Six Days in Fallujah Capitalizes on the War As Veterans Suffer

Video game takes war profiteering to a new level.

The marginalization of America’s veterans continues. Their deaths
and sacrifices, along with those of others who suffered and died in
Iraq, are becoming the stuff of video games even while the war
continues. Earlier this year, the game developer Atomic Games and game
publisher Konami Digital Entertainment announced a new game called
Six Days in Fallujah. The game will depict “Operation Phantom
Fury,” a 2004 battle in which 1,500 Iraqis and at least 38 Americans
lost their lives, and many more were injured. But veterans of that
conflict will soon be able to bury their woes under simulated mortar
and rocket attacks — and we can, too.

The description of the game is surreal. Atomic’s president Peter
Tamte unabashedly calls Six Days in Fallujah a survival horror game.
“For us, the challenge was how to present the horrors of war in a game
that is entertaining, but also gives people insight into a historical
situation in a way that only a video game can provide,” he said. Atomic
boasts that it “develops training systems for many of the world’s
leading military and intelligence organizations.” This activity, the
company claims, provides an authenticity to “the events, tactics, and
stories at the heart of real military and espionage operations.” Tamte
added, “Our goal is to give people that insight, of what’s it 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.”

Significantly, Atomic is partially owned by In-Q-Tel, a private
venture capital firm funded by the United States Central Intelligence
Agency. So the CIA is funding video games that glorify the fighting in
Fallujah. Who could have guessed?

Angry reactions erupted to the announcement of the game. Iraq vets
and their families were appalled. Reaction was especially strong in the
United Kingdom among families of those killed in Iraq. The UK peace
group Stop the War Now said, “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. … So many people
were killed in Fallujah that the town’s football stadium had to be
turned into a cemetery to cope with all the dead bodies.” The group
also claims that phosphorus and thermobaric weapons were used along
with large-scale aerial bombardment.

Gaming industry supporters have tried to reframe the issue. “Games
deserve a chance to grapple with controversial, politically charged
— and yes, even recent — subject matter,” Matt Peckham
wrote in the “Game On” blog on the PC World web site. “Just like any
other creative medium, and without special exceptions made for one
against another.” He compares Six Days in Fallujah to artistic
depictions of the war in Iraq on film and TV. Peckham says the
controversy demonstrates that “games have a lot of rock-rolling to do
before they’re taken seriously, i.e. without the assumption that simply
being a game is synonymous with superficiality.”

Still, in response to the controversy, Konami announced in late
April that it will not distribute the game. Atomic, however, will
continue to complete the game, and is seeking another publisher.

Like millions of Americans, I enjoy video games. I enjoy World of
Warcraft
and have played around with Sim City, produced by
Emeryville’s Maxis Software. I agree with Peckham that the issue is not
games, per se. It is the dangerous and growing disconnect between
reality and fantasy in contemporary life.

Like the characters on South Park, I have found myself seduced by
the pirates of Somalia. When I was young, I read of the dashing
exploits of such watery Robin Hoods, and I wanted to be one. But, of
course, the reality of Somali piracy is different. And that came home
for me when I realized I felt embarrassed seeing the captain of the
hijacked American ship standing with his family in Vermont. Through
subconscious association, I had confused reality and fantasy.

Nearly every form of contemporary culture feeds off the gap between
reality and fantasy. That is often what is enjoyable. But sometimes
enough is enough; at a certain point sliding down that slippery slope,
you fall off into an unpleasant place. Too many important societal
issues are affected by this divide today. The tepid opposition to
Bush’s wars occurred partially because it is too easy for Americans to
maintain a distance from the horrific reality of war. The shameful
stance of our country on torture is partially supported by the
anesthetizing effects of the popular television show 24. This doughnut
hole of reality can be seen in the fantasy financial products that
seemed so real and risk fee yet are costing taxpayers trillions
today.

Six Days in Fallujah also exemplifies the disgusting
propensity of American-style business to attempt to make money off of
anything while hiding behind a gauzy shroud of apoliticalness. Before
the company pulled out of the project, a Konami marketing official
said, “We’re not trying to make social commentary. We’re not pro-war.
We’re not trying to make people feel uncomfortable. We just want to
bring a compelling entertainment experience.” But of course this game
glorifies the war, and a number of veterans may enjoy playing it for
just that reason. Like some who fought in Vietnam, a few Iraqi vets
will no doubt gravitate to arguments or cultural artifacts that
validate their military experiences.

Except for the game’s CIA financiers, my guess is that most of those
associated with the game are honest when they say they are not overtly
political. For them it is all about the Benjamins. That is unseemly,
too.

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