The Wider World of Tanks
Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I’m into tanks. Tanks, and by extension most armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs), are kind of my thing. I teach AFV and aircraft recognition, have Military Machines International magazines laying about, and possibly too much bookshelf is being consumed by a slowly growing selection of books about tanks and other AFVs. Needless to say, I’ve wanted to play World of Tanks for some time, and earlier this year I finally got my poor old iMac to run it. The game is great fun, but some parts of it leave me with mixed feelings. The creators of the game have done a great job overall, going so far as to have nation specific voices for the crews to shout in. The research detail isn’t too shabby either, although some vehicles suffer for the sake of game balance. The part that left me disappointed was the crew section. In the garage (or stables as I prefer), each tank’s crew is represented with a row of thumbnail images, one for each crewman. The faces are overwhelmingly white. In fact, only the tanks from the USA’s tech tree have the option of being switched to having POC crew, or the possibility of having a POC face randomly selected. Now, given that the game was originally aimed at a World War Two-ish era, some might ask “So?”
Well, France and the UK also had many POC serving in combat roles in World War Two, frequently in both semi-segregated (read: colonial regiments) and unsegregated units (“normal” units raised in the UK and France). Some even crewed tanks. The USSR and China exported tanks and AFVs all over the developing world in the post war era, where the game has advanced to based on the vehicles available. German Panzer IV tanks saw their last actions on the Golan Heights, defending against advancing Israelis. American AFVs went everywhere in the post-war era, with M47 and M48 tanks cropping up everywhere! Of the nations currently available to play vehicles from, I’m fairly certain only Japan never had their vehicles used by anyone except the Chinese, and the game dealt with that already. So here we have a situation where, in all honesty, POC exist in the game specifically because of racism, the racism of the US military’s segregation policy, and are excluded because of the racist narrative about who fought WWII.
So who else could be included? For the UK, there could be West Indies and Indian or Sikh faces and names available. For France, African and north African faces and names. Later model Chinese tanks went to Africa and some Arab states, so they’d have those options fairly easily. The USSR exported war and post war era tanks to the Middle East, Africa, and Cuba from the 1950s on. The idea I’m trying to get at here is that World of Tanks, probably unconsciously, supported the narrative that World War Two was a war fought by whites, with the exception of the USA, who had segregated units, some of which, like the 761st Tank Battalion, made a name for themselves in combat.  The reality is that both France and the UK drew heavily on their colonial empires to fight the war, and had a number of POC sign up and fight in non-segregated regiments and battalions. However, because they’re not an identifiable block as they were in the forces of the USA, they’re often scripted out of games, books, and history in general. Even if POC were only added as options to nations that had them in WWII, the UK and France would be easily supported choices on a historical basis.
Wargaming.net has gone to a lot of effort to research and develop their games, but in this instance, they fell short. While slightly more understandable within the narrow confines of a WWII game, once they broke out of it and into Korea and Cold War era vehicles, more options should have come available. This is particularly short sighted of them, given that they use a “tech tree” to chart AFV development in rough chronological order in each nation, which greatly limits the number of possible additional nations that could be added (Sweden and Italy are the only nations I’ve seen plausible trees proposed for in forum discussions). The addition of an “International Crew” option would be a relatively minor tweak to the game, only becoming a bit hard if they chose to do voice work as well. However, it would entice more players to spend money on the option, and thereby achieve a greater level of immersion in the game than they may currently have.
I’ll end on this familiar note; this isn’t about shoehorning POC and other minorities into places they didn’t exist or events they weren’t a part of, it’s about recognizing that they were there, were a part of things, and deserve representation.