Publisher dumps Fallujah video game

[30 April 2009]

By David Ranii

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

RALEIGH, N.C. — A U.S. company’s plans for a video game featuring one of the bloodiest battles of the Iraq war have been exploded by a barrage of criticism.

Atomic Games’ “Six Days in Fallujah,” which was scheduled for release next year, has been canceled by its distributor, Japanese video-game publisher Konami.

“Six Days” caused an uproar after Atomic and Konami announced earlier this month that the game was in development. Although video-game violence is common, “Six Days” seemed to hit a nerve because U.S. soldiers are still dying in Iraq.

Critics were unswayed by the knowledge that Atomic has been working alongside Marines who fought at Fallujah to develop the game.

“We are grateful and pleased that (Konami) listened to our voice,” said Karen Meredith of Gold Star Families Speak Out, an organization that represents relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gold Star had complained that the game was insensitive to the tragedy of the war and urged that it be cancelled.

Meredith said she recently talked to a mother whose son was killed in Fallujah who was upset by the Marines’ participation in the game’s development. “She wanted to know why they thought this was the right way to honor her son,” Meredith said.

Although a major setback for Atomic Games, the company hasn’t given up on the game.

Konami’s decision to pull out of the game “caught us by surprise,” Atomic’s president, Peter Tamte, said in a prepared statement. “Development of the game had been progressing very well and on schedule. We would very much like the opportunity to complete the game.”

A game such as “Six Days” could cost more than $10 million to complete, but there is no way for outsiders to know how much has been invested to date, said Chris Remo, editor-at-large of Gamasutra, an online gaming industry publication. Nor is it clear how the investment to date has been divided between Konami and Atomic.

Meredith said Atomic’s insistence is disappointing. “The message to Atomic Games is that there are a large number of people that would be unhappy with the release of this game under any circumstances,” said Meredith, whose only child — First Lt. Ken Ballard — was killed in Iraq.

Atomic said that it owns the rights to the game. The company employs 65 at its headquarters in Raleigh, N.C.

Given the controversy, it’s unlikely that Atomic can find another “top-notch publisher” such as Konami, the company behind popular games such as “Metal Gear Solid 4” and “DanceDanceRevolution,” to distribute the game, said Chris Remo, editor-at-large of Gamasutra, an online gaming industry publication.

“This game is sort of toxic at this point,” he said.

However, Remo said Atomic might be able to team up with a niche publisher to get the game to market.

“Six Days” focuses on the November 2004 battle where thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops assaulted Fallujah. The battle was fought street by street, and soldiers had to batter doors down to confront the enemy.

The battle made November 2004 the most deadly of the war for U.S. troops. An unknown number of civilians died.

Konami’s decision to withdraw from publishing the game was first reported by the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, which quoted a Konami spokesman as saying, “After seeing the reaction to the videogame in the United States and hearing opinions sent through phone calls and e-mail, we decided several days ago not to sell it.”

Konami spokesman Brandon Cox could not be reached for additional comment.

Remo said that it was surprising that Konami withdrew so quickly. “Even with controversial games, usually the publisher just soldiers through,” he said.

The controversy highlights the fact that video games are perceived differently from other forms of entertainment.

Films about the Iraq war, said Remo, haven’t been greeted with “an automatic assumption that they were going to be insulting or disrespectful to the subject matter.”

Still, based on what Remo has seen of “Six Days,” he thinks the game is overly focused on being entertaining. “It doesn’t seem like there was enough consideration as to how to make it different from a typical video game,” he said.

Remo said he didn’t know of any video games by a major publisher that deal head-on with the Iraq War. There are, however, games that deal “metaphorically” with the war such as “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.” That game, he said, is set in a fictional Mideast location but deals with the modern guerilla warfare being waged in Iraq.

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