Checkpoint

Through Vietnamese Eyes

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #99. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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Corey Milne stands at the intersection of gaming and world history to see what he can see.

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What can explain the slew of shooters set amid the Vietnam War that saw release in the early-to-mid 2000s? Did Western developers want to find fertile ground away from the waning popularity of World War 2 shooters, in that brief window before the original Call of Duty upturned the apple cart? Or did the brewing Iraq War prompt a period of retrospection? Whatever the reason, across 2003 and 2004 at least 11 Vietnam War games released including Battlefield Vietnam, Conflict: Vietnam (hot off their grossly titled Conflict: Desert Storm 2: Back to Baghdad) and Guerilla Games’ oft forgotten, incredibly insensitive and all round bad game Shellshock Nam ‘67.

While this was the peak, games continued to release all through the 2000s.It operated as an odd theater space games can use to justify a rockin’ 60s soundtrack and referential comedy to 80s action films (see Magicka: Vietnam, Battlefield: Bad Company 2: Vietnam and Far Cry: Blood Dragon).

In 2011, 7554: Glorious Memories Revived was released. It built on the foundations of what was seen as the modern shooter, after Call of Duty once again changed the genre four years prior with Modern Warfare. What separates 7554 from other games of its ilk is that it’s a Vietnamese game. It’s never more than a shooter that’s competent at best, but its perspective is worthy of consideration. The game takes place between 1946 and 1954. If you’re unfamiliar with the timeline, this was what we call the First Indochina War. This then transitioned into the Second Indochina or Vietnam War when America became directly involved in 1955. The periods are designated the Anti-French Resistance War and the Resistance War Against America in Vietnam. Both are part of the struggle for Vietnamese independence after Japan’s surrender at the end of the Second World War in 1945.

Glorious Memories Revived is the kind of subtitle that might seem at first to be buoyed by an over-inflated sense of grandiosity. The kind of sentence Westerners would imagine seeing on a piece of propaganda. It’s a remarkably honest title. The game’s narrative is threadbare and only there to move the player between skirmishes, beginning at the Battle of Hanoi and ending with the defeat of the French forces at Dien Bien Phu. It revels in the triumph it’s depicting and there’s nothing particularly odd about that when it comes to shooters. It’s the exact same reason why World War 2 games have remained popular in the American and European markets. No matter the war, games are all too willing to provide a path to some imagined glory.

No matter the war, games are all too willing to provide a path to some imagined glory.

It’s the images in 7554 that make an impression. I knew I’d seen them before, but it wasn’t quite the way I’d remembered. The French troops you fight against look like Americans. The French war effort was largely funded and supplied by the US. Enemies are clad in familiar green battle dress. Instead of M16s or M60 machine guns though, you scavenge M1 carbines and Garands from the dead. It’s a space where two flashpoints in American military memory were overlapping before becoming distinct periods. In other games, I had taken on the roll of those soldiers. Now I was killing them.

The game is never explicit about whether some of the French troops are colonial troops, but the French did deploy up to 500,000 of them from territories such as Morocco, Algeria and Senegal. Whether the game intends to or not, it highlights the hypocrisy of the American and French presence in Asia. France had fought against German occupation and America had joined the war against the Nazis under the guise of European liberation. After the war, France felt entitled to its old colonies and the US saw them as pieces in a game they were playing against the Soviets. Freedom for some but not others. American military apparatus was shared throughout the majority of the Western European states from 1945 onward as the Cold War kicked into gear. It’s a uniformity that lends itself to being excellent shorthand for postwar Western imperialism.

7554: Glorious Memories Revived isn’t a very good game. It’s not a grand statement, but just by existing 7554 reframes the familiar. It’s important to allow other perspectives into the spaces we might inhabit. For once, Vietnam wasn’t used as set dressing for Western jingoism and it’s damning that that felt refreshing. This industry needs to do what they can to make room for new voices to grow. We need to start listening. So that we can bring more of our stories together.

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Corey Milne is an Irish freelance writer who likes to poke at that strange intersection where games meet history. A roundup of his writing can be found at coreymilne.com. You can join his Rad-Lands motorcycle bandit gang on Twitter @Corey_Milne.

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