Assignment 2 involves the analysis of a game for learning purposes.
- Title of the Game:
Valiant Hearts: The Great War / Soldats Inconnus : Mémoires de la Grande Guerre
- Game Developer/Studio:
UbiArt platform for Ubisoft Montpellier (Julien Chevallier/designer; Matt Entin, Ed Kuehnel, Gerard Barnaud/writers; Yoan Fanise, Paul Tumelaire/directors; Stephane Fricard/programmer).
- Game Genre: Puzzle/action/educational.
- Target Audience:
The game appears to have been designed for teenagers 13 years and above, particularly fans of history, puzzles and graphic novels/manga. The planned audience seems to have been one that would be very familiar with similar puzzle and action games and have practice with a game controller (rather than a keyboard).
- Learning Objectives and Standards Addressed:
It does not appear that specific learning objectives and standards were used to design the game, but since some of my classmates have taught in Texas, I found that several Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for Social Studies are addressed to some degree, namely
- §113.41 (c)-(2)-(D) – explain the significance of the following years as turning points…1914-1918 (World War I)…
- §113.41 (c)-(4)-(C) – identify the causes of World War I and reasons for U.S. entry…
- §113.41 (c)-(4)-(E) – analyze the impact of significant technological innovations in World War I such as machine guns, airplanes, tanks, poison gas, and trench warfare that resulted in the stalemate on the Western Front…
- §113.41 (c)-(4)- (G) – analyze significant events such as the Battle of Argonne Forest…
- §113.41 (c)-(12)-(B) – identify and explain reasons for changes in political boundaries such as those resulting from statehood and international conflicts…
- §113.42 (c)-(10)-(A) – identify the importance of imperialism, nationalism, militarism, and the alliance system in causing World War I…
- §113.42 (c)-(10)-(B) – identify major characteristics of World War I, including total war, trench warfare, modern military technology, and high casualty rates
For comparison, and because I have a family member who has taught in Massachusetts, and her daughter is now an appropriate age to play the game, I also looked at the Massachusetts Department of Education. They are somewhat different than the Texas standards. I believe the game would be relevant to these standards:
United States History I
- HSS.USI.T7.06 – Explain the rationale and events leading to the entry of the U.S. into World War I (e.g., unrestricted submarine warfare, the sinking of the Lusitania, the Zimmerman telegram, the concept of “making the world safe for democracy.”)
- HSS.USI.T7.07 – Analyze the role played by the U.S. in support of the Allies and in the conduct of the war
World History II
- HSS.WHII.T4.01 – Analyze the factors that led to the outbreak of World War I (e.g., the emergence of Germany as a great power, the rise of nationalism and weakening of multinational empires, industrial and colonial competition, militarism, and Europe’s complex alliance systems.
- HSS.WHII.T4.02 – Evaluate the ways in which World War I was a total war and its impact on the warring countries and beyond.
a. the use of industrial weapons and prolonged trench warfare and how they led to massive casualties and loss of life
b. the expansion of World War I beyond Europe into a global conflict (including the mobilization of Asian and African colonial subjects as troops to support military efforts and the reasoning for and impact of United States involvement; the impact on various nationalities, religious and ethnic groups )
c. the impact of war on the home front in Europe, including the conscription, war propaganda, rationing, and government control of wartime industries
- HSS.WHII.T4.03 – Analyze the political, social, economic, and cultural developments following World War I.
a. the vast economic destruction resulting from the warb. the emergence of a “Lost Generation” in European countries… (other additional learning objectives are taught but the game is not germane to them.)
It is unclear over how many years the game was developed, but it is safe to say that it was developed during 2013 and potentially also a year or two earlier (there is considerable graphic art that was drawn for the game). It was released for most platforms, namely Windows PCs, Playstation 3 and 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox one, Android and iOS smartphones in 2014. Four years later it was released for the Ninetendo Switch. It is available on the Steam platform but also requires that users download Ubisoft also and join as members.
