Warring Factions: Six Days In Fallujah Controversy

By John Walker on April 8th, 2009 at 11:46 am.

Ban this sick filth.

Oh videogames, when will you ever learn that you’re not supposed to be about things? Your restrictions are thus: jumping on mushrooms, hitting a ball, and racing. But not racing to anywhere or from anything. Will you please control yourselves?

Six Days In Fallujah is Konami’s gaming interpretation of the gruesome 2004 battle in which 38 US troops, and 1200 insurgents were killed. Made by Atomic Games, most recently known for the Close Combat games, it’s a squad-based tactical third-person game, designed to recreate the atmosphere and experiences of the soldiers who fought there four and a half years ago. Please welcome The Daily Mail.

Working with soldiers who fought in the conflict, Atomic are at pains to express their intention to make a game that’s informative as well as entertaining. Atomic President, Peter Tamte, told the LA Times,

“For us, the challenge was how do you present the horrors of war in a game that is also entertaining, but also gives people insight into a historical situation in a way that only a video game can provide? Our goal is to give people that insight, of what it’s like to be a Marine during that event, what it’s like to be a civilian in the city and what it’s like to be an insurgent.”

His comments were accompanied by those of Mike Ergo, a 26 year old former soldier who had fought in Fallujah, now studying at Berkeley,

“Video games can communicate the intensity and the gravity of war to an audience who wouldn’t necessarily be watching the History Channel or reading about this in the classroom. In an age when everyone’s always online or playing games, people’s imaginations aren’t what they were, sadly. For this group, books may not convey the same level of intensity and chaos of war that a game can.”

A dozen marines from the battle are interviewed during the game, their comments appearing throughout the action. It would appear Atomic either genuinely want to tell their stories, or genuinely want to appear like they do. Importantly, they’re also stating they want to make a game that’s entertaining to play, rather than waving the worthy stick too wildly. Of course, others are not so happy.

There’s no intentions to take sides here. I’ve really not considered my own thoughts on this game, and whether it’s appropriate. It’s much more interesting at this stage to report how others are reacting. But the Daily Mail makes it hard to remain balanced when they open their report with utter nonsense.

Immediately describing it as a “survival horror” game, they then going on to announce which platforms the game will be coming out for, despite none being given by the developers. It’s not an auspicious start.

“But a highly-decorated British Army colonel and the father of a lance corporal killed in action in Iraq have slammed the game – and called for it to be banned.”

There’s an important thing to note here. Reg Keys didn’t find out about this game when he was browsing the gaming news sites last night. He was likely called by the paper because they had his number on file as someone who’s kid had died. A kid who died in 2003, a year before the battle in question. Keys goes on to make an interesting point,

“It’s entirely possible that Muslim families will buy the game, and for them it may prove particularly harrowing.”

Sadly he then goes on to add,

“Even worse, it could end up in the hands of a fanatical young Muslim and incite him to consider some form of retaliation or retribution. He could use it to get worked up and want to really ‘finish the game’.”

Keys’ comments are understandable for a man whose son died. Which then of course asks the question, is there a real reason to challenge the existence of this game? The Mail also got comments from former Col. Tim Collins OBE, who also condemned the existence of the game, mainly for being “too soon”.

“It’s much too soon to start making video games about a war that’s still going on, and an extremely flippant response to one of the most important events in modern history. ‘It’s particularly insensitive given what happened in Fallujah, and I will certainly oppose the release of this game.”

Where he reads this flippancy is slightly mysterious, unless he believes that gaming as a medium is flippant. An interesting perspective. But the “too soon” asks more useful questions.

The Call of Duty and Medal of Honour Second World War games have always gone to great lengths to include historical accuracy, alongside blowing shit up. And while many complain about the ubiquity of WW2 gaming, the papers rarely get involved due to its being “crass”. Vietnam is also apparently acceptable gaming fodder, with no mainstream reaction to the horrendously awful recent Shellshock 2, and its Vietnam-vs-zombies storyline. Is there an appropriate length of time before a global event or battle becomes acceptable for gaming material? We are now becoming swamped by Iraq War movies, books and television programmes. But there’s just something about gaming that causes many to declare it unacceptable. It’s the word “entertainment”. A word that people can conveniently forget when it comes to films, books and television, where of course were they not entertaining, they’d certainly never have been funded nor made. Still, gaming is different – but is it too different? And what about those many soldiers who have asked to have their stories told by this game? Let us know your perspective.

