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"Fallujah" Video Game Dropped Over Controversy

fallujahFun shouldn’t have to be the be-all end-all of video games, so I approached Six Days in Fallujah, a game based on a bloody battle in Iraq, with cautious optimism. Maybe this would be the title that takes war for what it is — intense and violent, with deeper consequences than “win or lose” — rather than a shooting gallery in realistic skin.

I tweeted as much when the game’s developers at Atomic Games talked about how they would address that issue. A report that the game included the perspective of insurgents piqued my interest even further. Maybe this game would not simply be Call of Duty: Modern Warfare with specific historical details.

It could be all for naught now that Konami has abandoned Six Days in Fallujah. A representative for the company told Asahi Shimbun that the decision came after “seeing the reaction to the videogame in the United States and hearing opinions sent through phone calls and e-mail.”

This doesn’t necessarily rule out the game. Another publisher could pick it up, but will any company want to? The outcry must have been pretty bad for Konami to back down from the controversy, because usually a strong negative response from concerned groups translates into free marketing. I guess it’s easier to justify the fictionalized, cartoonish violence of Grand Theft Auto than the portrayal of an ongoing war.

The other possibility is that Six Days in Fallujah isn’t as deep and meaningful as I had hoped, and Konami knows it. Even so, I’d still like to see this game come to market. The games industry might have learned a valuable lesson on what’s appropriate subject matter for video games and how to approach it. Instead, the stigma remains that games can’t take on a serious topic with anything but pure entertainment in mind.


Iraq War Video Game: Appropriate?

fallujahQuick, think of a knee-jerk reaction: A game based on the war in Iraq, insightful culture or crass cash-in?

Okay, now let’s think about it a little bit.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Konami is preparing a video game based on the Iraq conflict, called Six Days in Fallujah, but it wasn’t the publisher’s idea. The concept comes from a group of U.S. Marines who survived the Second Battle of Fallujah, which occurred in 2004 and left 38 troopers and an estimated 1,200 insurgents dead. Raleigh, N.C.-based Atomic Games, a company with experience designing combat software for the military, will design the game.

The marines want their story to be told through video games, and that goes a long way towards legitimizing the game in my book. One marine named Mike Ergo tells the Times that video games “communicate the intensity and gravity of war” to people — young ones, likely — who aren’t learning about it on TV or in the classroom, and aren’t as tuned in to books. (Ergo says we live in an age where the imagination isn’t what it was.) Video games it is, then.

But does that mean games are the best medium for Six Days in Fallujah? Put aside the idea that video games are more of an entertainment platform than film and books, because that’s debatable; even watching Saving Private Ryan is entertainment on some level, an escape into another world. I’d also like to ignore the knee-jerk detractors, such as the veterans calling for a ban on the game because that’s just ridiculous.

The real issue that Atomic Games will face deals with the very nature of what games are. Like binary code, video games do not play well with gray area, and that’s where so much of real drama lies. Bioshock, hailed as a pillar of artistic game design, places its moral stock in a simple decision with clear-cut ramifications — kill the Little Sisters and steal their powers, or save them for a delayed reward. Mass Effect transforms your character into a Paragon or Renegade based on your actions, but there are no facets to the character’s personality. For game designers, moving beyond “good and bad” hasn’t been easy.

So Atomic Games has the unenviable challenge of portraying the gray areas of war. I hope they pull it off, but I won’t rush to judgment.

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