78 years ago, the liberation of France from Nazi clutches began.
From June 6th to August 30th 1944, 156,000 Allied troops secured Normandy Beach through a combination of ground and aerial invasions.
It is a moment which has become enshrined in Western culture and history.
It is a moment which is slipping from the public’s consciousness.
I was lucky enough to hear tales from my maternal grandfather, who stormed the beaches on D+3, three days after June 6th’s initial onslaught.
60 years later, he remembered the blood soaked water and machine gun fire as if he were still there.
My grandfather’s memories, coupled with my social studies courses and various movies and films, provided me a decent understanding of what happened.
Yet, I wanted to appreciate the moment and my grandfather’s role in it more.
For Americans such as myself, born two or three generations after WWII, another way to educate ourselves about this important slice of world history came into being.
For millennials, a particular series comes to mind.
Medal of Honor released in 1999. In it, you play as fictional Lieutenant Jimmy Patterson in the latter stages of WWII. Director Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan came out in 1998 and he pitched the idea of a video game series covering WWII while directing it. Spielberg ended up writing the storyline for the first three Medal of Honor titles.
The two side by side photographs reveal the similarities between Mr. Spielberg’s movie and Frontline.
Almost 20 years later, Frontline holds up as both a gripping single player campaign through Europe in the last throes of WWII as well as a historical teaching tool.
The title screen has a version of what is commonly known as Our Hitch In Hell:
If that doesn’t set the scene, I don’t know what will.
A few moments later, you’re fighting across the beach, taking cover from artillery guns, rescuing fellow brothers-in-arms and eliminating German soldiers in the trenches.
After playing, I had a greater inkling of what my grandfather and 156,000 others experienced many years before my birth.
The rest of Frontline is just as fantastic as its opening. Here’s a playthrough, broken down mission by mission.
“At the 2003 Digital Games Research Conference “Level Up” in Utrecht (the Netherlands), one of the talks was about the game MEDAL OF HONOR: FRONTLINE (2002). It compared the game to the film SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998) and the TV mini-series BAND OF BROTHERS (2001). All three depict the landing of the Allied Forces in Normandy in 1944 and the subsequent events. Even though they are works of fiction, both content and mise en scene are based on hours of research into the real events and on many interviews with survivors.
A member of the audience stood up and said that although the film and the mini-series, along with many documentaries about the invasion of Normandy he had seen, had been very gripping, he had never understood “the horror” of the actual invasion itself until he played the game. His experiences as Lt. Jimmy Patterson fighting his way up Omaha Beach had an enormous impact on his understanding of the landing and left him with a lasting respect of the men who sacrificed their lives in the undertaking.
As he put it himself: ‘When you see footage of the landing you really have no idea. But when you have to try and get up that bloody beach, being shot at, seeing your comrades die and dying yourself time and time again, then it definitely starts to sink in.’”
Frontline allowed this man to directly experience reinforce the history he learned through film, mini-series and documentaries. He felt the trials and tribulations of those who perished saving Europe and the world from Nazism.
It’s true that video games have downsides like any hobby.
But at their best, they make people experience and empathize with the past firsthand.