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100 Comments »

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  1. Larington says:

    I don’t like drinking from tea cups that have had storms in them. That aside, yeah, probably too soon – For ALL entertainment mediums to deal with this, not just games.

    Not that it matters, theres such a thing as War Porn on youTube, yet I don’t remember hearing an outcry against that stuff.

  2. The Hammer says:

    I was reading up on this on Eurogamer, and read this:

    “Vice president Anthony Crouts told the Wall Street Journal that Konami was “not trying to make a social commentary”.

    “We’re not pro-war,” he added. “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.””

    Yeah. Nice one, Konami. Nice to see that they care about the medium.

  3. Novotny says:

    There was an interesting debate on Slashdot over this. They didn’t really discuss this the subject as a game at all of course, or the Daily Mail’s article; it was mostly rhetoric from opposing political views, however there was at least one marine who’d been in the battle posting too. (on a side-note – I’ve recently become addicted to reading the Daily Mail online, I seem to be starting to enjoy getting regularly outraged by the bollocks they blatantly peddle. Surely this is the start of some sort of disastrous feedback loop?)

  4. Novotny says:

    And yes, once again, I’ve spent three minutes perusing 2 stories and the associated comments on the Daily Mail and I am furious. I’m stating to get what it’s all about, this puritanism. Being outraged is great.

  5. macc says:

    HBO launched the miniseries “Generation Kill” last summer, which is a very close depictiont of the first days of the Iraq war fellowed through the eyes of the First Recon Marines (it is actually very good, go watch it). But that series, despite being very realistic and about events not long ago, never got any complains like this game.

    Games are just not an accepted medium for telling stories like this. I think it’s a very difficult for Konami to be very respectable with this material. Of course it is their intention, we’ll see I guess.

  6. Meat Circus says:

    I’m gonna ‘slam’ the Daily Mail for being cunts and call for them to ‘shut the fuck up’.

    Let’s face it, this game’s not gonna be ‘banned’, and ‘pricks’ are not going to stop ‘reading’ the Daily Mail.

  7. Novotny says:

    I’d like to maintain I’m not a prick.

  8. AbyssUK says:

    Black Hawk Down was based on true events was it not… did the world end when the film and game came out.. did the daily mail even notice then ?

  9. Yiorgos says:

    Has it been 22.3 years already?
    no?
    then its too soon.

  10. Simon Jones says:

    It’s not that gaming is different (although that is a factor) but that it’s new. Every generation has it’s “reviled cultural item”, whether it be cinema, television, comics, rock’n’roll, the Internet, etc. It just happens that computer games are the cultural devil of the 2000s (and probably the 2010s).

    Give gaming a bit more time to homogenise into the mainstream (which is already happening – you didn’t used to see game reviews in broadsheets until relatively recently) and it’ll all calm down.

    Two things need to happen – 1. The older generation of “I don’t understand this, and thus must be fearful and ignorant” need to die out/get a clue/go quiet and 2. Games need to aim a bit higher.

    Regarding ‘2.’, what would potentially make this game more interesting would be if it had playable portions from the civilians’ and insurgents’ point of view, treating each honestly and without major bias. Much like The Wire deals even-handedly with the cops, the drug dealers and the drug takers.

    Until games do something to break the simplistic good guys/bad guys formula you’re always going to get the Daily Mail and others getting in a panic.

  11. Morberis says:

    @ The Hammer

    That’s likely due to his audience and the fact he’s just a talking flappy head. I’d be more concerned with the views of the developers when considering how much they care about the medium and the message – neither management or PR care instead just caring about the money head and shoulders above everything else.

  12. Nenad says:

    As a rule, I do not like playing games based on real wars, but I do think that they deserve to be made. I would much rather have people playing simulated wars than getting into real ones

    “Let there be peace on earth, and war on the tabletop” (H.G. Wells)

    A more modern version:

    “Let there be peace on earth, and war on the screen”

  13. Yiorgos says:

    How can a tabloid and a couple of colonels disapprove and condemn a game [one no-one’s played], when soldiers who fought in the battle are willing to participate in its making? It sounds to me like its intended as a similar experience to, say, Full Metal Jacket, a war film that’s entertaining but communicates the horrors of war in equal measures.

