Got pushed two stories today on Twitter. Well a story and a trailer. The trailer is for Battlestations: Pacific, a war tactics game set in the pacific theater (think battlefield and such). The story is about the game “Six Days in Fallujah,” a survival-horror game set during the Battle of Fallujah during the Iraqi War (think full spectrum meets resident evil … no zombies).
Now the trailer pissed me off. It opens up with dramatic music as a Japanese squadron of planes fly over an island. It then displays the message “On October 25, 1944” [some more plane and now ship shots] “During the Battle of the Leyte Gulf” [some more shots] “The war changed forever.” The trailer then follows a plane, through the pilot’s perspective, down as it flies directly into a battleship. October 25, 1944 was the first major kamikaze strike on U.S. forces during WWII.
That’s it, the trailer is about kamikaze strikes, that is what pisses me off. The rest of the trailer shows other kamikaze pilots flying into ships. The trailer goes on to display “In desperate times, There are no rules.” They even end with a Bonzai just for good measure.
This is not an argument against war in games, far from it considering I love RTS and war simulation games. This is an argument against lessening aspects of war for the sake of making the game fun.
I have on tons of occasions in real-time war games flown my plane into an enemy vehicle or structure. Partly because those planes are hard to control but other times because yes killing yourself in games is fun. Why? Because you don’t actually die. Great, glad we got that out of the way. But when you bring in the context of the kamikaze it is vastly different.
No game, currently, can make you feel how those Japanese pilots felt for their country and make you do what they did (whether you feel they were misguided, manipulated or whatever is not the point). Games are artificial conflicts where one can reenact real or unworldly scenarios with full knowledge of your absolute safety. Which is why in a game like Battlefield, Call of Duty or Battlestations you can be the hero and sacrifice yourself for your team easily. The point is you respawn. Combining the concept of absolute safety with a true act of self-sacrifice demeans that act. Self-sacrifice becomes quantifiable.
I’m all for the realistic depictions of war in games. Eidos does a good job of recreating the various war machines and laying out the actual battles. However, they turn kamikazes into a frivolous act that does not portray the reality of war.
Enter the story. Six Days in Fallujah is a third-person shooter/survival-horror game (these genres are getting out of hand). It depicts the Battle for Fallujah which took place in 2004 as part of the on-going war and hostilities in Iraq. I had heard of the game a few weeks ago but did not really take notice of it until now. Today Konami, a game publisher, dropped its support of the game and the game’s developer Atomic Games. Konami cited that due to the recent negative backlash to the game they have decided to pull out their support. This sent me on a hunt for what that controversy was, considering I just saw a horrible trailer about a different war game …
This search began as I followed a link over to gamepolitics.com. It was another story about Konami dropping the game but there were more links to follow. This article made mention that both U.S. and U.K citizens and military personnel expressed disdain for the game. Yet, they also mentioned that Iraq War veterans “expressed an interest” in the game. Hmm, it’s almost like there are two sides to this story, I’ll dive deeper.
I first went for the Pro-game angle. I have my prejudices, I love games. I started with the article covering the war vets that were in favor for the game. They make good points, if the game is real enough then it could help bring attention to the military, the war, veterans and just get people more interested in general. One quote from USMC Gunnery Sergeant John Mundy had an interesting take on it: “You will have your group of idiots that try to be the terrorists and kill Americans and shout obscenities through the TV, damning American military personnel. But hey, those individuals can make fools of themselves all because of the protection that we military people give them each day… If someone doesn’t agree with the game, they can spend their money elsewhere.” It highlights an identity problem that games have, especially shooter games, that they are filled with obnoxious, spiteful individuals that just like to mess around and make the game unbearable. But hey, John says it’s a free country, people have the right to do that if they want to, and we have a military to protect that right. (though, I’m not discussing whether the Iraq War protected our freedom or not)
I then went and read a Joystiq interview with “Atomic Games president Peter Tamte, creative director Juan Benito and US Marine Corps Corporal Michael Ergo, a veteran of the battle and adviser on the game.” It is a great interview and you should read it, I would like to quote the whole thing right here. Basically they talk about three things: 1) they are trying to make the game as accurate as possible, 2) they are talking with marines, Iraqi civilians and insurgent fighters, 3) they down play the game as being “fun” and say it is going to be “compelling.” Now you can say what you want about the content of the interview, whether the three interviewees are being truthful or not, but I for one think they are telling the truth and applaud them for what they are doing.
