Valiant Hearts: the great war

Digital Remembrance of Vimy Ridge

Playing a video game that depicts one of Canada's Great War victories

Thursday April 9, 2015 was Vimy Ridge Day in Canada, a day to commemorate the 12,000 lives lost and what many historians call one of Canada’s most successful military campaigns. This year marks the 98th anniversary of Vimy Ridge and some media corporations like Ubisoft are trying to share the story with a younger generation.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War, is a video game that follows the events of the First World War, including a level played at Vimy Ridge.

Players

The game is played from five different perspectives.

Karl, living in France with his wife, is forcibly deported back to Germany to join the draft.
Emile, Karl’s father-in-law, is also drafted, into the French army.
There is Anna, a Belgian medical student and battlefield nurse.
And Freddie, an American volunteer who joins the French.
We also have Walt, a Doberman pinscher from the German army that is always willing to help.

Source: Valiant Hearts http://store.steampowered.com/app/260230/

The game, created by Ubisoft Montpellier in 2014, with help from a team in Montreal, straddles the line between an engaging video game and a piece of educational software. The collectibles in the game end up opening up pop up historical facts about what the items you found were actually used for in the war.

“It is so exciting to see people taking history and using it in ways  to engage the public..which is exactly what we want,” said Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the Vimy Foundation.

“Watching that clip of that Vimy [scene], I mean it’s not perfectly historically accurate but it captures so much of the truth of Vimy Ridge and why we remember Vimy Ridge,” Jones said.

While she agrees the game is a good stepping stone for learning about history, some military experts say otherwise.

“I feel players may gain some knowledge of history, but that it is cursory and minimal-with no directed impetus for deeper study,” said Christopher Harvie, in an email. Harvie is an Oakville, Ont.-based military historian and founder of the “If Ye Break Faith” project.

“While I certainly don’t think ‘Valiant Hearts’ to be any sort of detailed educational tool, the game’s use of text and narration between play points helps to legitimize its effort to use the subject matter as…entertainment, ” he wrote.

What he did like in the game, though, is how players get to see the lifeless bodies of enemies and allies alike strewn all over the Vimy battlefield.

“That, despite the detractors I’ve mentioned, gave me a moment of quiet pride – provoked an emotive response – which, on any level is what validates entertainment, regardless of medium.”

The art in the game is a mixture of exaggerated comic book expressions and a great eye for detail. The artists really capture the authentic look of uniforms and flags while they exaggerate the depiction of the weapons. Players can experience being killed by virtual machine guns, mustard gas and warplanes.

In Montreal, McGill University history professor Desmond Morton, has never played the video game about Vimy Ridge, but after watching it for this story, said he thought the cartoon characters were “quite confusing”. He called the game an “embarrassing waste of time except possibly to keep small children amused.”

Morton, 80, is a member of the Vimy Foundation Advisory Board, which is working to commemorate the 100th anniversary in 2017.

“The essence of Vimy Ridge is that the Canadians broke a very badly damaged and demoralized part of the German line.  This gave the Allies a rare victory after the successive disasters of 1916,” Morton added, in an email.

Regardless, the creators of the game, and some fans of the game say it is doing something that few if no other video games even attempt: to put a digestible twist on a horrific event in history.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War is available on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Steam. It retails for about $14.99.

The XCV Gaming Network allowed Toronto Observer to share their video play-though of the Vimy Ridge level.