I’m a terrible dad.

That’s what rolled through my head as Valiant Hearts’ tragic final ending faded into credits.

Over the past couple months, Kella has been on a huge video game kick, and I’ve tried my best to steer her towards the few and far between E rated games on the Xbox. She found Valiant Hearts on her own, a World War I themed game that was given out free as part of the Xbox Games with Gold program last year. I’d been meaning to play it for a while, but with virtually no time to go through my stockpile of non-kid-friendly games, I still haven’t gotten to it.

Kella pulled it up on by herself, though, likely attracted by the cartoon cover art with an adorable Red Cross dog dutifully waiting at a soldier’s side.

There we go. Such a happy photo. We'll edit out the bombed out city lated.

There we go. Such a happy photo. We’ll edit out the bombed out city lated.

Fortunately, Valiant Hearts’ cartoon graphics blunt the worst of the Great War. The art style reminds me games by The Behemoth, who are most famous for Castle Crashers which is, somehow, more bloody than this game. It both helps and hurts that the creators were clearly trying to stay true to the spirit of World War I, which included real life historical facts and pictures to accompany the fictionalized story of Emile, Karl, Anna, and the ever helpful dog Walt.

Honestly, for the most part I felt pretty good playing the game with my kids. “This is historical” I’d tell myself. “This doesn’t glorify violence like so many other games, but shows the reality of war without gruesome images.” Sure, there were questionable scenes along the way, but the graphics were such that I was more comfortable showing them this than, say, Contra, for example.

Yeah, Tim. This is sooo much better.

Yeah, Tim. This is sooo much better.

World War I, to me and probably many others of my age, is a historical marker largely forgotten in the grand scheme of history. While I’ve retained a few facts from my high school days, everything beyond the crazy entangling alliances and terrible resolution that allowed World War II to incubate had long been tucked deep within my mind along with the names of the GI Joe characters (Sgt. . .Slaughter? Is that really a name of a character in a show my parents let me watch?)

Watching the cartoon reenactment teamed with the real life fact brought to reality how terrible things really were. Especially in the depiction of the game’s last battle, the real life Nivelle Offensive, which created hundreds of thousands of casualties within a matter of days. The game recreated this by having your character lead his team over piles of bodies, only to see them mowed down by the Germans. It doesn’t matter that it was a cartoon, that kind of stuff made me sick.

Not that the other scenes were particularly cheery

Not that the scenes of chemical warfare were particularly cheery

Then there’s the way the ending played out. If it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, you don’t have a heart.

Kella and Finley mostly liked the game because of the fun dog. I liked the gameplay and the fun puzzles. But really, this isn’t one I should have played with them. I’m all for them learning history, both the good and the bad, but the realities of World War I should have waited a few more years.