In the interview Peter Tamte says they have worked with over 47 individuals: Marines, Iraqi civilians and insurgents. What other games do that? They are tackling this thing from all sides. It is the equivalent of Eidos going out to talk with attempted suicide bombers or civilians that have lived through bombing attacks to understand suicide attacks like kamikazes (seeing as it is getting harder to speak with people from the WWII era).
One question asked by the Joystiq interviewer was “Would you say the game is actually going to be ‘fun’?” to which Peter Tamte replies: “The words I would use to describe the game — first of all, it’s compelling. … And a lot of that has to do with presenting players with the dilemmas that the Marines saw in Fallujah and then giving them the choice of how to handle that dilemma. And I think at that point, you know — when you watch a movie, you see the decisions that somebody else made. But when you make a decision yourself, then you get a much deeper level of understanding.” This is what I was getting at earlier. Games are artificial conflicts but that does not mean they need to treat the subject matter in a light-hearted way. They can make it real, more so than a book or movie, making the content something worth experiencing. No, not every game has to do that but we need to start showing the public at large that games can be used in this manner.
Now the reason that Konomi pulled out is because there was a lot of negative feedback to the game, which can be found in other articles. I can see their arguments too. Of course when you discuss war it will bring up bad memories and bitter feelings. I have never personally been in war, nor lost anyone to war. I have lost friends through violent deaths however and I can respect the view points of those that feel that portraying a particular war in a disrespectful manner demeans the death of their loved ones who lost their lives in that war.
One quote from a member of the Gold Star Families Speaks Out (GSFSO), family members of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, “Joanna Polisena, whose brother was killed in Iraq in 2004, said: When our loved one’s ‘health meter’ dropped to ‘0′, they didn’t get to ‘retry’ the mission. When they took a bullet, they didn’t just get to pick up a health pack and keep ‘playing’…they suffered, they cried, they died. We – their parents, siblings, spouses, children and friends – absolutely find it disgusting and repulsive that those so far detached (and clinging to denial of reality) find it so easy to poke fun at such a thing.” Obviously an entertainment game will have to have some non-realistic aspect and if done poorly could hurt the game’s impact. Also considering America is still in Iraq it’s very different trying to make a game about events that took place 5 years ago as opposed to 50 years ago. Though, given what Peter Tamte said in his interview it seems Atomic Games is trying their hardest not to let that happen.
There is also the argument that the Battle for Fallujah was a massacre.
“Tech Radar offers withering comments from Tansy Hoskins of Stop The War Coalition, a U.K. peace group: “The massacre carried out by American and British forces in Fallujah in 2004 is amongst the worst of the war crimes carried out in an illegal and immoral war. It is estimated that up to 1,000 civilians died in the bombardment and house to house raids… The American led assault on Fallujah pretended there were no civilians left in the city [but] over 50,000 people remained in their homes and took the brunt of the violence and chemical weapons… To make a game out of a war crime and to capitalise on the death and injury of thousands is sick… The massacre in Fallujah should be remembered with shame and horror not glamorised and glossed over for entertainment.”
Again, I think Atomic Games is trying to look at this angle by talking with civilians and insurgents. I see no reason why Atomic Games could not put in morally ambiguous situations in the game to help drive the point home that it was not just the Marines in that fight. However, the point is to show all viewpoints, any argument that states one viewpoint is more important than the next (for instance that the Iraqi civilians position was more important) is just as bad as saying that the Military viewpoint is more important.
This post is getting too long so I will cut it here. There is defiantly more out there to find and discuss. The take away is that games do have the power to bring reality into our lives where otherwise people like me would not be able to experience. Games can help promote a proper discussion to happen between those that play a game and those that are portrayed in a game (and this can be for more than just war games).
And in the end, I am not bad mouthing Eidos here for making a game. Yes I think that their one trailer could have been handled differently but they are making a game that is supposed to be fun. It’s just important to note that games can be made with more ambitious goals in mind then making a fun experience. They can attempt to portray real events as accurately as possible. I really hope Atomic Games finds a way to get Six Days in Fallujah out to the public. Just as those war vets “expressed an interest” in the game, I too think that more games like Six Days in Fallujah would help get people to notice that games can make you as much think about the content they present as they can entertain you with it.
P.S. One problem is that even if Six Days in Fallujah was a serious game, meaning it was not attempting to entertain but to teach about or report about the Battle of Fallujah, I still think this problem would exist. Games still have such a negative image when it comes to depicting realistic content.