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A World War I game that humanizes the enemy through pets

11-11: Memories Retold is a wargame that focuses on empathy

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

In 2015 Joan Fanise and his team at Ubisoft were given a British Academy Games Award (BAFTA) for their work on Valiant Hearts, an uncommonly thoughtful video game set during World War I. For his next project, called 11-11: Memories Retold, Fanise is revisiting that same conflict.

Published by Namco Bandai, 11-11 is a collaboration with the Aardman Animation Limited, the same studio behind Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep. Fanise brought a new trailer along with him to this year’s E3 in Los Angeles, which we’ve embedded it above. In it, his team shows off the game’s high-concept, painterly art style as well as the voice talents of actor Elijah Wood.

Valiant Hearts was critically acclaimed, including here at Polygon. It largely succeeded at telling parallel stories of a brutal, global conflict from multiple perspectives, including through the eyes of a nurse near the front lines. 11-11 aims to do more of the same, although this time the main characters are a British and a German soldier thrown together during the height of the conflict in 1916.

Much about 11-11 is still under wraps, but it’s been revealed that each soldier will have his own animal companion. Fanise said that their inclusion was, ironically enough, a way to humanize the Great War’s combatants.

“Our game is not about war,” Fanise said. “It is about peace. It’s about humanity. It is saying that we are all the same, of course. We are all human. We are from the same species. We are all animals.

“That’s why we have two animals in the game — the pigeon and the cat. Because these animals, you can play with them. When you turn to an animal, the paradigm of life changes because an animal has no country. He does not care [about borders]. But war does not care about all those things that are artificial for an animal. [...] These animals, what they are meant to do is they can cross the no man’s land. Because they are animals, both sides will call out to them and play with them. ‘Here, kitty kitty, come here!’

“The pigeon is even more uplifting because, specifically World War I is down in the mud, in the trenches. It is very grounded. […] So you feel the weight of all of this, the war, and suddenly when you fly with the pigeon it’s a relief. When you see it from above, it changes your perspective.”

Fanise said that showing the humanity of combatants is something that even the developers of AAA shooters might be able to learn from.

“I would prefer for them to use something other than humans in their games,” Fanise said. “Games tend to separate people out by countries. Why is the other country full of bad guys? [...] He’s not from my country, so I will kill him. Even though it’s just a video game, maybe it has infused something in the heads of young people. ‘He’s from another country, so he’s a bad guy.’ But what does [nationality really] mean in the end if we are all human?”

11-11: Memories Retold is expected to arrive Nov. 9, 2018 for PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One.