  14. The Fanciest of Pants says:

    Morons will be morons, now and forever.

    Still, the daily mail makes us all a little smarter, if only by contrast :3

  15. loci says:

    hope you can play on the side of the angry civilians….i like a challenge

  16. Jockie says:

    The Daily Mail would be a fairly funny joke, if there weren’t so many people who buy the shit they’re peddling.

    As for the whole Too soon and the difference between films/games et al. My opinion would be that gaming is not respected as a medium that can portray something in an even handed and multi-facted manner. That is to say, you are not a spectator, watching a harrowing film and making judgements about the characters within and their actions, thus you are not afforded the comfort and thus the disconnection between passive spectator and moving picture. You are a participant and are somewhat responsible for the actions of the character, and are generally encouraged to kill as many people as possible for the sake of entertainment. The traditional gaming method for handling the killing of a civilian is to ‘lose a life’, i wonder how they’ll handle it here.

    While games are presented as games, they’re going to struggle for acceptance with some wings of the mainstream press when they attempt to depict something difficult, or still laying in recent memory. But conversely, if they aren’t depicted as games and are striving to be 100% accurate representations of life through a soldiers eye, no-one is going to buy it (well cept a few sim-enthusiasts). The middle-ground then is to entertain, yet at the same time to try and present some of the issues involved in a mature and even-handed manner, so that some modicum of insight can be gleaned through playing. Sounds like what they’re trying to do here to me.

  17. mandrill says:

    Until games do something to break the simplistic good guys/bad guys formula you’re always going to get the Daily Mail and others getting in a panic.

    I think you’ve got this wrong. I believe that the main reason the DM and similar puritans fear games and gaming so much is that they consistently undermine and question the simplistic ‘good guys/bad guys’ formula which such publictation use to sell their papers.

    Look at things like Manhunt, GTA, Saints Row, et al and tell me who are the bad/good guys in those games. The assumption is that the player is always the ‘good’ guy but this brings in the question of moral relativism which the DM simply cannot answer. In its view, its readers and itself are the good guys, and the fact that they might not be doesn’t even enter their heads. In their view, they are the only arbiters of right and wrong and no other viewpoint matters.

    It is gamings increasing maturity and willingness to ask difficult questions that has the MSM so frightened. No more will they be the ones providing the answers to questions of morality when games allow and encourage to make such decisions for themselves.

  18. Iain says:

    I’m entirely cynical about this kind of controversy. The Daily Mail loves it because moral outrage sells papers, and the publishers love it too, because moral outrage sells games to people curious to find out what all the fuss is about.

    If the Daily Mail hadn’t given it a whole load of free publicity, I suspect this game would have sunk without a trace.

    More fundamentally, though, game makers need to make a decision – are you telling a story, or are you just letting people shoot each other in the face? I don’t really care either way, just be honest about it. There’s nothing inherent about videogames that makes them incapable of handling a subject like this with the gravity and sensitivity of a book or a film. You’ve just got to decide who your audience is.

  19. The Sombrero Kid says:

    as outrageous as the daily mails claims are games haven’t quite caught up with other mediums when it comes to making points so it’s quite reasonable to expect this game to be not as tactful as say a documentary, this however doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist as films and other media had to be extremely crass and before they learned to make points.

  20. The Sombrero Kid says:

    ^ that should really read ‘how to make points’

  21. ShaunCG says:

    The points expressed in the final paragraph are important, and it is an interesting debate. Unfortunately I imagine it’s one that only time will resolve. It’s a generational process; mainstream acceptance of a cultural medium’s expressive/creative/intellectual validity (in addition to ‘mere’ entertainment) only comes after several generations of people who grew up with alongside said medium reach adulthood. I think within ten or fifteen years we’ll begin to see this, thanks to the fact that gaming has become more and more widespread to the point that it’s unusual to find any young person who doesn’t play at least one or two games.

    Sorry if that’s poorly expressed. The comment box is jolly small.

