Update: It looks like cooler heads may be prevailing and apparently Apple is working to restore some of its apps that use the flag “for educational or historical uses.” No news of Ultimate General: Gettysburg being restored as of yet. New of the game’s removal was surely responsible for the turnaround, as it went viral quickly and even Rolling Stone reported on it this morning. I’ll keep you posted as I hear more about it.
Update 2: Ultimate General: Gettysburg just announced on Facebook that it was able to negotiate with Apple and is now available again as an App, unchanged. Although Apple should never have pulled the game in the first place, I commend the company for recognizing the mistake and respecting Game-Labs’s artistic integrity.
Earlier today, Apple announced that it is no longer going to offer apps in its iOS store that feature the Confederate Battle Flag. I don’t know precisely how many apps this covers, but I do know that it includes Ultimate General: Gettysburg, which I reviewed on this site in February. According to the game’s developer Nick Thomadis, Apple will agree to restore the game if his company, Game-Labs, removes all Confederate flags. Thomadis refused and, although I support most of the efforts to remove Confederate iconography currently going on across the nation, I completely support Thomadis in this decision.
I’m sure there are apps that make flippant use of the Confederate Battle Flag and I understand how software distributors like Apple or Steam might want to distance themselves from those products, but Ultimate General: Gettysburg and other historically-responsible games should not be included. Games like these are roughly equivalent to any other historical fiction. They differ only in that the viewer/user gets more control over the action. In my previous entry on Ultimate General, I noted how this created some moral dilemmas when I played as the Confederates, but I never once entertained the idea of removing the game from the market.
These games, like their literary and cinematic counterparts, attempt to tell stories within a historical context and/or represent historical events or trends. Many take this task very seriously and try to depict their historical subjects with an admirable degree of accuracy. Ultimate General: Gettysburg is such a game. You simply cannot have a game about the Confederates without including Confederate imagery. I typically avoid “slippery slope” arguments, but it stands to reason that if apps and/or games that feature the Confederate Battle Flag should be censored, then so too should all other kinds of historical fiction. So, iTunes had better stop distributing Gone With the Wind, Gettysburg, Lincoln, and Glory because they all feature the Confederate flag or Confederate iconography. Indeed, let’s also dispose of all games, books, and films set in World War 2 that contain Nazi imagery. Panzer General, which I’ve also mentioned here before, does not display any swastikas but does prominently feature the German Cross. Is it now toxic, along with Indiana Jones, Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List (man, Spielberg sure does like to have Nazis in his movies)?
Finally, Apple’s caveat that they will restore the game to their servers if the Confederate Battle Flag is removed is completely absurd. Opposition to the Confederate Battle Flag is based around the idea that it is a symbol for the Confederate cause, which is inseparable from white supremacy and slavery. BUT THIS GAME FEATURES ACTUAL CONFEDERATES! If the Confederate Battle Flag is too offensive to be featured in a video game, then surely little gray-clad Confederates marching across a virtual battlefield and killing virtual Yankees is ever more so. Even with the flag removed, this is still a game in which the player can take on the identity of an army fighting to preserve the institution of slavery, so removing the flag in this case can only be an empty gesture. The sole result will be a less-accurate product.
Now, I understand that all Confederate units at Gettysburg did not fly the Battle Flag, which makes Ultimate General: Gettysburg no more historically accurate with that flag than if its little Rebels flew Panem flags. But we all know the Confederate Battle Flag is the accepted symbol of the Confederacy and the current efforts to remove it from public spaces are not to try and erase that connection but to make it explicit and act accordingly. But context is everything, and while a state capitol displaying the flag can easily be interpreted as a tacit endorsement of white supremacy, the flag’s inclusion in a recreated historical setting is not. Video games are an effective way of reconstructing the past and making players learn and think about historical scenarios and ideas. We cannot censor representations of the past as long as their developers treat them with respect. Ultimate General: Gettysburg and many other historical games take their subjects seriously and should be praised, not punished, for trying to depict history accurately.