Will you shoot Hitler?

Richard Lee

If you pre-order Sniper Elite V2 you get an additional scenario – the chance to kill Hitler. One bullet can change history, as the blurb says. It is the same subject as the classic (excellent) Geoffrey Household novel, Rogue Male, and raises the same philosophical chestnut: is assassination ever right? It is a question that is particularly relevant (and difficult) today, on the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death.

But back to the game – and games in general – and their relevance to historical fiction.

I confess I am not a games nut. I know about this one only because a friend owns the company that makes it. But I am fascinated by the way that the games industry has transformed itself in my life time. Now it is bigger, financially, than movies. It is technologically at the cutting edge: programming first used in gaming subsequently gets adopted by the military. It is also controversial. Gaming addiction is rife, and there are endless inconclusive wrangles about whether or not violence in games affects real life behaviour.

Not only can you kill Hitler , you can eviscerate him and post images on YouTube

This game – Sniper Elite V2 – is an interesting project. It is what’s termed a first-person shooter (FPS), and players take on the role of a sniper with a mission in 1945 Berlin. The mission details are fantasy (I wonder why?) but there are many levels of verisimilitude. The street scenes, weapons, vehicles and uniforms are modelled on originals. There is a very serious attempt to get the ballistics right. There is also an anatomically accurate screen option that allows you to see the damage your bullets do, via the so-called X-Ray Kill-cam. It is this last option that will attract all the attention. Not only can you kill Hitler (which was already in dubious taste), you can eviscerate him and post the images of your kill on YouTube – they are already there.

What impact will this have on historical fiction? Probably not much, though there is already a Sniper Elite novel that Rebellion have issued via their publishing wing, Abbadon Books, and writers do cross over from one medium to the other – for example Alex Scarrow.

But it is the indirect impact of these games that is so profound. If you have ever wondered why war novels are now so graphically violent, you must see it in the context of this audience. More importantly, writers need to understand that video game players interact with characters and settings differently. What details of history do the game-makers feel they have to get right? Which details matter less? And what kinds of characters do game-players choose to play? Assassins are very popular. There is a darkness in these imaginative worlds, and a reinvention of ‘hero’ going on. And the one thing they are not is childish. They are designed for adults, carry adult certification, to gratify – and shock – adults.

Will I be buying the game? Actually yes, this time. Partly, of course, it’s because it’s a friend’s project (and I wouldn’t dream of not buying a friend’s novel).

But I am also interested to see just how realistic and true-to-history it all feels. I don’t think I will be eviscerating many Nazis (well, maybe a few), but I will certainly be wandering around and looking at the architecture!

Posted by Richard Lee

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