Marksmanship vs Censorship

By Kieron Gillen on March 27th, 2008 at 2:32 am.


Now this is an interesting example of Eurogamer’s new features-heavy direction. Simon Parkin examines the controversy around Night of Bush Capturing, the Global Islamic Media Front reskinned version of Quest for Sadaam. As Simon puts it “This straightforward re-skin turned what was intended to be a rallying, pro-Iraq war game into a diametrically-opposed (but curiously symmetrical) attack on George Bush, his foreign policy and the nation behind his presidency.” He talks to Wafaa Bilaal, professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, who in turn hacked Night of Bush Capturing to add his own layer of commentary… and had the art exhibit it was part of closed down within an hour. Go read the full thing here, but a relevant quote to get you chatting – and you’re going to want to chat about this one, yes? – beneath the cut…

“The original game, Quest for Saddam, did not get any attention from the media and the state department because the ideas it promoted (that all Arabs/Muslims are terrorists) was the norm. Then when the game was modified to become the Night of Bush Capturing, the State Department labelled it as a terrorist propaganda and a recruiting tool. I thought that was strange because the only thing Al-Qaeda did is to replace the Iraqi skins with American soldiers’ skins and Saddam’s skin with Bush’s skin. What exactly made it propaganda where it wasn’t before?”

Of course, you can always make your own mind up by downloading Night of Bush Capturing yourself. It’s linked herein.

(It really is very, very crude.)

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37 Comments »

  1. Razor says:

    The irony is very sweet…

  2. drbnwy says:

    Hmmm…. It’s taking the information war to a new level – via re-skinning!

    And how postmodern of Bilal…

    And is it a milestone of video-games as a form of media that they are now being used in such propaganda exchanges, and resultant art exhibitions?

    It’s interesting how in other games, for example Counterstrike, you can have the same effect simply by choosing different teams (the game mechanics are identical, but the objective is turned on its head). Because it’s contained within one game (and therefore, perhaps, because it’s more balanced), nobody bats an eyelid.

    But I do think that ‘The School of the Art Institute of Chicago’ is a terrible-sounding name…

  3. kibibu says:

    drbnwy’s point about moral balance in CS is an interesting one. Personally, I find America’s Army’s approach of forcing everybody to be on the US team much more offensive.

    I am also upset about the vast amounts of anti-zombie propaganda in the video game scene.

  4. sinister agent says:

    For ages now I’ve had “Vietnam war FPS where you’re a south vietnamese villager fighting to avenge the brutal murder of your entire village at the hands of American soldiers” on my list of games to make as soon as I’ve learned to read about programming without bursting into tears.

    Sad that killing stereotyped arabs is fine, but killing stereotyped white people is somehow different.

  5. MPK says:

    Has there been a WWII FPS with a German campaign yet? I mean, everyone knows that the Nazis, and therefore all of Germany, were inherently evil and deserved to be burned in fires. We’ve seen that in just about every piece of media concerning WWII in the past 60 years.

    I wonder if a German campaign set during the fall of Berlin, where you ultimately fail to achieve your mission objectives, would be any less emotive than holding the bridge at Benouville as the Brits, or struggling through the first few moments of the Russian missions – ref John Walkers recent article.

    (I’ve only ever played CoD1, so forgive me if there ever actually was a German campaign)

  6. sigma83 says:

    Not yet, but you can play as the Axis in most Multiplay FPSes, my favorite two being Day of Defeat and Red Orchestra (both the free versions before being gobbled up by moneygrubbing capitalists)

    It’s just charming really, even though the luger is usually a piece of shite.

  7. Phil says:

    Excellent article, though Bilaal seems far more interesting as an individual than the art he produces, people have been subverting propaganda since it existed.

    I always thought the undercover cop aspect of Driver was tacked-on, nice to get confirmation.

  8. Tim Stone says:

    “And is it a milestone of video-games as a form of media that they are now being used in such propaganda exchanges?”

    Board and card games have been used as propaganda vehicles for years. Centuries probably.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=476361&in_page_id=1770

    and for balance…

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_pictures/6961970.stm

  9. skillian says:

    Company of Heroes, though not an FPS, has a German campaign.

    Maybe it’s just me, or maybe it’s because things are a little less personal in an RTS, but it really didn’t make any difference to how I felt about the game. It was just controlling the guys in uniforms a slightly different shade of green (the “wrong-greens”).

    I tend to feel WWII games are a little different though, as it’s hard to be accused of delivering propaganda when the enemy you’re depicting was defeated 60 years ago.

  10. AbyssUK says:

    It would be interesting if RPS could perhaps do us the favour of looking into the ‘Arab’ PC indie game scene, it must exist.

    I doubt all games involve hunting down Mr. Bush, it would be interesting to view the different cultural ideals represented in the games.

  11. Down Rodeo says:

    Looks like a Crysis beater to me…

    I know that this is not the issue, but couldn’t they have made it as a mod for something a bit more pretty? To me it just looks, well, silly.

