Name your favorite Civil War videogame.
All right, I’ll give you something easier. Name any Civil War videogame.
Today is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Sharpsburg, or the Battle of Antietam Creek; the name typically depends on where the speaker was born. It was the single bloodiest day in American military history, one on which more than 23,000 Americans were killed or wounded. Despite the advent of the machine gun, napalm, and aerial bombardment, no single day cost more American lives than this minor strategic Union victory. Thousands died in an indecisive and incompetently prosecuted battle, and almost nobody has tried to put players into this day.
Over the next few months, we will pass the sesquicentennial anniversaries of all the great, wasteful battles. Fredericksburg, where Burnside tested Longstreet’s prediction that he could kill the whole Army of the Potomac if it charged his position. Chancellorsville, where Hooker froze cold while Lee executed an incredibly daring maneuver at terrible cost. Gettysburg, where Lee’s confidence tempted him to make a foolish and unbearably deadly mistake. Cold Harbor, where Grant repeated Lee’s error. The siege of Vicksburg, Chickamauga, the March to the Sea, the Battle of the Crater, the Battle of Mobile Bay, the Sand Creek massacre, the burning of Columbia, Five Forks… the list of engagements is enormous, each with their own examples of human failure and heroism.
The conflict certainly does not lack for great characters. The Confederates get all the press, of course — Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, Nathan Bedford Forrest, even sad old George Pickett have imprinted the Southern cavalier into the national consciousness. The Union had its fair share of colorful men, though — Hooker was famous for debauchery, Grant for drunkenness, Sherman for madness, Meade for ill-temper, not to mention Sickles, who was not only a general but also a Congressman and acquitted murderer, thanks to one of the first successful temporary insanity defenses (images here via Wikimedia Commons). Then there were the noble and courtly fellows, like Robert E. Lee and Joshua L. Chamberlain.
The battlefields had many different dangers for both sides, beyond the mere danger of being killed by enemy sharpshooters, as John Reynolds was at Gettysburg, or shot by your own troops, as Stonewall Jackson was at Chancellorsville. The war was extremely political on the Yankee side, and unjust courts-martial were used to create scapegoats, as happened in the case of Fitz-John Porter. The Confederate army offered its own peculiar dangers – at one point, for instance, A.P. Hill challenged James Longstreet to a duel.
What rich fodder we have! Yet, there are almost no great Civil War games.
My challenge to budding developers, modders, and old pros at great development houses is this: make one. The Civil War is America’s bloodiest conflict, and perhaps its most important. It defined what this country would be, and has effects on the national psyche that, for good or ill, persist to this day. Make a game that explores those events and the related social forces. It doesn’t have to be a pre-rendered AAA epic. I just want to see this artform do justice to America’s most important conflict.
Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse on April 12 1865. That leaves more than two and a half years before the 150th anniversary of the war’s end. Can you make a great Civil War game before then? I’d like you to try.