It has been 101 years since the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, paving the way for the First World War. It ended empires and welcomed the modern age; this world we have now is because that happened. This post is also a whole year late, but maybe this is the best time for it as there are now more ways than ever to learn about that piece of history, as well what came before and after it. We now have videos, games, and other new media that shows us what would be the cause for everything else that happened in the 20th century and what’s happening now in the 21st century.
The circumstances leading to its ignition were so preventable and their timidng so exact that it was what we would now describe as Hollywood-esque. But of course the thing that led us to the modern age had to be something as like it was too grand of a story to not have taken place. World War I was seminal in every sense of the world. It had characters from all sides who were bound to make grievous mistakes, or at least decisions that didn’t match well with that of others.
It’s snowballs upon snowballs, chain reactions upon chain reactions, and clusterfucks upon clusterfucks. Seeing as how it was the genesis of our current globalized civilization, then maybe we should look more into it. However, it’s not the most recent “world war” and its details are not as cut and dry as “the Nazis were bad” and “because Hitler”. Perhaps that’s why World War I takes a step back for World War II because the Nazis were so colorful in their own demented way.
If you look closely enough, you may find World War I to be a lot more gripping due to it being such a perfect storm of circumstances. Unfortunately, most people view world history as boring, but mostly because they rarely get to see its true vividness. You could try actually paying attention in history class and read history textbooks to get the basics down, but it may not be enough.
It sure as hell isn’t for most people, which is why new media has opened up a new way to learn about this seminal period in history, as well as everything else under the sun. If this post does succeed in making you want to look into this, then that is the best thing I’ve done in a while. (Leaving a comment about it would be great. Thanks.)
NOTE: These are merely suggestions and I left others like board games and novels since those aren’t really “new media”.
Browse Steam long enough and you’ll find a handful of World War I games, each featuring a different experience of the time period.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War
The most well-known World War I game in recent memory is Valiant Hearts: The Great War released by Ubisoft. You can talk lots of smack about Ubisoft and their tendency to release one Assassin’s Creed game after another, but there’s a corner of their business that somehow churns out quality semi-indie titles, and this is one of them.
It’s a puzzle adventure game released almost exactly last year (as of this writing) with a hand-drawn art style and a very emotional story. It’s a World War I story done well in a game, which succeeds in bringing it to the consciousness of younger generations who may not have known about it outside learning it in school.
Games that have made many people cry in recent years include The Last of Us, To the Moon, The Walking Dead, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Papo & Yo, maybe Journey, and this one. They show video games as a powerful narrative medium, and Valiant Hearts has the added effect of teaching world history by letting you experience it.
The concept of a World War I FPS may sound boring to the usual Call of Duty crowd since all you have are bolt-action rifles and machinegun emplacements. There were no portable fully-automatic small arms yet, so most would think World War I shooters wouldn’t really be very exciting.
But if you’re a fan of the Sniper: Ghost Warrior and Sniper Elite games, then you know it can actually be pretty exciting. Verdun gives the concept that much-needed push. You get to experience a bit of what it was like to be in one of the most important battles of the war, fought between the French and the Germans.
Basically, it’s the Medal of Honor and/or Call of Duty (the classic ones) of World War I. If you liked the bolt action rifles in those games, you may like this one. User reviews are quite positive, which should be encouraging.
If you want to learn about the late 19th century European politics and militarism that eventually led to World War I, then you may want to give Victoria II a look, but only if you have the brain and guts for it. Its selling point is its complexity that intimidates beginners and hooks in enthusiasts who are not adverse to looking at maps, menus, and charts.
There are little to no cool 3D graphics here, just a view of the world as how leaders and generals from the past saw it. The requirements are a computer that can run it (which doesn’t take much) and an eagerness to learn both history and the dense gameplay mechanics. It’s not exactly World War I, but learning about what got Europe there can be quite compelling.