    @MPK: Yeah, I always thought that sort of thing would be pretty awesome. Can you imagine a massive online type game though where the outcome is governed by the players, i.e. a real persistent world sculpted by the balance of fighting between the relevant sides?

  12. James T says:

    I would’ve loved if the BF42 post-victory blurbs had been much harsher on the Axis — “You successfully turned back the Allies at Omaha, Utah, Juno, Sword and Gold — you have bought us the precious time required to slaughter a shitload more Gyps, Jews and queers back at Belsen!” I occasionally played the Axis for variety’s sake, but it felt comically perverse.

    Actually, some of the missions in ‘Death to Spies’ come somewhat close to this:
    SPOILERS: It’s a grim feeling to liberate one particular contact from a concentration camp, leaving the other captives to most likely suffer random executions as punishment for all the corpses of your German victims the surviving guards will eventually find stuffed into crates and scattered in the woods. Of course, one man could never crack open an entire concentration camp — that’s what’s so harsh about it! Meanwhile, in other missions, you can kill British office workers, American national guard troops and German civilians in the name of executing frequently dubious goals, with only the rarest and gentlest of reprimands (snuff too many and you’ve started a ‘diplomatic incident’!).

  13. Okami says:

    It’s ok, if it’s our propaganda. Because, you know, we’re the good guys, it says so in every hollwood movie and allmost every video game, so it must be right. And the government says it and they’re not supposed to lie, so…

  14. Kareem says:

    The last Arab-centric game I’ve seen info on was (I think) an RTS called Arabian Lords. I haven’t played it myself though I did get in touch with its publisher in the Middle East for a short while.

  15. Willem says:

    @Down Rodeo: EVE online?

  16. Sander says:

    I’ve been way more disturbed by racism in games than sexism for a while now. Luckily I’m not the shooty type, I rarely finish even the best FPS games, although I do appreciate and like them enormously. But the kill count in RTS and RPG games easily gets lots higher anyway. (Cf Gillen, Sep. 12 ’05)

    Don’t mean to derail, but it was weird to me to see the amount of jeering The Witcher received on account of sexist elements, which to my mind were contextualized carefully enough to feel appropriate, while its pretty unique treatment of racism got nary a mention.

    I think the racist background of pretty much any game that lets you pretend-kill anything needs looking into. “They’re (wrong-)green so killing ‘m is fun/admirable/necessary, git ‘m afore they git you, and we want to giggle at the coolest death animations”, and it’s been that way since Space Invaders. It’s clearly not the worst way for tribal and hegemonic paradigms to express themselves in human behaviour; but if you press me on it, I will say that those ideas are a necessary background of pretend-killing games – although let me bracket out the online variety, haven’t tried that yet, that seems different than racking up scores keeping the demonic hordes at bay in single player games.

    What to do about it? Violence in entertainment serves a purpose. Most violence in entertainment is completely in service of upholding the usual ideas of ‘us vs. them’ or ‘me vs. the world’, it’s been that way for a long time, and been used for that purpose by the powerful for just as long, so the fact that they’re using games for it now is completely obvious. Of course there’s also art that gets it right, that shows violence for what it is, and I’m happy whenever I see a glimmer of that awareness in games – I didn’t finish COD4colonMW, because it made me feel sick, but that’s one way to do it, I think.

  17. C0nt1nu1ty says:

    mm the Eurogamer article makes reference to September 12th where you cant kill terrorists without killing civilians.
    Actually you can a friend of mine (in a fit of obsessive compulsiveness) was able to do it via expert timing and pixel perfect delivery, so the whole thing fell flat on its face :-P

  18. Noc says:

    I think there’s always been an element of racism in games. Granted, the most profound examples don’t involve human ethnicity so much as they feature goblins and aliens . . .

    But the point, whether you’re killing Goblins or Terrorists, is that you’re killing monsters. In effect, they don’t count. They’ve forfeited their right to be empathized with, since they’re Evil. And this is a necessary thing, since you can’t play through a 10 hour FPS campaign without breaking a few eggs.

    But things begin to get dangerous when you start casting real people as the Monsters.

    Also: it’s interesting that the post about botting in WoW has generated nearly twice as much comment as this, in a shorter span of time. Apathy? Or people being scared of getting embroiled in a politics argument?

    Also also: an article on the whitewashing of gun deaths in games. Found when I was poking around the Aberrent Gamer, and posted because it seems relevant.

  19. brainwashed says:

    @kibibu: the whole point of america’s army was as a recruitment tool – is it really surprising that they never had you shooting at US troops?

    I thought it was really well done – a nice outdoorsy realistic shooter. Free to play too, assuming it didn’t convince you that the only thing more awesome than pretending to get shot is actually getting shot.

    Anyhow, name me one other game where getting kicked from a server after too many rules of engagement violations lands you in a specially designed stuck-in-prison-with-no-escape-listening-to-the-wailing-of-a-harmonica map?

  20. antonymous says:

    If I download this, will it get Homeland Security on my heels?

  21. Oarfish says:

    Typical modern artist, make a cringingly earnest and partialy factual statement that matches the left wing orthodoxy of the day, get accolades from the gaggle of fakers that pass for critics. Bonus points if your from an oppressed minority.

