battlefield’, and that’s always good, but it doesn’t actually have a unique selling point within its gameplay that sets it apart from its predecessors or competitors.

For example, Battlefield V launched without either its Combined Arms co-operative mode or its battle royale counterpart Firestorm, and EA launched Apex Legends – swiftly becoming one of the most-played games in the world – the month before Firestorm actually dropped. Some reviews noted that the game wasn’t as much of a change in pace after Battlefield 1, and others noted technical troubles or a lack of interesting content in the single-player campaign.

And then things get even more complicated. EA offers Origin Access, which allows you to, erm, access everything on Origin – surprisingly uncomplicated – for a monthly cost. You can go for Access Basic, which allows a 10-hour trial of current games like Battlefield V, or you can shell out more for Access Premier which lets you play as much as you like. EA offers a one-week free trial, and even if you’d already redeemed one, around the game’s release you could ask EA on Twitter for a code and they’d just give you one.

So here’s the thing. 10 hours might be more than enough Battlefield for a lot of people. You can complete the game’s campaign and still have 4 hours of multiplayer left, or just get into a few games with mates and decide it’s not for you. You might already be subscribed to Origin Access, and you installed and play Battlefield like any other game because it’s simply there. You might want to play the game and you realise that Origin Access Premier is £15 a month instead of up to whopping £79.99 for the Deluxe Edition.

And absolutely none of those situations is a direct sale of the game.

But no, I’m sure it was the bionic women.

Final Thoughts

There’s a 1929 article by Dr. J Duffy Hancock in which he says restoring a disabled person to work has the same value as saving someone from death, and an important thing to keep in mind with regards to games is that they allow escape for people; like all art forms they can take us away from reality and let us live a thousand lives in the shoes of a thousand characters. It sounds quite romantic when I put it like that, but think about how monumentally powerful it is for a person living with disabilities. They can enjoy the worlds of gaming along with everyone, because they are part of everyone. Efforts like those of SpecialEffect make those dreams a reality, and they’re a cause close to my heart.

We need only to look at accessibility initiatives like the Xbox Adaptive Controller to see how magnificent it can be to open up gaming to all. So when I say this, I don’t simply mean the benefit of having simple representation of those with disabilities in games – for those people in the comments to deny the presence of women and prosthetic limbs in wartime is to put a middle finger to centuries of medical advancement, and people who struggled against indomitable odds to fight in a massive, world-spanning conflict.

I hope DICE reconsiders and adds the prosthetic cosmetics back into Battlefield V. It’s the historically accurate thing to do.

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