Grand strategy and wargaming are not for the casual and/or faint-hearted. I’ve always wanted to get into them, but my tiny brain doesn’t do well with the scope of these games. I already have my hands full with StarCraft II and 4X games, but these games are on a different level of complexity.
If you do want to get into them, then you’ll find a surprising variety of games that covers different eras and regions, from Europa Universalis and Total War to Hearts of Iron and Close Combat. There’s even the Wargame series that is all about modern times, which can be pretty scary if you’re aware of the current geopolitical climate.
There may still be some people who don’t get the point of podcasts in this day and age. Think of it as “talk radio on demand” wherein you can choose what you listen to. If you’re interested in World War I, then you may want to give these a shot by downloading the episodes and listening to them while you’re working out at the gym or commuting to and from work or school. Because why not.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
Perhaps THE podcast about world history that you MUST listen to, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History is exactly what it sounds like. He talks about the stuff usually left out in history classes and television documentaries. It’s not really about the more politically incorrect facts and conspiracies, but merely the stuff most people don’t really think about with historical events that shaped the world we now live in.
He has some podcast episodes on World War I, but note that some are not available for free since dude does need to make some money. But if you really are interested in this type of stuff, then you definitely will get hooked on what he has to say.
To get started, listen to this episode called Blueprint for Armageddon I, the first part of a series that talks about what could really have been the end of the world, or at least the old one.
World War I Podcast by MacArthur Memorial
This one is a more academic style of podcast on World War I that is produced by the MacArthur Memorial. It’s all free to listen to and may be either a primary or supplementary way for you to learn about the causes, major events, and aftermath of the war.
Of course there would be online videos on this subject. There are plenty out there that you can look at yourself, but here are some of my recommendations to get started.
Crash Course: World History, hosted by John Green
This is a general look at world history, so you may want to sit back and watch it from the first episode because New York bestselling author John Green is pretty good at presenting information on video, whether you like his fun and lighthearted way of doing it or not.
This series tackled war by looking more at the social, economic, and cultural aspects while not focusing on the military details. If you’re a military history buff, then you may find it kind of annoying that Crash Course deliberately avoids that aspect as much as they could, but that just hits home the point that wars are more than just about battles, but also the conditions that caused them and are caused by them.
“Extra History: The Seminal Tragedy” by Extra Credits
If you really are a beginner in this whole world history schtick, then you should check out the Extra History series by the collective known as Extra Credits, a small group of artists and writers who are all about fun and learning through video games. They’ve covered historical periods like the Punic Wars and the Zulu Kingdom, and even the extreme finance of the South Sea Bubble. As of this writing, they’re covering Justinian I of the Byzantine Empire.
The second thing they covered in that series was World War I, and the way they covered it was brilliant as it got all the major bases covered without being too long (not to mention quite similar to the aforementioned episode of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, but in a good way since they paraphrased it nicely).
If you wish to support them so they can keep creating content like this, you may do so through their Patreon.
“Cause and Effect: The Unexpected Origins of Terrible Things” by Delve
One of the videos he made on Delve is something on what could’ve been the cause of World War I. Take it with a grain of salt, but it sounds plausible. The commentaries on the book “The Influence of Sea Power upon History” do state its policies may have subsequently instigated the Anglo-German naval arms race that led the way to World War I.
The Great War, hosted by Indy Neidell
If you want a more thorough look at World War I, you should subscribe to The Great War, hosted by Indy Neidell. The channel started a year ago, covering the events of the war week by week as they happened exactly a century ago and will end on late 2018.
That’s over 4 whole years of work being done by this Germany-based team, making it a very ambitious project with a passionate team behind it. They’re now a year into it and have 3 more years to go, and I wish them the best of luck. I discovered this channel through Extra Credits’ series on the Zulu Kingdom; they did cross-promotion through their videos regarding South Africa. Good move there.
If you wish to support this endeavor, you may do so through their Patreon.