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Make Games Not War: Outrage Over 'Six Days in Fallujah' Video Game

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Adrian Hatwell
Adrian Hatwell

In early April video game publisher Konami announced that they would release a game based on very recent real-life military events from Operation Iraq Freedom entitled Six Days in Fallujah, a premise that drew instant controversy. Less than a month later the publisher has announced that they are pulling out of the contentious project.

Developed by Atomic Games, Six Days in Fallujah promised an ultra-realistic approximation of what 2004’s Second Battle of Fallujah was like for the Marines on the ground - including using the names and likenesses of actual Marines. Billed as a survival-horror rather than a straightforward run-and-gun shooter, the developers had been working closely with over 40 Marines deployed at the battle, as well as consulting journals, photographs, and reports to cultivate authenticity.

News of a video game based on a heavy military action, part of a war fraught with political turmoil quickly attracted the sort of controversy it was inevitably courting. Former soldiers, families of slain servicemen, and peace groups from the US and UK all chimed in to similar effect; exploiting these horrific events for simple entertainment in a video game is unconscionable.

And thus the game fell from Konami’s release schedule, less as a moral stand than a business strategy to avoid the impending hullabaloo. If various gaming forums across the net are to be believed (and I think we all know they are) then the announcement has created a fair amount of ill will amongst fans who don’t take kindly to their frag-fests being messed with, moral grounds or no.

Is it possible (and I’m aware how frightening a precedent this would set) that the forum-folk are actually right in their indignation this time? While I’m none too fond of the craven ‘it’s just a game’ line of defence, based on the way Atomic Games claimed to have gone about their research for the project it sounded as though Six Days in Fallujah was never intended to be ‘just a game’. If the game could handle its serious, problematic material in a mature and sophisticated manner then could the cries of ‘exploitation’ be put to rest?

Unfortunately in this case it would seem not. While the developers certainly talk a good game, suggesting that they’ve recruited input from Iraqi citizens and even insurgents in order to respect their source material, what little of the actual game has been displayed tells another story entirely. Sneak peeks have revealed a fairly conventional third-person shooter, replete with every totally unrealistic, entertainment-enhancing trait that comes with such a game.

Of course the extent to which the game diverges from its marketing spin is a story only the final product can tell, although the likelihood of that happening is now critically diminished. The following quotes, however, illuminate the game’s apparent disconnect between aspirations of serious representation and puerile war gaming in an inappropriate wrapper:

When asked if playing this meticulously recreated nightmare was supposed to be ‘fun’ for the gamer, Atomic Games president, Peter Tamte, answered that creating a ‘compelling’ and ‘insightful’ experience was the more important goal.

However when Konami's VP of marketing, Anthony Crouts, was quizzed on the game he was far less interested in any kind of insight; "We're not trying to make social commentary. We're not pro-war. We're not trying to make people feel uncomfortable... At the end of the day, it's just a game."

It’s just a game. What a shame, I wouldn’t have minded being made to feel uncomfortable by a game, especially one about something so horrendous as a military incursion in which up to 6000 civilians were killed, in which white phosphorus was supposedly used as a chemical weapon, and in which up to 20% of the majestic "City of Mosques" was reduced to rubble.

We may yet get to play Six Days in Fallujah, if Atomic Games can shop it out or decide to self-publish, but I’m not convinced that they ever intended on making a game that would transcend exploitative entertainment. Someone out there is though, I’m sure of it, but I suppose we’ll just have to wait a little longer than Six Days to see it.

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