- Goals and Rules of the Game:
Each chapter has different goals and objectives (usually objects to collect and actions to successfully take), but the larger goals of the game involve characters surviving the war, and reuniting with lost family members. The antagonist who the characters must try to defeat is a German named Baron Von Dorf. There are no firm “rules” introduced in the game that you must follow, though there are barriers at time to moving forward until you resolve the puzzle. For instance, when I was playing as French soldier Emile, and accidentally dropped a bomb next to a French soldier, I did not receive a “penalty” for breaking a rule, as I might have in another game.
The primary relationships in the game are between six core characters: Karl, a German man, is married to Marie, a Frenchwoman; Marie’s father is a Frenchman named Emile. At the beginning of the game, Karl is deported from France and promptly drafted by Germany; likewise, Emile must leave Marie at home with her baby son, as he is drafted by France. Anna is an Belgian war nurse and veterinary student who befriends the characters, while searching for her father, a kidnapped weapon designer; Freddie is an American soldier who volunteers for France (hoping to avenge the death of his wife) and becomes friends with Emile. Walt is a dog who helps Emile and the others on their journeys.
The narrative begins in 1914, when the war begins with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand; Karl is deported as an enemy. Emile is then drafted, and after briefly making friends with Freddie (an American seeking revenge for his French wife’s death), he fights in the Battle of the Frontiers, where France and Belgium meet Germany. Emile tries to outrun the German bombs on the field while carrying the battle colors of his country.
Meanwhile Freddie also fights in another subgame in this first chapter, and must cut wire and throw bombs to try to get to Von Dorf’s headquarters, while avoiding machine gun fire. When Emile is injured, Karl (fighting on the opposing side under Von Dorf) sees him bleeding on the battlefield, and reunites secretly with him after Emile becomes a prisoner, in the next chapter of the game.
Walt, the small dog, helps Emile escape after the Allies attack the German POW camp; Emile tries to find Karl, and reunites with Freddie during the first battle of Ypres, in Belgium, as he and Walt discover a poison gas factory underground. They then meet Anna, the Belgian nurse, and try to recover both her father and Karl, who are trapped in Von Dorf’s blimp. When it crashes, Karl survives while Von Dorf steals away in a biplane with Anna’s father. Karl is now a prisoner of war for the French.
Emile and Freddie pursue Von Dorf to Verdun, and the Battle of the Somme, and Karl escapes the POW camp to get to his wife in Saint-Mihiel with Anna’s help. This is prior to the large 1918 battle of Saint-Mihiel, during a period when Saint-Mihiel is being occupied by Germany and attacked by Allied troops. Emile is then sent into the Nivelle Offensive, in Champagne and Aisne in France.
The game ends with a major death as the Americans enter the war in 1917.
- Number of Players & Player Interaction:
This game is single player only, and not networked.
- Spaces or Environments:
This is a side-scrolling game with perspective layers that move to create depth. The landscape changes depending on the storyline, from the major battlegrounds (the border with Germany in the Battle of Frontiers, Ypres, Verdun, Battle of the Somme) to the interior of Von Dorf’s prisoner of war camp, trenches below Verdun where a factory for poison gas is hidden, the French army camp where Emile trains, and Karl and Marie’s farm. The player can only navigate backward, forward, and occasionally up or down, with most movement going across. When a puzzle must be solved, the action is stopped until you resolve whatever clue is there to help you navigate the right actions.
- Core Mechanics:
In different chapters of the game, characters must throw bombs, pick up or swap items, fistfight/punch, climb stairs or ladders, pull trolleys (including to balance levers), throw items to release items from the floor or ring bells, jump, offer water or food, and trade items of value.
