1up and other news sites have been reporting about Atomic Games’ new title, Six Days in Fallujah, a game about the Battle of Fallujah in the Iraq War back in 2004. (Actually many news articles say it’s Konami’s game where Konami is simply the publisher.) The game has been stoking a lot of controversy due to its high-budget profile and controversial subject matter, something that games like Kuma\War don’t seem to have gotten (but which America’s Army certainly did). So it’s little surprise given games’ previous track record that detractors would be very quick to push to halt its production (something that Atomic Games is allowed to do under free speech rights and should at least be given opportunity to explore the subject matter in a decent manner).
The big problem I see already is that there has been so much framing of this game’s ‘accuracy’ and what that means to war and entertainment when in fact all that has been revealed is the concept and a couple of screenshots. Given our current affair with ‘realism’ in games, it’s more prudent to suggest that the game will only be ‘real’ in a sense of equipment and visuals rather than experience and context.
After all, the Battle of Fallujah was by no means the Iraq War – six days in Iraq is less than 1% of this entire quagmire that’s been lasting for more than 5 years now. A more accurate representation of the Iraq War then would have to put more focus on boredom, truck bombs, boredom, domestic raids, boredom, patrols, and a lot more utter boredom, followed by other sudden moments of sheer terror. You can’t stick a few marines in a firefight and call that an ‘accurate representation’ of this kind of war. There is also, of course, a concern for the representation of civilian casualties, a staple to any war. Six Days in Fallujah might represent a single battle, but the battle only served to set the stage for this kind of guerilla war.
So in what ways is this game going to be different than other FPS shooting fests? Atomic Games’ president Peter Tamte states:
“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.”
Wait a sec, what it’s like to be civilians and insurgents? Does this mean we’ll be playing as somebody other than a marine? The prospect is very intriguing, but whether or not these experiences will be simulated is doubtful (certainly from an insurgent’s point of view). How and whether these other narratives and experiences can be communicated is unknown at this point.
Which is both hopeful and disappointing. Given that the game’s developers have fantastic source material such as soldier’s diaries and eyewitness accounts to work with and (apparently) a large budget, the potentials of creating something truly unique certainly exist. Games have a capacity to show what a situation feels like, and what it feels like to be a person within that situation, whereas film and literature can only make us imagine and empathize. To be able to express a situation as it happens now, such as the War in Iraq is a unique opportunity that games have not been able to achieve yet. So Six Days in Fallujah could be incredibly historical.
Other observations will also question what being a serious game actually means. Iraq War veteran Sgt. Casey McGeorge states in an interview with G4:
“The first time in the game they [players] get too close to a car and are blown up…without knowing what is really going on, they might be able to get a small understanding of what we have had to go through on a regular basis.”
Such an experience, while ‘accurate’ in some ways violates the rules of meaningful play – that is, giving players adequate feedback in order to let them make intelligent decisions. Thus, ‘fair’ games don’t give us booby traps without first giving us some kind of warning (i.e. a blinking light, the voice of a helpful character). ‘Fair’ games are like the myth of police officers who keep part of their car visible in that dark corner to give speeders a fair chance. Life is not ‘fair’, and war is expecially so. But games have traditionally been fair – that’s been part of their ‘fun’. A serious game doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘fun’, but it should skirt the line between boredom and frustration to find other means of being intriguing.
Of course, most of this is simply ramblings and speculation about a game that currently exists as only two screenshots. But we can only hope that Atomic Games’s representations of the Iraq War will be as observational as Vit Sissler’s comments on contemporary representations of the Middle East in videogames.