On June 6th, 1944, Operation Overload began as the largest seaborne invasion in the history of mankind took place on the beaches of Normandy France. The beach was divided into five different sectors; Utah, Omaha, Juno, Gold, and Sword beach. It was a gamble and the stakes were high. Should this operation fail, the Allies may never had another chance to gain a foothold on Axis territory on the Western front. Allied casualties were in the thousands, with over 4,000 confirmed dead. Even though the Allies eventually succeeded, it was a slog. It wasn’t until June 12th, six days later, that all five beach heads were connected. The first day, June 6th, is now referred to as D-Day.
I’m not a historian, in fact, I know a few people who are. They’d be far more qualified to talk about the landing than I ever would be. But we are not talking about D-Day, we are going to talk about it’s virtual recreation in video games, and why it was so popular a decade ago.
To anyone reading this who isn’t familiar with video games, don’t worry, this article isn’t going to go into depth regarding the mechanics of video games. What you might find interesting is that during the late nineties and the early naughts, a genre of video game became increasingly popular. The first person shooter, a genre of game where you take direct control of an avatar, with a gun pointing forward, and shoot enemy opponents. This is still an incredibly popular genre, with some notable games including Halo, Call of Duty, Half-Life and Battlefield. A large percentage of these games took place during World War 2, and the games that used World War 2 as a backdrop often featured the landing on Normandy beach.
I’m not joking when I say a large number of games use WW2 as a backdrop; there are literally hundreds of games that take place during WW2. Hundreds of games where you play as the Allies, sent of missions to liberate Europe, killing Nazi soldiers to progress. You can walk, run, drive a jeep, drive a tank, fly a plane, take command of a massive battleship, there isn’t a vehicle used in the conflict that hasn’t been put in a video game. From the beach heads in France, to the Eastern Front in Russia, to the deserts of Northern Africa, and the Pacific battles of Pearl Harbor, Iwa Jima, and Midway; there is hardly any battle in the history of WW2 that has not been in a video game.
For a while, it seemed like every other game released was set in WW2. It’s easy to see why this was popular. The Nazi were an easy antagonist to portray, and it wasn’t difficult to shot them. The conflict saw a huge advancement in military technology, so there’s a lot of different guns, explosives and vehicle to arm your player with. And it was easy to create a sense of immersion, as these were real places you were playing in, in real battles.
Why was the landing of Normandy, D-Day, constantly featured in these games, so much so that it became a video game trope? Keep in mind that a quarter of the games that took place in WW2 had a level or a map with the Normandy landing. Out of all the battles that took place, the recreation of that particular battle was by far the most popular.
Honestly, when I started looking at timelines of when WW2 games became incredibly popular, you find that they really took off after the film ‘Saving Private Ryan’. After the movie was released in 1998, the game Medal of Honor was released a year later, although it’s important to note that it did not feature a D-Day landing level. After the success of Medal of Honor, the next decade saw a massive increase in the number of games based on WW2, with many of those game seeking to recreate the iconic and terrifying scene from Saving Private Ryan.
That’s my best guess, anyways. Truthfully, the first FPS (first person shooter) to be set in WW2 was ‘Wolfenstein 3D’, which was also one of the first FPS to see commercial success. It wasn’t until Medal of Honor was released that the genre took off. If you’re curious to see exactly how many game were released set in WW2, here’s a list on Wikipedia. Like I mentioned, literally hundreds.
The Illustrious Mr. Charlton
p.s. It’s weird to think that we ‘play’ through some of the greatest tragedies that have befallen humanity.