The upcoming Call of Duty: Vanguard returns to the Second World War, and in doing so its single-player campaign follows the exploits of four soldiers from across the world. Each is technically fictional, but each is also based heavily on an actual veteran from the conflict.
The four soldiers you play as are Russian sniper Polina Petrova, British paratrooper Arthur Kingsley, American pilot Wade Jackson and Australian infantryman Lucas Riggs. Each of those characters is intended to be as slight a deviation as possible from a historical figure from the war.
Petrova is modelled on Lyudmila Pavlichenko, aka Lady Death. Kingsley is Sidney Cornell, the first black man to land on D-Day. Jackson is Vernon Micheel, a hero of the Battle of Midway. And Riggs is supposed to be Charles Upham, the only man in history to be awarded two Victoria Crosses.
The problem I’m getting to here is that Petrova, Kingsley and Jackson are all represented as coming from the same nations as their historical inspiration. For some reason, however, Riggs is an Australian in Call of Duty: Vanguard, while the real Charles Upham was actually from New Zealand.
As New Zealand site Newshub says, “Charles Upham’s significance cannot be overstated. No other combat soldier has ever been awarded two Victoria Crosses in all of history. That incredible achievement belongs to our country alone, Aotearoa New Zealand.”
“It’s like turning Sir Edmund Hillary into an Australian, or Lorde, or Jonah Lomu. It’s an insult. At best, it’s ignorance; at worst, it’s a giant middle finger to us all.”
Let me explain why their hackles are up. New Zealand is a tiny country by global standards, with a population of just under five million people. But it has long punched above its weight on the world stage, from sport to its contributions to popular culture, something New Zealanders are justifiably proud of. That pride extends to the nation’s efforts in both World Wars.
To have one of their national heroes represented in this game, and then turned into someone from Australia, sucks! And I say that as an Australian. If the other three characters from the game’s single-player campaign were modelled so closely on their real-life counterparts, why make such a move for the fourth?
Bizarrely, Sledgehammer actually responded to Newshub’s questions on the matter, with Creative Director David Swenson saying, “As with all the main characters in the campaign, we drew a lot of inspiration from real life soldiers. With Lucas Riggs, we drew a lot of that inspiration from Charles Upham, whose exploits embodied the spirit of all the Commonwealth forces serving in North Africa.”
So...yeah, except you made him an Australian! And you didn’t even need to! I honestly can’t think of a single good reason to do this. Swenson’s comments show it clearly wasn’t a mistake, as unlikely that explanation may have been. Australia is itself a tiny market—with a population of around 25 million—and is rarely represented in games like this, so it’s not like it’ll make a difference in terms of sales.
And when it comes to optics, Australians aren’t exactly going to beam with pride over the inclusion/switcheroo of a Kiwi hero either. If Sledgehammer wanted to honour an Aussie soldier they could have just picked someone from...Australia. I know for people elsewhere in the world this likely won’t be a big deal, if it’s a deal at all, but I’m just floored by the pointlessness of this snub.