An Unsung War: The Missing Of China and Japan In Modern WWII Games

After taking a gigantic leap back to the First Great War, the Battlefield franchise finally returns to where the series actually started – World War II. While many criticized the game of its unoriginal online gameplay compared to its predecessor Battlefield I, I am much more disappointed, and therefore curious, of the absence of the Sino-Japanese War.

In 1937, soon after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, Japanese Forces launched a full-scale invasion on China, and quickly they’ve captured major cities such as Shanghai and Nanjing. The Chinese Forces did not see its counterattack until 1939, and since then the conflict remained stalemate until the Attack on Pearl Harbor, which led the US to officially join the great war.

It is not difficult to understand why World War II gets a lot of attention, even after three decades: it is a gigantic collection of tragedies, heroism and legends of blood and tears. This makes it even more bizarre to see the Asian Theater under-represented in public media, especially in the market. What happened? Why did no-one make a video game on this theme?

Is It Really Lost?

To answer these questions, I must first make sure my question stands valid. Luckily, the great people of the Wikipedia community have already compiled a somewhat huge list of games that is centered on WWII. Of the 338 entries included in the list, only a handful of them depicted the Pacific Theater; Many of these titles surrounded the conflicts between the US and Japan. In the end, only 3 titles remained qualified. Below is a brief summary of the three games, based on either Wikipedia or from the game’s website:

  1. Order Of Battle: Rising Sun: A turn-based strategy game that takes place in the 2nd Sino-Japanese War. Interestingly, although it does feature both China and Japan in the game, the player is only allowed to play as the latter.
  2. Strategic Command WWII Pacific Theater: A turn-based strategy game that features the WWII from the attack On Pearl Harbor until 1947. The player controls all of either Axis or Allied States, which means that the player does not get to pick an individual nation to play as. Although the cover art features the national flag of China back then, the game does not allow players to control it as an individual force.
  3. Hearts of Iron IV: A strategy game that allows player to play as any nation from the world in 1936 or 1939. It is the only game that allows player to play as an individual Chinese Force or a Japanese Force; surprisingly, one can play as one of many “branches” of the Chinese Force, such as China and Communist China.

One thing that’s worth noting is that the first edition of the Hearts of Iron series was banned in China, due to its depiction of Tibet, Sinkiang, Manchuria and Taiwan as either different nations or under control by Japan, albeit them being facts at the time.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this source lists collected only games published by Japanese or Western game companies/studios. If you search for WWII games made by Chinese studios, you would definitely return with loads of results; yet these games, retrieved recognition only from China, meaning that virtually nobody else in the world knows these games.

Since this previous discovery fundamentally breaks our original question, let me slightly alter it: why did no-one publish a game in the Western/Japanese market about the history of the Sino-Japanese War?

Not Our War

One of the possible approaches to answer this question is to understand how well the Western public knows history. Here are a few comments I found from this website:

“China were in WW2 :0?”

~rastaman219

“I think you mean Japan, China got their butts kicked by the Japs don’t get them confused their twodifferent cultures.”

~KamikazeDonut, replying to rastaman219

Then, here is the existence of this article:

If you ask Google: “Was China involved in WWII?”, it auto-completes it for you, and spits out countless results of people asking the same question. It seems like the Western audience either didn’t know or has forgotten that China was actually one of the first countries to join the Great War.

There has to be a reason that explains why the West has suffered a collective amnesia. One of the more obvious explanation is that the conflict between the two Asian nations broke out on a distant land several years before the US joined the battle. When Uncle Sam hopped in, they mainly fought on the islands of the Pacific Ocean, not on mainland China; in other words, they never got to meet each other, at least before they all sat down for parley.

Surely, that could be an explanation. But you must’ve seen this photo before somewhere (hint: It’s in one of the Marvel movies):

source link here

This propaganda poster serves yet as a solid evidence that people did not forget their allied partners in the East back in the days; three decades later, however, this memory was miraculously lost.

The only way for the collective mind of the public to forget things is to completely avoid mentioning it. So something must’ve happened within these 70 years.

An Inconvenient Truth

China

While China was under fierce invasion from the Japanese, the country itself is in great turmoil: the country is split into two parties: the Nationalists (Kuomintang) and the Communists. Although they have separate leaders, both parties fought the war and even worked together (on the surface) to push back the invasion.

However, things didn’t go well after the War. Instead, the Chinese went into a civil war and that’s when the Communists took over mainland China, leaving the Nationalists nowhere to go but Taiwan. Since then, each claimed themselves as the righteous government of China, and each has a different depiction of China’s part in the WWII history.

Remember that I mentioned why Hearts of Iron I is banned in China? The image of several areas being independent from China – especially Taiwan – does not go well with the Chinese authorities at all. In a nation where freedom of speech is highly restricted and monitored, such content is tabooed.

On the other hand, China is one of the most populated countries in the world, and has a potentially gigantic market in games and entertainment. It wouldn’t be surprising for game companies to alter or avoid sensitive content in order to let their products enter China without difficulties; in fact, several game companies have agreed to change their content due to a large volume of complaints from Chinese players, like the one described in this news article.

United States

Frankly, the Chinese Civil War was only part of the next phase in international politics for the next two decades – The Cold War. It is commonly interpreted as the tension between communism and capitalism. Both leaders of these political theories need friends to form alliances, and The Republic of China, who at the time represented the country, was still an allied nation with the US.

However, the US didn’t see the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) coming, and it was somewhat beyond their expectation that the communists would reverse the game. After the communists won* the civil war, it became politically awkward and for the US government to remind the public that China was one of its allies in the East during the war. Since then, this story has slowly faded away in people’s memories.

*Officially, the war never concluded.

Conclusion

Mais qu’est alors cette vérité historique, la plupart du temps? Une fable convenue.

(What then is, generally speaking, the truth of history? A fable agreed upon.)

— Napoléon Bonaparte

Just like other media, games also tell history. But when history is told, it is not history anymore; it becomes merely a story, an adapted version of facts that appeals to a certain demographic. While different countries had different reasons, the result of the exclusion of the Sino-Japanese War in modern videogames is the sheer evidence that games, like other media, are also incapable of appealing to all types of audience.

In my opinion, this is exactly what we’re missing: a whole new perspective of understanding the world. As a game designer, it serves as a perfect reminder to never stop observing from a different angle. Although this might not come true soon, but I look forward to games that tell stories about the War (and not limited to) from a perspective we have never been in.

Remarks

Interestingly, this question is also valid if we ask from China’s point of view, and if we swap all the nouns. I’d like to hear more about this other perspective as well. I think it’ll be interesting to hear stories from different countries too, like China, Japan, and especially the long-tabooed-Germany. We mustn’t forget that Germany had suffered from an unbearable economic pressure due its defeat in WWI, and that acted as one of the reasons that gave the Nazi Party a chance to rise.

Published by

Brian Teng

Game Designer | Pittsburgh, PA

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