On December 25, 1914 (the first Christmas of World War 1) French, British, and German troops ventured out from their trenches across the Western Front to meet each other in No Man’s Land. They’d spent the previous days, weeks, and months shooting at each other with orders to kill, but today was different.
The men exchanged gifts, buried the dead, took photographs, and even kicked around footballs on the very same land that, only days before, had been the ashen backdrop for nothing more than bullets and bloodshed. There had been organised ceasefires before, but this marked the only time both sides would spend Christmas together, briefly engaging one another with empathy instead of aggression. It was a small pearl of humanity in an ocean of untold conflict and violence, and made for a war story so powerful that, even today, it still almost sounds like a myth.
Battlefield 1 is a game set during World War 1, and its heartfelt campaign goes to great lengths to honour and pay tribute to the men and women involved in the conflict. Ever since its 2016 release, though, that sombre campaign has been at odds with the game’s frenetic multiplayer component; a gamified arena which turns the great war’s historic battles into competitive spectator sport, and an experience designed to entertain and gratify rather than contemplate on the horrors of the real events it’s based upon.
Whether that’s appropriate is another debate in and of itself, but the fact is that Battlefield 1’s two disparate parts take wildly different approaches in their treatment of World War 1, and developer DICE has yet to figure out a way to resolve this awkward imbalance.
A call for peace
Christmas, however, represents an opportunity to use Battlefield 1’s multiplayer to honour World War 1 in a way that the campaign arguably never could, and the online community have indeed been trying to find a way to pay their respects to the historic Christmas Day Truce of 1914 through DICE’s PvP infrastructure.
Last December, a recreation of the famous event almost came to be, after players began to discuss the idea across Reddit and other forums online, but no such gathering ever came to pass. DICE itself offered nothing more than a Holiday Truce dog tag to celebrate the occasion, and it doesn’t look like the studio is planning anything else this year other than a few ‘Holiday Missions’ (get kills with this weapon, blow up this vehicle etc.) to recognise the season.
That hasn’t stopped Battlefield 1’s players from working to organise in-game Christmas Truce events once again, though, and this year’s season of goodwill has already inspired many to reach out across the fence and peacefully engage with those that the game paints as their enemy.
For example, DICE recently released a Holiday Community Mission, in which a certain threshold of players each had to destroy 100 vehicles during a select period of time. If you’ve played Battlefield 1 before, you’ll know it isn’t exactly easy for the average player to achieve an objective like that, and the community quickly decided that the best way to complete this mission was for both sides to help each other out.
Within days, entire servers were set up, dedicated to encouraging collaboration between the opposing teams. Destroying an enemy mortar counts as a vehicle destruction in Battlefield 1, so both sides in these servers would set up ‘Mortar Markets’ – a concentrated area filled with dozens of placed mortar launchers – allowing each opposing team to take turns in firing at the market with their own mortar artillery, thereby racking up the needed vehicle kills at a much faster rate than if they were attempting the mission alone.
It was by no means an easy job; there was miscommunication, griefing, and all sorts of other practical problems, but these efforts are already being referred to as Battlefield 1’s unofficial Christmas Truce of 2017, as it involved both armies putting aside their differences to cooperate in the spirit of commonality. Some even postulated that DICE deliberately made the challenge difficult in the hopes of encouraging such a ceasefire, but the more likely reality is that this is more of a case of a community making up for a developer’s own misjudgement.
Beyond the mortar madness, players are still attempting to organise something that looks more like a full reenactment of the historical Christmas Truce event using Battlefield 1’s Community Test Environment (a PTR where people can experiment with the game’s mechanics and systems), and ideas like snowball fights and football matches are already being spitballed online. It’s doubtful if anything will come of it, but it does go to show just how eager Battlefield fans are to recreate this WW1 milestone, and begs the question, why hasn’t DICE come out and done something more official?
Learning from history
I can understand why the studio might be hesitant. Make it a cheery seasonal event in the same vein as other online titles, and it could be perceived as a tasteless trivialisation of a day that ought to be remembered with reverence. Go all in, and it could turn into a full blown project that eats up a lot of time and resources that might be better spent on Battlefield 1’s long term future.
But, now that it looks very likely that fan clamouring for such an event will arise every year, DICE still ought to do something, at the very least to show an awareness of the community it’s catering to.
As I mentioned earlier, a Christmas Truce event could also mark the first step in bridging the tonal gap between Battlefield 1’s multiplayer and single player components and, if executed with the right amount of tact and taste, could even work as an innovative example of how online gaming can be used as a space for memorialisation rather than endless glorification.
Not just that, but in a multiplayer market dominated by conflict-focused shooters, for one of the biggest titles out there to create a social mode which encourages peace and amity over violence? That could be something very valuable indeed.
It’s too late for DICE to stage anything this year, but 2018’s Christmas will eventually come around, and I – alongside many other Battlefield 1 players – hope that the studio uses this time to recognise the opportunity it has to do something really special with a game that needs to stay mindful of the subject matter its inspired by.