    Still, nothing sums up the state of contemporary art better than the pile of poorly scribbled tropes and half truths that won the Turner Prize last year – with the truther rants and Star Of David = Swastika pictures carefully left out of course.

    Stand up comedy and documentary making have already become branches of left wing politics, hopefully the violence, tits and 3 minute attention span will keep it the hell away from gaming a little longer.

  22. Damien says:

    Propaganda is all in the eye of the beholder. Take a game where you play the plucky band of rebels rising up to defeat a brutal hegemony. Are you playing:

    a> Star Wars: Rebel Alliance — where you and your group of Rebel upstarts battle to overthrow the oppression of the ruthless Galactic Empire.

    b> 1776: The Game — where you and your group of Colonial upstarts battle to overthrow the oppression of the ruthless British Empire.

    c> Iraq: Liberty of Baghdad — where you and your group of Iraqi upstarts battle to overthrow the oppression of the ruthless American Empire.

    I imagine the State Department would only consider one of these games to be propaganda (although, since Cheney basically is the Emperor, I’m not totally positive about a>).

  23. Oarfish says:

    Propaganda is not ‘in the eye of the beholder’, it is an objectively definable concept:

    “Propaganda is neutrally defined as a systematic form of purposeful persuasion that attempts to influence the emotions, attitudes, opinions, and actions of specified target audiences for ideological, political or commercial purposes through the controlled transmission of one-sided messages (which may or may not be factual) via mass and direct media channels. ”

    Therefore your State Department would be quite correct in its designation of only the third example as propaganda, but not because it was Chomskyite idiocy.

  24. John says:

    Just a quick question, does one have to take someone who says “Stand up comedy and documentary making have already become branches of left wing politics” seriously?

  25. Qjuad says:

    I confess to pretty much always plaxing the Axis in multiplayer on CoD. The insult audios you could blast at the opposing team were far superior. “You shoot like a little girl” truly can’t be appreciated as a put down until heard in German.

  26. dhex says:

    Has there been a WWII FPS with a German campaign yet?

    we’re all waiting for the call of duty folk to make it, right? after the job they did with stalingrad in cod2, it seems like they have the best chance of doing it right.

    probably never happen.

    i found the a10 segment of cod4 to be profoundly disturbing; i presumed it was at least somewhat intentional.

  27. Down Rodeo says:

    @Willem: Oh yeah, that game. Oops. :D

    Also I found the A10 really horrifying, “We’ve got a runner” and “Oh, that’s goin’ on the video reel” are pretty cruel statements when you are being commanded very forcefully not to shoot the church. I think it was the sense of detachment that the gunners you were playing were supposed to have that got me most.

    Maybe I’m trying to say that the characters you were playing in a videogame were acting as though they were playing a videogame…

  28. Xilnold says:

    God bless Amerikkka.

    Really though, I don’t get what he’s trying to prove. Anybody who can talk and eat without dribbling knows most of the points he made are true.

    …I hope.

  29. James T says:

    i found the a10 segment of cod4 to be profoundly disturbing; i presumed it was at least somewhat intentional.

    YOU LEFTWING CHOMSKYITE STREISAND-LOVING HATE-AMERICA-FIRSTER! HANG YOUR HEAD IN SHAME, LIeBERAL!

  30. James O says:

    “Since I lived in both places I see more and more similarities between the decisions made by the two regimes.” – Wafaa Bilal on Bush and Saddam

    Just a quick question, does one have to take seriously someone who equates a controversial US president with a man who used chemical weapons to mass-murder his own people?

  31. fluffy bunny says:

    Since there are quite a few similarities between the two, I don’t see why not.

  32. James T says:

    And indeed, who said anything about ‘taking him seriously’? Think before you ‘cleverly’ co-opt a remark from someone sharper than you are, kids!

  33. James O says:

    Well, if we don’t take Bilal seriously, then I should think there isn’t much to debate about whether his work on “Virtual Jihadi” has any artistic merit or if it contains an insightful message. Personally I’m just fine with not taking him seriously; I’m not a big fan of people using “reductio ad racism” to deflect criticism when they stir up controversy (i.e. “people get mad at my game but not the game killing Saddam, it must be silent hatred of brown people by those nasty Amerikkkans.”)

  34. Nuyan says:

    There’ll be a Dutch documentary called “Wargames” on Dutch public tv next monday, it’s about games and war and how the American Army uses it as a propaganda tool with a game like… American Army. It’s for a tv program that usually selects high-quality documentaries, so I expect it’ll be pretty good. And it’s usually released on the internet for streaming the day after.

  35. capital L says:

    “Since there are quite a few similarities between the two, I don’t see why not.”

    Bullshit.

  36. James T says:

    Hah, tell that to Bilal’s brother.

    I wonder why a guy whose bro was killed in a Najaf firefight might not be completely impressed by the shit that sluices from the slack-jawed gobs at the US State Dept?

  37. Fumarole says:

    There was no A10 mission in CoD4, it was an AC130.