- Description of Gameplay:
Gameplay depends on the goals. You must figure out a puzzle by figuring out the boundaries of where you are in the scene or subgame, then use the clues or “glimmering” items to reach an objective. For instance, in order for Emile, who has been freed when the Allies attack the camp where he is held prisoner, to join his old friend Freddie (who we can see but not reach)… he cannot simply jump to where Freddie is, but must throw an object to release a lever in a tree, then place the lever in the hole where it belongs, in order to use a pulley system that will bring him and the dog Walt up to Freddie’s level. The pulley system does not work, however, without Emile first dragging a heavy cart on a track up long enough to have Walt jump onto the pulley elevator, and then back up just long enough for Emile to jump on. Then Emile and Walt are tracked down to a lower level where the trenches are, and they must now resolve a new puzzle – the gas factory – before returning to Freddie.
By far, the art created by Paul Tumelaire is the most beautiful and evocative aspect of the game, reminiscent of the classic graphics for Asterix, which was also a historical comic book that used animals and touched on some fairly serious issues in “Gaul”. Ian Livingstone and Peter McConnell provided the music, which provides emotional depth. In the beginning of the game, the music gives a sense of the stirring, but naive, military marches that were common, and the expectation in August 1914 that war would begin and end rapidly. While voiceover actors read from the letters that are sent between major characters, some of the minor characters mumble in French, German or American English nonsense, which is silly and endearing. This becomes problematic when the game becomes more serious, primarily because the younger audience for this game could have trouble squaring it away with the lighter tone started at the beginning.
- Progression & Levels:
There are multiple chapters that must be followed in a specific sequence, and which progress in difficulty based on the puzzles; for instance, while there are clues early on that tell you what actions to take during Emile’s basic training, and periodically additional clues are provided (either an object “glimmers” or a button appears on the item, telling you what to press), resolving the puzzle often means interacting with other characters in a specific way. In other words, the difficulty increases in terms of not only getting items, but helping others to unlock clues and further locations.
To help the American soldier at the train station, Emile must provide white, not red wine, to a superior French officer, and he must also get the band to play music, but in a specific order for each instrumentalist, beginning with the drummer.
After Emile becomes a prisoner of war, and is forced to serve a cooked sausage to one of his German captors, he first provides water to a small Red Cross dog, before entering the area where he can cook the sausage – and the sausage must be cooked by first pouring water, heating it, and then adding sausages when it boils – in that specific order. When an explosion from the British destroys the camp, he must help an injured German in order to find out where his son-in-law, Karl, a conscripted German soldier, has been sent.
- Academic Content:
The game requires no prior knowledge of World War I, though a small amount is helpful, namely knowing the major powers of the time. The academic content is not integrated especially well – periodically a “books” icon appears on the screen, showing knowledge about aspects of World War I, and often providing some information about the objects. You can play through the game without really engaging very deeply into the academic content on the slides, however, players do get a strong sense of the physical landscape that defined World War I, namely the bombed out landscapes, trenches, and terrifying injuries created from gas and other weaponry. And they also get a sense of the physical risk to combatant and civilian alike.
- Cognitive Processes Required:
The primary cognitive process required here is to analyze, and to a lesser extend, to apply the tools that you collect while playing. You do not need to remember anything that doesn’t remain on the screen in the current scene of the game. You do not need to understand deeper implications for what is happening, evaluation is very limited (though it could be helpful if the game was paired with additional learning materials that let learners evaluate strategies, objects, and so on), and creativity is not required.
- Learning Theories Embodied:
While there is some aspect of social constructivism in the sense that you learn through interactions with other characters, and in specific environments, behaviorism is heavy here too: you don’t have multiple ways to resolve the game puzzles but must use the controls in a certain way to proceed forward. At certain parts of the game, things happen whether you like it or not – Emile’s fate in the game is pretty sealed compared to other characters, in particular, and this is obvious from his entrance into the “base camp” where you first practice using the commands to jump, throw a bomb, or attack with fists. In this first scene, Emile is screamed at by the French equivalent of a drill sergeant, and then must walk forward into a building, into a room where his clothes are stripped. He then exits the building, dressed as a soldier with required pack.
Emile is also injured in another section of the game no matter how many times you attempt to avoid bombs that are dropping; he is eventually hit by a machine gunner, even if you avoid every bomb.
