It was Dec. 7, 1941, and Lt. William Crowe, a young Navy pilot, was stationed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. His brother, Charles, was based there as well, as a sailor on the battleship USS Arizona.
In a blitz of smoke and fury on that fateful day, Japanese attackers caught U.S. forces unaware, letting loose a deadly onslaught that changed the course of history. Unbeknownst to Will, Charlie died along with 1,176 other Arizona crewmen.
The Navy scrambled its fighter planes and Will took to the sky to battle the Japanese war machine. A ferocious fight ensued, but Will scored a series of “kills” and survived, combat-hardened and ready to fight again.
Sounds like a story a Pearl Harbor veteran would recount as the nation marks the 64th anniversary of that day of infamy on Wednesday. But it’s not.
Instead, it’s the script for “Heroes of the Pacific,” the newest videogame to feature the attack. And, like many of its predecessor games, it is also historically incorrect in some details. (In this case, few U.S. warplanes managed to get airborne, and no kills were made.)
As fewer and fewer Pearl Harbor vets remain to tell their first-person stories _ those still alive number about 5,800, with approximately two dying every day _ it is movies and games that will offer much of the “you-are-there” sense of personal storytelling in the future.
That bothers historians and many vets, who say America’s knowledge of the attack is already abysmal, in general. They worry that games and other such “infotainment” will supplant historical facts in the minds of the young, in particular.
“There’s too much revisionist history already,” said Pearl Harbor survivor Julius Finnern, 86, of Menominee Falls, Wis.
Those who create the games make no claim for historical accuracy, although many try to include enough authentic details to make the games lifelike. The purpose, they say, is not to educate but to entertain.
“We didn’t set out to be 100 percent accurate, but we did want to make sure the game remained true to the spirit of the events, and to the sacrifices of the participants, on both sides,” Ubisoft producer Justin Halliday said via e-mail. The “Heroes” game debuted in September, and has been met with good reviews.
Each of the battles featured in “Heroes” was researched in depth, and that about 80 percent of the missions in the game were based on real events, Halliday said. But in some cases, missions were invented to match the game’s narrative. The addition of a U.S. air counterattack was one example; doing so allows a game player to “fight” in the battle, he said.
Even so, the game also offers historical atmospherics of some complexity. Video sequences in between each of the 10 “campaigns” of the game are real film footage from newsreels of the time. Accompanying the film is a voiceover that explains the historical context of the missions and the ramifications for the rest of the war, Halliday said.
“The first thing you’ll notice about ‘Heroes’ is the authentic atmosphere that saturates every part of the game,” one reviewer commented at the Web site worthplaying.com, which carries players’ opinions.
“Heroes” is far from the only game that incorporates the Pearl Harbor attack in its storyline. Another is “Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault,” a 2004 release that also boasts its use of authentic World War II weapons and the services of a Marine Corps Vietnam War vet who founded a company that provides technical advice on military matters to the entertainment industry.
Some argue that those who play these games are, at least, exposed to history, and may find their interest whetted enough to read about the real thing. That argument holds little merit to Western New England College associate history professor John Baick. “Certainly these games will mean exposure to historical events that they don’t really know,” Baick said, via e-mail. “These games are remarkable as games, but they are not history.”
Attack survivor Finnern agrees. He says ignorance about Pearl Harbor is widespread, and he’s made it his mission to speak to school classes across Wisconsin to tell the real story.
“As long as survivors are alive, we’re going to give the straight poop,” he said.
(Contact Lisa Hoffman at HoffmanL(at)shns.com)