    The more interesting question, to me, concerns the game itself, and the developers’ approach to making it. They worked alongside a dozen marines who participated in the 2004 battle of Fallujah. Did they work alongside Iraqis resident in the city at that time? Perhaps people who lost family members? Obviously it’s difficult to accomplish this – still more so to contact a member of any of the resistance groups active in the city at the time – but without that essential balance you’ll inevitably have a one-sided perspective, coloured by only one set of human experience, no matter how much you try to integrate an accurate representation of verifiable facts. Probably the easiest parallel to this would be the embedded journalists who joined many US and UK units active in the 2003 invasion. Whilst they got some great footage for the viewers back home, they did convey get a balanced or accurate picture of the situation that was unfolding.

    I applaud any effort to push boundaries and advance what games as a medium can do, or are known to do, but at the same time these flaws do worry me.

  22. Black Mamba says:

    Wow those guys are morons where was their outrage over Generation Kill (a fine piece of TV) when it came out ?

    Oh and not sure about this but one of the other game sites seemed to mention something about the Iraqi militas also being playable in single player so that [if true] could raise a few eyebrows in other circles.

  23. ShaunCG says:

    Oh, honestly. The end of that penultimate paragraph should read “they did not convey a balanced or accurate picture of the situation that was unfolding.”

  24. phil says:

    The story is interesting in that a ‘marketing brand manager,’ actually make a valid point – the soldiers who fought in the actual battle, who consulted on the game and the generation who will largely play it, grew up with games and see them as an entirely valid way to tell the story.

    I would hope that this realisation makes the Daily Mail editorial staff feel like the doomed, spiteful dinosaurs they are , but they won’t, as they treat the their editorial stances and readers as jokes, if only to distance themselves from the shame. If you meet a Daily Mail journalist they tend to preface their introduction with an apology – it must be like working for the American Man/Boy love association.

  25. Clockwork Harlequin says:

    I have to say I’m not comfortable the existence of this game (not the same as wanting it banned). Since you’re playing as these marines, the game won’t be able to avoid giving you a feeling of satisfaction whenever a turbaned, faceless Muslim bites the dust. And that’s a little bit more dangerous than smiling ’cause you blew up another Nazi;)
    @Simon Jones and others: Yes, if the game really wanted to give a “true” picture of war, you would get to play as a terrified civilian.
    On another note, some war films encourage deriving satisfaction from fighting, some don’t (say, The Platoon versus Black Hawk Down). Same with books, but I can’t think of a war game that didn’t make me engage with it in a positive way.

  26. Hypocee says:

    CoD4 and Full Spectrum Warrior are totally not set in Iraq.

  27. diebroken says:

    @Simon Jones : my money is on the ‘3D’ experience (VR revival?) being the next target of hate/blame. : /

  28. tigershuffle says:

    Lazy Daily Mail garbage as usual. Perhaps the journalist should watch every episode of Generation Kill (exellent by the way) before jumping on the ‘too soon’ bs. It just re-emphasises how ridiculous a paper the Mail is and why almost everyone bar “outraged of Surrey” ridicules it. Right..time for anothter round of Hl2 mod Insurgency. :D

  29. The Hammer says:

    Conflict: Desert Storm was released in 2003, wasn’t it, at the advent of the second Gulf War? That was a very accurate game in terms of historical context and the clinical tone it chose to express battle in, even if you were often swamped by hundreds of the enemy.

    I’m not so sure what kind of media outcry that was released too, but I might give it another go, 6 years on, and see what I think of it now. I might be shocked now at what I wasn’t shocked at then, though my memories of the game are pretty good.

  30. James G says:

    Some of this discussion has raised an interesting point. Are there any FPS/tactical shooter war games, which also deal with options other than ‘kill everyone that moves.’

    For example, imagine you have a mission in which you have to capture/kill a number of identified insurgents. This takes place in a crowded area, say outside a club, or a marketplace. Opening fire at the wrong moment could easily take down civilians, or prompt the insurgents to begin doing the same.

  31. Okami says:

    I first read about this game on Kotaku. The comments thread there was… disturbing..

