Let’s face it; being upset that women are in a World War II shooter is pretty dumb.
During Battlefield V’s reveal event, people seemed upset. Not everyone, of course, but a certain portion of the audience took issue with the game’s inclusion of a woman. Just one, mind you, who seems to be featured prominently in the game’s marketing materials. Their justification? A misguided sense of historical accuracy. But I’m not here to talk about any of that nonsense. Instead, I want to talk about how the whole debacle reminded me of one of my favourite video game characters; a fictional female soldier from another World War II shooter, Call of Duty: Finest Hour.
Her Name is Tanya Pavelovna and She Shoots Better Than You
I’ll admit, Call of Duty: Finest Hour is one of the more forgettable games in the series. The franchise’s first game not made by Infinity Ward, Finest Hour was instead put together by Spark Unlimited. A studio who have since gone on to make games like Lost Planet 3 and Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, its take on the World War II shooter looked at the African, European, and Russian theatres of war.
In the beginning of the game, you take the role of a young Private Aleksandr Sokolov. It places you in the Battle of Stalingrad; one of the fiercest and bloodiest battles in history, with almost two million human lives lost. After losing most of your squad in the opening of the battle, you run into Tanya Pavelovna, a Russian sniper.
You’re introduced to her at first as she comes to your rescue. Your commanding officer, who had just jumped in front of a bullet to save you, has died and left you mostly defenseless. Because of Tanya’s action, you’re not only saved, but she puts you on a mission that hits a major blow in the German offensive. Immediately, she’s presented as your superior, not for anything other than her own merit and skill. She freaking rules.
Dead in Her Sights
Once the game finally gives the player control of Tanya, you’re treated to a short backstory. After her town is attacked and she’s separated from her parents, she’s picked up by the Red Army. The only thing she could do was to join up with them, until after another deadly attack, she takes a sniper rifle off the body of a fallen soldier and does what she does best.
As fantastical as her story is, it’s actually based on the real-life exploits of Russian female sniper, Lyudmila Pavlichenko. Unlike Tanya, Lyudmila signed up in the first round of volunteers after Germany began their invasion of the Soviet Union. Of the 2,000 female snipers enlisted during World War II, only 500 would end up surviving. Lyudmila wasn’t just a survivor, though, she was an efficient killing machine. So much so that she gained the nickname Lady Death. She’s still regarded as one of the best military snipers of all time.
It’s this basis in reality that makes Tanya so interesting. It gives her not just an air of authenticity, but a life beyond the fiction she exists within. Knowing that there may very well have been a soldier just like Tanya in the war makes every action she performs in the game more impactful, like any of her male counterparts. It’s also just one of the many reasons why getting upset at women being in a video game is such a foolish endeavour. Besides the inaccurate reading of history these critics seem to all share, the notion robs us all of characters like Tanya. Yet, even if there was no historical basis for a character like hers, everyone deserves to see themselves in the art that they enjoy. I think that Aleksander Grøndal, an Executive Producer at DICE, said it best on Twitter: “we will always put fun over authentic”.