It is a video game.
Video games are places where we restage wars, either real or imagined. Battlefield 2042 is about an imaginary war, one that hasn’t happened yet from the point of view of the creators.
It is a projection, this current world thrown forwards into the future 21 years, in order to see what’s happening. Considering the average age of soldiers, most of the people in this war are being born around now, in 2021 or the few years before or after. That’s me predicting with the belief that both babies being born and the current state of the military will continue for as long as this.
We all make predictions, throw forward bits of knowledge we have now hoping that they will successfully hook around the future.
Battlefield is taking a bold leap, previsioning the kind of war that could happen in 21 years, and restaging the story built up around that war in the scenario designers’ minds for people to take their own roles in with their own choice of technology. It’s an interactive fiction where the fiction is kill or be killed by or for the military. That’s it.
If there’s a difference between games that go forwards and those that go backwards it’s the quality of the prediction. All history is a prediction of what the past was like, but based on artefacts and evidence. Fictions told about things that happened, where there’s no possible way of recording every detail, and so we try to come up with a picture that is as filled out as it could be. Filling out as much fiction with fact as possible, but never getting all of it. Or that’s the premise at least.
Some texts use this history and then distinctly tell us that they aren’t actually trying to replicate the past, and we call these historical fictions, to distinguish from the ones that are supposedly not lying to us. These ones are lying and know it. They are projections of stories that someone wanted to happen as related to specific historical cultural moments.
There are no historical cultural moments for Battlefield 2042 to draw from in the years intervening its creation and its setting. Not yet. There will be though, things that drastically alter the course of our daily lives, and any previsioning of them specifically is impossible.
Battlefield 2042’s creators are aware of this obviously, and input their own cultural events into its scenario instead, based on their impression of the world as it is. They accept that these things are probably lies, future lies, stretched over a frame made out of conceits easier to get on board with, that are less likely to be lies (there will still be war, there will still be dying).
Battlefield 2042 is where we go to restage a specific war that will definitely never happen, featuring the babies and toddlers of today as our avatars and all of our killing toys. It is a nameless place and an unknowable but inevitable number.
The type of game that is set in the future is always unabashedly fiction, but must be based on the past. All stories must be based on history in some way, since even just your own narrative as a person informs the story you tell. That’s why you can bring back things from past games to this new one via the ominous sounding Battlefield Portal.
There was a tank. Yes, because, I know of tanks, and I know of being.
The tank. A reference to it means it must exist even as an idea encountered.
The. The what? Tank. Ah, a tank.
The future has a tank, it is either a future tank or a past tank, and the creators knew about tanks because historically they know about tanks existing, from the past. The future is the persistence of now, now is the continuation of the past, and the past is what happens when time eats.
This is a tank that not only existed in the real past, but the Battlefield past too. There are other stories that prefigure how this one approaches the future. A lineage already established that aids the authors of the games in sidestepping historical past, for one built out of impressionistic fiction, for a mass battlefield death drive based on the vibes of tech, military, and the imagery of warzones. There is a portal to send past tech forwards, but none for sending future tech to the past. Because the past is informing tomorrow.
Battlefield 2042’s release is a script written in 1999, 2008, 2019, all of the duration of the lives of its designers went into it, every war and war crime that they’ve seen and every war game they’ve played. Every prior Battlefield story. As well as every coffee, cigarette and CD they’ve been near, and every time they got an electric shock.
This article is the same. All writing and all communication is driven by the many thousands of years we took to get to this point and the accumulated experiential knowledge.
In the world of Battlefield 2042 from now we see times in which, as of 8th November, 2021, no communication has been sent yet. So the game implies that in 21 years, based on its own timeline, people still communicate and all of the necessary multiplayer comms that will happen there will happen in its out of time war fiction. People will share ungathered knowledges of the future they wade into, ones they learned now, in order to kill or die, in communication staged as the historical artefacts of tomorrow that will be quickly erased.
Don’t worry you can send a Spitfire into the future. To make it more comfortable. You can shout slurs into the next 21 years and have them eaten by the time machine. The dead bird bodies don’t come through, the dead soldier boys and the invention of civilians as a word for all the people who “weren’t meant to be” brutalised by militaries don’t come back neither.
In the film Sleepless in Seattle, there’s a contemporary seeming bunch of phone calls, and these calls are based on time and culture and a deep pining. Everyone can agree this is historical fiction of the very recent past, maybe even the night they saw it in theatres, so phones definitely were a thing and so was romance and young Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks and annoying little kids. In that film the communications technology of the day, the ideals of the day, they lead to an experience that is a deeply historical, deeply idyllic image of the present as a thing that can be fixed by connection.
So Battlefield 2042 is like a reverse Sleepless in Seattle in VR, there is no ticking clock towards a love connection in 2042 and the bodies don’t matter. Just the building of a ladder of time. An expected war of attrition. Setting something in the future, there’s a certainty that all of the communications and technologies used are fake and will not exist, most probably, but are used in a kind of precrime, necessary to your fiction way. The player plans to kill, and has sent a message into the imaginary future already. But don’t worry, it’s unreal and that message will have no lasting visible effect between two parties that do not know each other in this fiction, at least not in that fake future.
If we made 2001: A Space Odyssey today, it would probably be about NASA and 9/11. If we made Blade Runner about the actual 2019, it would be about hacking, identity theft and underpaid workers. They did that in fact. They made that film and attached the number 2049 to it, and the aesthetics of the world of Blade Runner.
Battlefield 2042 isn’t about the future really.
It’s so strongly about now, and the potential impact now and our relationship to war in the past will have on forever, with the future as a way of abstracting the technological and geopolitical moment through a lens that affords disconnection, affording fiction for a story about mass war returning.
The future isn’t yet, but there might after all, be a big war because of what’s happening now and we will use the technology of today and the past, in imaginary heightened ways. The war will not be fun and it will not be like the one we see in Battlefield 2042. But, since videogames are a way of restaging war as interactive entertainment, that’s what the game is.
It is not a game to be played in 2042, but today.
We see a war on the horizon, and we know that we will die there. There is no way to stop it, and there will be no way to escape the way it kills you. This is the bleak tomorrow of the foretelling. No starship headed to nirvana. No flying car. No nothing.
The hook thrown into the water says, from EA’s point of view, tomorrow you die, and who kills you doesn’t matter.