Valliant Hearts: The Great War tells a story about World War One in a beautiful comic look. It is not about the reasons and also not about the outcome. These two aspects are usually covered in great detail in history lessons at school. This adventure, however, focuses on the people and the misery caused by the war. It tells of a certain lightness that still prevailed at the beginning of the war, which soon engulfed the whole of Europe. Sometimes subtly and sometimes clearly, you are drawn to the horrors – for example, when it is mentioned that at some point people could no longer keep up with identifying the fallen soldiers.
In the mixture of historical facts and played action, the devastating consequences of the use of fully automatic and chemical weapons were also made very clear to me. It is the strength of the medium to have a particularly intensive and thus lasting effect when conveying knowledge.
But it was the ending that made me burst into tears. In a scene when I was supposed to round up a few last soldiers for an offensive in one of the many pointless trench battles, my comrades dropped like flies. And then, as I stand in front of my commander, I refuse to serve. But refusing isn’t enought. No, I kill the person who just kept blowing the whistle to attack. Despite the simple presentation, I was emotionally very upset. And yet somehow I was also very relieved. I was redeemed.
To this day I don’t know if I could have actually made a different decision in that situation. What I did was a completely natural reaction. I didn’t want it any more. I didn’t want war any more. I never wanted war again.
The character in the game was executed in France as a deserter at the end of the war. That too is a cruel fact about this war, but also many other wars. My tears were now joined by anger. Why is there war? At that moment, my understanding of it was simply lost. Why is there war? I know many explanations, of course. I know circumstances. I can understand all that and sometimes even reproduce it in discussions in my own words. But why is there war? I simply cannot understand it any more.
For the 100th anniversary of World War One, Ubisoft Montpellier developed a special game. The studio, which incidentally is also responsible for Rayman and Beyond Good & Evil, created an adventure game worthy of this event that brings into focus what we should never forget after this long time: It was an industrial war, a terrible war. There is nothing good about war. War knows no winners. I was shocked that I had never been fully aware of these horrors before. And Valliant Hearts: The Great War reinforced my basic pacifist stance.
It’s hard to imagine that just a few years later people would have instigated another one in all seriousness. That was a shocking realisation then as it is now. And it is equally inconceivable that people continue to wage war today. They wage war although they should know better.
And when I’m in Hamburg’s Planten un Bloomen in front of the monument honouring Infantry Regiment 76, which fought in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 and the World War One – a block erected by the Nazis in 1936 with the inscription that translates as “Germany must live, even if I have to die” – I think: “WTF! Me or Germany must die? Better Germany then.”
No more war.
Valliant Hearts: The Great War was released in 2014 for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One – 100 years after the start of the First World War. The game was also released for iOS and Android shortly afterwards. And since 2018, the adventure game has also been available for Nintendo Switch – 100 years after the end of the war. When talking about serious games that should play a role in every school lesson, Valliant Hearts: The Great War is right up there.
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