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'Heroes and Generals': Finding a New Narrative for War Games

04/03/2014 04:09 pm ET | Updated Jul 09, 2014

Heroes and General 5edit War games tend to be a pretty repetitive genre in terms of story. This is not a problem if you like playing World War II, futuristic fantasy that seems quite a bit like World War II or more World War II. But if you like playing much else, you might find yourself stretching.

"The Second World War is one of the most popular gaming worlds, because I think it is more ethically acceptable to re-fight the Second World War which we, particularly in the western world and English speaking countries, feel was a good war in the sense of our mythic understanding of the war -- because it was fought against the evils of tyranny and fascism," said Stephen Webley, who runs the Military and Civil Simulation Technology Research & Enterprise Institute (MINISTRY) at Staffordshire University.

It was a war that was worth fighting because it was a war against the evils of fascism and tyranny. Again that is appealing to people because they believe this was a war about morality and ideology. I think that's very important when it comes to what makes a good war game is the clear line between good and evil and the clear distinction of ideologies in history.

It is into this World War II driven genre that Heroes and Generals presents itself. Heroes and Generals is free-to-play World War I game in which players play on both the individual soldier level in the method of a first-person shooter or on the generals level as a strategy game. The game is in open beta now free to play, according to Sarah Gordon, speaking on behalf of Heroes and Generals with Square-Enix Europe.

Heroes and Generals is the exception to the rule in war games in that, successful or not, offering a game that is free to play, not about World War II and crosses gaming genres is not all that common. Introducing different narratives may be a way games can be used to help educate.

"Historians still can't agree why the First World War world happened and who is culpable," said Webley.

Another thing I look for is that its complex enough that war is realistically represented as an extension of politics. Politics is about how people cooperate and how people argue and I think a game like Heroes & Generals has that in that it's not just about being an e-sport type game; it's about the bigger aspect of a realistic representation of warfare.

Heroes And Generals 2 editRecently, I offered my thoughts on the conversation regarding why games are so beloved in America. But its worth asking specifically about war games in that these are games that are: 1. Often narrative cookie cutters of one another and, 2. Often at the forefront of public condemnation about violence in video games.

In some ways, this is the new technological iteration of the wash-rinse-repeat model of the war movie, or before it, the war novel. Popular culture, particularly in the form of comic books, has long served as a sort of supplementary education, according to Gordon.

"Games are taking over from traditional media in education," Gordon said.

If we think of education as satisfying curiosity, which in the best cases, it should, then its easy to see how games can serve to educate as well as entertain.

"People play games for a number of reasons, such as to satisfy curiosity and interest, for cognitive stimulation, for the enjoyment of experiencing different lifestyles in different environments and for 'recreational refreshment,'" said Jacqui McKechnie, a senior lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University.

It seems that the most pleasure is experienced in games when there is 'flow' -- a balance between skills and achievement. Being in control of the situation and feeling as you are one with the activity can lead to time distortion and an altered state of consciousness which is pleasurable and can be rewarding in itself without any other end product.