  32. diebroken says:

    @James G : I haven’t played it, but First To Fight for some reason springs to mind: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Close_Combat:_First_to_Fight

    Also in DF:BHD you can fail the mission if too many non-combatants are killed (does this also happen in the FSW games?)

  33. The Sombrero Kid says:

    @Clockwork Harlequin
    you seem to be implying that Platoon glorifies war where Black Hawk Down doesn’t or have i misunderstood you?

  34. Theoban says:

    The Mail loses all right to be ‘outraged’ at things like this when they’re simultaneously printing pictures of a woman shooting her child and then herself

  35. danielcardigan says:

    Sounds like a job for Newswipe…

    No problem with the game but from some people’s perspective it’s going to be about a bunch of arrogant super soldiers descending on a medieval society and killing a lot of locals with relative ease.

    Would it be okay to have a game where police surround a school-shooting in progress, like the one recently in Germany, and try to stop it? SCM from the good guys point of view?

  36. MooseDrool says:

    I was in this battle. I was in 3rd BN 5th MAR. We entered the city on the NW side and fought through the Jolan District(the cities oldest district, with roads only as wide as donkey carts). It was intense. I think they could make a good game off this. It doesn’t offend me in the least. As long as they do it in a tactful way. People just like to complain. I was a machinegun squad leader and I think that if they did a class based version where you have to take different approaches to the combat based on hat class you where.

    Such as machineguns set up support on the roofs and clear the way for the straight leg 11’s, basic riflemen who went door to door. Mortars,41’s, and demomen, 51’s, would also have different play styles.

    I just don’t see the point of people getting pissed about it. I took shrapnel in a house just north of Route Michigan that was booby trapped. If they did a Vietnam game people would complain it wasn’t true to the war because it’s hard to match that kind of environment, ww2 people would complain it’s old hat. How about a Korean war? THat would be fun to be in the Frozen Chosin.

  37. cHeal says:

    I can understand people thinking that it’s “too soon”, but in reality there is no such thing. It’s either genuinely crass and exploitive of the events in which case it should probably never be released without some condemnation, or it’s a meaningful reflection of war or has a message applicable to the current generation, in which case the sooner it is released the better.

  38. bansama says:

    ‘Considering the enormous loss of life in the Iraq War, glorifying it in a video game demonstrates very poor judgement and bad taste.

    I’d love to hear his stance on movies, fictional books and games all based around World Wars I and II, as well as based on major tragedies such as 9/11 and the like.

  39. MrFake says:

    Hmmm, too soon? Maybe it’s been long enough that those Nazis I killed yesterday* have become generic, nameless Nazis, just like in all the war movies, too. But insurgents in Iraq are, as far as I know, still being killed. The gruesome actions occurring in this game aren’t as far removed from reality as Medal of Honor’s now seem to be. So, maybe too soon makes sense.

    But “too soon” is an absurd scapegoat for people’s squeamishness. The gruesomeness of war is a necessary element in education as well as entertainment. WWII games, like the prolific documentaries of the same war, at least try to educate about the costs of war: individual and social costs. This usually applies to all war media, games included, and there’s no reason to assume this game is different; an accurate retelling is enough to understand the gravity of war. I feel like grabbing these Daily Mail fools by the chins and shoving their faces in a TV, shouting, “See what’s happening out there right now! People are dying! You can’t ignore death by calling it unclean and unfit for society!” That would work best if there was a news story on about some skirmish in Iraq or Afghanistan, and not Spongebob.

    (* To be honest, the only things I killed yesterday were some generic, nameless genome soldiers in Metal Gear Solid and some generic, nameless colored circles in Guitar Hero. I’ll try to imagine they are Nazis (or Nazi zombies) next time.)

  40. Markoff Chaney says:

    Wow. And I had to click that link… Damn you curiosity!

    If one was trying to make a true statement about the horrors of war, this should be played through a childs’ eyes, first for a week before the invasion so you can see the before and then during the invasion where you are possibly seeing everything you know, love and identify with being destroyed, and, if you live long enough, the aftermath.

    Hopefully anyone with half a working brain should see the Daily Mail fits in the same category as Fox does on this side of the pond. Manufactured hubris while instigating with their left hand the same things they decry with their right.

