Konami’s recently announced decision to publish Atomic Game’s Six Days In Fallujah has been making the controversy rounds and for good reason: it aims to recreate one of the worst battles in the Iraq War. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal the creators explain, “We’re not trying to make social commentary. We’re not pro-war. We’re not trying to make people feel uncomfortable. We just want to bring a compelling entertainment experience. At the end of the day, it’s just a game.” The creators are interviewing marines, civilians, and insurgents who were involved with the battle to recreate it as closely as possible.
Proponents of the game are quick to find quotes from veterans who are in support of its existence and measure their support with the caveat that the game must make sure to handle the topic maturely. Opponents of the game, on the other hand, find quotes from veterans who are against the game and are against both the trivializing of a recent battle and adamant that such a massacre should not be used for entertainment. Game Politics has a solid aggregate of the major publications going in either direction on the topic.
The only proper coverage of the actual game, which is still just observing footage and listening to PR people do their thing, is up at Shack News and written by Nick Breckon. Pointing to Sgt. Casey J. McGeorge’s pro-game quote stipulating that the game is fine so long as it is realistic, Breckon criticizes the game for relying on conventional Third Person Shooter game designs. Regenerating health, ridiculous destruction, and the superhuman ability to absorb endless bullets are all points of contention. Breckon writes, “By picking a specific battle, claiming some level of historical accuracy, and using the faces of real Marines to market the game, Konami and Atomic have created the expectation that Six Days will represent a portrait of warfare that is a good deal more mature than that of Contra. And judging from this early glimpse, there is little evidence of that promise.”
The problem with the conversation as it stands now is that like most video game arguments it is devolving into a semantics battle. Adamant opponents of the game are claiming that it is morally repugnant to make a massacre into entertainment. Considering dictionary.com broadly defines the word to mean an agreeable occupation for the mind, the first impulse is to point to all of the films and books that have covered massacres and could also be called “entertainment”.
The problem with that contention is that critics then point out that unlike film, the game is not realistic and not handling the topic maturely. The realism claim is a little wonky. Although some games are very adamant about realism such as Operation: Flashpoint, the blanket assumption that a game is more mature because it is realistic is confusing the medium with film. Having realistic health and damage makes a game’s difficulty spike well above industry norms and can render the title unplayable. For the same reason that your average documentary doesn’t create a Rushmore-esque series of explosions, smoke, and fire to generate realism, a game cuts back on it to make the game endurable for the average person.
The issue of maturity is equally tricky. Ray Huling made the argument in an Escapist thread that it’s not going to ever be possible for a game to be mature. No matter what you put on the screen, it’s still just a person making head shots, causing havoc, and only caring about not dying. Moral quandaries and commentary from soldiers are just paint on what is essentially a game design that induces competition to be more effective in one of the worst battles in the war. If we’re going to compare video games to film, then that comparison means admitting that there may be some things games can’t do very well.
The only thing that isn’t an opinion in this whole argument is the fact that no one has actually played the final game. It is the only game to ever be based on a war that is still in progress, although numerous documentaries, films, books, and television shows have all dramatized the subject. Were this another T.V. show or memoir by a soldier, it probably wouldn’t have gotten a second glance from the media. If the goal of the game is just to get people to pay attention to the stories of a few marines involved with Fallujah, then it seems to be doing a good job so far.