Verdun's Christmas Truce and the rise of War Child charity drives

"We'd love to get EA or Activision..."

Lovely things can happen at Christmas. Which other time of year could result in a spontaneous truce between enemy soldiers on the frontline of a war?

It's that legendary Christmas 1914 moment, at the start of the First World War, that has been recreated in the name of charity for wartime shooter Verdun (a game we have reviewed).

Available today, the Christmas Truce winter map lets players throw snowballs at each other, play football, sing carols and send cards to loved ones. Scottish highlanders with bagpipes are introduced and medals given to all participants.

It's available for a donation of either €2.99, €7.99 or €12.99, and the proceeds go to War Child.

War Child is a charity helping children of war. Children in places like Afghanistan, Syria, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic and Iraq. Children in cities like Aleppo and Mosul whose worlds are being torn apart.

War Child aims to protect, educate and stand up for those children - save them, in other words. Provide places where children can be children again, "effectively escape the horrors of war", Wayne Emanuel told me.

Emanuel works for War Child. He was brought on a year ago to lead the charity's gaming push. War Child has worked with games before - notably This War of Mine last year, Wargaming (World of Tanks et al) in 2013, and Sports Interactive (Football Manager) for around a decade - but as of 2016 is pushing hard.

"We think the gaming industry is fantastic for a lot of the work we're doing because gaming transports people into other worlds," said Wayne Emanuel, "and we want players to help children living in very different worlds by changing their virtual experiences via things like Armistice. We see valuable opportunities in reaching gamers with the real impact of war through a lot of games that talk about war. Help mobilise a new audience to rally behind some of the things we work on."

Sainsbury's well known Christmas Truce advert.

Armistice is the name of the campaign debuted this November by War Child across games World of Tanks, Democracy 3, 1979 Revolution: Black Friday and Verdun. The theme joining them is peaceful gameplay, hence Armistice, hence Christmas Truce. "We don't want to glorify violence but we understand there's an entertainment side of it," said Emanuel. "If it's possible to provide historical truth and educate ... and then pull into what's happening now, that's really important."

It's content made off the developer's own back. War Child doesn't pay for it. For Verdun to offer a whole Christmas Truce map and all that comes with it, then, represents significant effort from developer Blackmill Games, which is admirable indeed - as is the other studios' work.

It's not a leap to imagine Battlefield 1, another First World War shooter, doing similar for its much larger audience - but it isn't. That's because War Child didn't ask EA. War Child went to Valve for help and was suggested developers on Steam making games considered good fits. Several studios were asked and a handful accepted. Those who turned down didn't have the time or resources to get something made.

"But the plan is to try and scale, so maybe doing bigger partnerships with the existing studios but also work with bigger studios as well," said Emanuel. "Being able to prove that this concept works this year is really important. Next year we'll see what happens in terms of reaching out to new studios - we'd love to get more studios involved. We'd love to get EA or Activision or whoever else. The idea is to go bigger."

This War of Mine raised around $50,000 for War Child, developer 11 bit Studios told me in summer 2015 - enough to help around 350 children. Emanuel estimated the Wargaming bundle in 2013 doubled that. It's not clear how much this year's efforts have raised.

But War Child needs every penny it gets. War Child claimed it helped 126,000 children in 2015, but in 2019 it wants that number to be 260,000. Wouldn't it be great if we could help War Child get there?

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About the author

Robert Purchese

Robert Purchese

Senior Staff Writer

Bertie is senior staff writer and Eurogamer's Poland-and-dragons correspondent. He's part of the furniture here, a friendly chair, and reports on all kinds of things, the stranger the better.

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