- Instructional Strategies Incorporated:
There are no definitive assessment strategies. The game does use entertainment-education – using the narrative as a strategy to get the user involved in the action. As far as scaffolding both gameplay and the history, the game does become more difficult, and along with more simplistic battle objectives (like throwing a bomb), there are more serious things that begin to happen by the end of the game: there are questions about immoral actions against prisoners of war, against civilians, and finally against soldiers at the Nivelle Offensive.
- Overall Evaluation: (strengths, weaknesses, and suggestions for improvement)
This is a beautifully drawn and scaled game, but not what I expected when I read about “puzzles” on Steam. I think that the early focus on throwing bombs, Freddie’s planned revenge (and grunting), and the Snidely Whiplash (a parody character created for the Bullwinkle cartoon show) quality of the Van Dorf character is a problem. These elements, when connected with the rest of the game, will be a turn off for some of the audience that would otherwise enjoy the game, and learning about the history through the relationships and experiences of the characters. The tone is also something that shifts throughout – which I feel is a weakness in terms of its appeal to all audience members. The research was very well done, and it is clear when they refer to a partnership with a French museum, that they incorporated elements with some thought and caring. I would have enjoyed the narrative from more of an escape room perspective, however, to really analyze the objects differently and have multiple purposes for them.
I enjoyed playing the game but found some of the puzzles very frustrating. It was beautiful to look at. This game won many awards, but I think the tone is best appreciated if it is scaffolded before being used for learning purposes.
Specifically, reflecting from the education-entertainment perspective – I honestly think American players may be less open to this tone, of a farcical villain plus harsh tragedy. Popular narratives about war produced for American audiences after WWII tend to be less “bittersweet” than what comes from the United Kingdom (e.g. Blackadder, WWII film Overlord, Hope and Glory), France, and Japan (for instance, the WWII stories Nijū-shi no Hitomi or Twenty-Four Eyes, and Grave of the Fireflies). Most modern American films about war generally are action-oriented, or very analytical docudrama (such as the joint US-Japanese Tora Tora Tora) and don’t employ farcical humor, although Catch-22 (HBO) is a recent exception for its absurdist, dark humor. (Edit: This is change from the many early American films such as Wings, The Big Parade, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, War Nurse, and All Quiet on the Western Front, which often mixed humor with tragedy. I think the game would be a big hit with fans of those early films and not as much with gamers who are used to playing the many WWII first-person shooter and large scale battle simulations/strategy games).
This game does have a French sensibility, which reminded me of the humanism of one of my favorite films, Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion. That film uses World War I to not only talk about love and friendship, and the bonds that cross nationality, but also examine the imperialist and Gilded Age class values that were destroyed by the war. I think the film was a major influence on the game: escaping a prisoner of war camp happens multiple times; it also revolves around an unlikely friendship in war, between a French tradesman and a French Jewish man whose wealthy parents (I think based on the Rothschilds?) are from two other countries; there is also a German-French romance when the two soldiers escape from a POW camp and stay with a German farmwoman whose husband and brothers were killed in the war (her husband, specifically, is killed at Verdun). The character of Marie in this game looks very similar to Dita Parlo’s character of Elsa, who is also raising a child on her own.
I do not think it would have been the same game if it had been developed in the US, rather than by a majority French team. Partly it is because WWI’s Armistice Day is now Veterans Day in the US, and does not have the connotations it continues to have in Britain, France and Germany. It would be easy to take a simplistic tone without considering how frequently war breaks up families and causes all kinds of sociological changes – the history could simply be told as if battles occur in different places along a map. That is not at all the direction these designers took, and without giving away the very sad ending for one of the characters, players will think deeply about the ramifications of gameplay by the end.
I appreciated that Karl and Walt, German characters, were portrayed with humanity and caring by the French creators of this game, and also that a Belgian character – a woman who represents many of the Red Cross workers and nurses who volunteered at great risk – was developed as a major hero who saves lives and takes actions.