  41. Heliocentric says:

    I like to kill goblins, racist i know. The same people who bitch about this game ‘know’ games are for children. Still, this game may be all the things the daily mail accuses it of, but lets wait for it to come out first. Then you can tell your readers who were never going to play it to boycott the game.

  42. Nurdbot says:

    I’m tempted to just tweak the Daily Mail and make a game about Aylum Seeker Chavs trying to get into Britain to claim benefits.

    It’d be a combination of Frogger MGS and Deus Ex. You power your Chavsylum as I dub it by playing violent games and drinking babies blood. Coming on the video game platform!

    I wonder if Charlie Brooker will pick up on this…

  43. Salem5 says:

    Can I bash women and elderly people to rock & roll music? I’m in :P
    Joking here somewhat. About the ‘when’, Since the winners are the one which write history, we need to wait till there is one declared.
    Dunno.

  44. jalf says:

    Eh, this just seems to take the whole “middle-eastern types are evil terrists, and the only cure is a bullet to the brain” thing too far. I mean yes, we’re used to this from games about made-up conflicts (which just so happen to be about heroic American troops defeating evil turban-wearing terrorists in middle-eastern looking places), but this one? Playing as, one of the soldiers who literally slaughtered over a thousand people, taking hardly any losses themselves? Do they *need* to be glorified further? I can’t help thinking that had we lived in another part of the world, had we (or our media) not identified so strongly with the US troops, we would have called this genocide, rather than “a battle”.

    No, I don’t think there’s any kind of “message” in the game, other than “hey, this’d make a cool game, and people would buy it and we’d make money”. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t reinforcing a stereotype that is more than powerful enough already, and has done more than enough damage already.

    And for anyone justifying it as “the gruesomeness of war”, reality check, please. you’re playing as the winning side. Your enemy took two orders of magnitude more losses than you did. If this game was going to show gruesomeness, it’d have to portray it from the other side, or from the point of view of civilians. That’s what bothers me. They can’t help showing it as vastly less gruesome than it was, for a lot of the people involved.

    Like Clockwork Harlequin said, I don’t really like the idea of this game. That doesn’t mean I want it banned, and I don’t think the people who made it are bad people, or are trying to incite hatred. But they’re still reinforcing a stereotype that *does* fuel hatred and violence. Of course they’re not “trying to make a true statement about the horrors of war”. But perhaps they should. Otherwise, they just seem to glorify it. You play as the good guys, you play as the winners, you get to mow down literally a hundred badguys for every loss your side takes. How is that not glorifying war?

  45. Jeremy says:

    @Heliocentric, I think that’s their fear, marginalizing human life by making Muslims goblins or Marines fodder. I don’t think it’s a rational argument they’re making, but that is it. Speaking of fodder, it is about time I downloaded Cannon Fodder.

  46. MooseDrool says:

    I don’t think there needs to be a winner declared for this one. Technically the operation was a success. The city is now completely patrolled by Iraqi forces. I don’t know why veterans are crying about this. I’m glad to see a game made about a fight that I was part of. I’d be happier if they had used our unit because we did some pretty amazing things. I know it won’t be true to life but I like the fact that I was part of something being made for other people to experience.

  47. Jochen Scheisse says:

    Historical accuracy? In WW2 games? In any war games? Are you kidding me or are you serious? One of the main investors of this firm, as journalists (and me via 2 minute googling) have found out, is the CIA. Sorry but, God, you’re naive.

  48. Jeremy says:

    Genocide? Come on. Your comments smell yellow.

  49. jalf says:

    38 deaths on one side, and 1200 on the other?

    If we weren’t so fixated on “our side” being the good guys, it certainly wouldn’t be called “a battle”. Perhaps not genocide, but “a massacre” then?

    By the way, only vaguely relevant, but this maybe worth watching: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QKxHINgloA

  50. Xercies says:

    To be honest I’m on two minds here. I hate the Daily mail and i will always always argue against it. But the thing is I see that Games Indusry just make games where the good guys are the americans and the bad guys are the other side of the gun but that’s not what happens in war. And I do see that this could be just entertainment using a really bad battle in a war to get entertainment out of it. If its sincere and trying to be both entertaining and informal then I can kind of let it go. But I’m not holding my breath that its going to be like that.