“If game producers really want to give their audience insight into social and political issues, they must take a more mature approach, not only to the issues themselves, but to the unique forms of expression available to videogames.”
Six Days in Fallujah wants people to experience something that’s going to challenge them, that’s going to make them think and provide an unprecedented level of insight into a great military significance. Six Days in Fallujah promises fully destructible environments, a co-op campaign and competitive multiplayer modes. Six Days in Fallujah has been extensively researched, with people from both sides of the conflict consulted, to accurately portray the timeline and events. Six Days in Fallujah is trying to recreate the stories of the Marines that are involved in its creation, and will tell the stories of those particular Marines. Six Days in Fallujah will be presented in a documentary-like style. Six Days in Fallujah conveys the realities of the battles to players, so they can feel what it was like to be there – finally you can experience the most intense battle of the 21st century! Six Days in Fallujah wants to bring a compelling entertainment experience – at the end of the day, it’s just a game! 
The above a selection of quotes and sentiments ably demonstrating confusion, naivety, being out of one’s depth, a desperately misguided attempt at moral justification, and a fumbling PR offensive struggling to keep reputations (and share prices) intact. The source – some of the mixed messages sent forth by various individuals involved in underdevelopment videogame Six Days in Fallujah (billed as a recreation of the second siege of Fallujah by US forces in November 2004) in the few short weeks of press and public backlash between major Japanese games publisher Konami announcing that it would be publishing the game, and announcing that it wouldn’t (a withdrawal indicating more an admission of failure to PR its way out of a mild hysteria than any genuine understanding of what caused it). 
Initially the ambitions of Konami and dubiously named developer, Atomic Games, sounded intriguing in theory, if never quite coherent – the game had been well researched, its aims were to show what it was like to be in such a conflict from both sides and balance a portrayal of the horrors of war whilst remaining entertaining (?) – with very little to go on as to how that might pan out. In fact, the game’s original announcement, whilst questionable, was less disconcerting than the quickest and loudest reactions to it. Before Konami and Atomic tied themselves in contradictory knots trying to wheedle their way out of the bad publicity, a healthy dose of scepticism was probably a fairer response. Even so, despite lacking concrete information, objections came thick and fast from the outset – opinion pieces over internet blogs, news article comments and game forums, and an unsurprisingly reactionary ‘ban this sick filth’ type response from UK tabloid the Daily Mail. 
That there should be concern for the execution of such a game – both in its political standpoint and form of representation – isn’t in doubt, but much of the negative reflex reaction simply comes from a deeply ingrained preconception of videogames as a medium. Curiously, the predominant oppositional response from gamers themselves was simply that it was ‘too soon’ for such a game. Videogame ‘simulations’ of Vietnam and numerous bits of World War II have been out there and selling well for years, without sufficiently vocal condemnation to make publishers nervous; clearly those are deemed acceptable backgrounds for some good old-fashioned shooting and shelling action. Turning real war into a visually accurate but politically, ethically and consequentially void piece of entertainment is not merely tolerable but actually desirable to many game players (the reasons for which are a whole different question) – just leave it a while until it’s out of the news. Gamers and tabloids may often be found at loggerheads on issues of violence and exploitation in videogames, but argue from the same fundamental position – games are stupid and artistically without merit. In this case it was taken for granted by both that a videogame based on war would be trivialising entertainment; the negative defence of the pro violent game camp remains that, an unspecified timeframe not withstanding, games are far less socially significant than the hacks give them credit for.
If a film, documentary, TV drama or even comedy of the same title were announced it would be taken more seriously – people would wait to find out more about its perspective, who was involved, even go and actually watch it before making their minds up. But since we all know that videogames are just a bit of fun, or are toys whose only social significance is destroying children’s brains and turning them into violent psychopaths, this was hardly a consideration here. It’s difficult to see videogames getting a better reputation as long as their core audience is among those that fail to confer any kind of significance on them, and ignore the fact that some games already provoke thought and offer varying perspectives of weighty subjects in ways unique to their form. Konami’s own fictional war based series, Metal Gear Solid, is one decent (if rather heavy handed) example, with its marriage of well implemented stealth and combat play, fourth wall breaking modernism and a philosophical examination of the meaning of conflict and what it is to be a soldier.
Of course, it is true that such examples are nowhere near numerous enough, and indeed the more of Six Days in Fallujah was revealed, the more it only played up to the uninformed outbursts that had heralded its original announcement. Indeed, recent descriptions by those who’ve seen it as a politically sanitised shoot ‘em up in the vein of gung-ho sci-fi silliness Gears of War sound even more misconceived than even the Mail might have hoped.  And the fact that the official publicity was beginning to focus increasingly on the US military involvement in the game suggests an end product that would preclude aspects such as civilian murder, the strategic deliberate targeting of ambulances and the use of white phosphorous, and, therefore, their condemnation, and makes any claim of realism or a mature look at the events of the November 2004 battle quite absurd.
But even so, the reasons for the game possibly heading into such disastrous, tasteless and propagandistic territory (if it is published at all now) are not simply that it is a videogame about Iraq. In this case, as with many other videogame attempts to broach serious issues, the failure is due to naivety and immaturity, not exploitation (although there are certainly examples of this) or because the medium is insufficient for the task. Atomic thought it could examine the Iraq War by ‘recreating’ its most controversial battle in as much detail as possible, whilst also trying to satisfy both sides of the conflict. This was misconceived, both in political terms (what does satisfying both sides even mean?) and videogame development terms. The fact is, whist today’s games can look fairly convincing, setting up opportunities for realistic, nuanced character interaction isn’t their strong point, and those games that have best managed to communicate something meaningful have done it at varying levels of abstraction. The more game developers aim for realism the more they expose the medium’s current shortcomings – it is less jarring to experience rudimentary behavioural procedures in a game that offers a symbolic artistic vision than one which attempts a literal simulation.
(Compare Rock Star Games’ Grand Theft Auto franchise and Grasshopper Manufacture’s No More Heroes as an example – the former featuring a painstakingly created city with a detailed realist style, traffic flows, shops, entertainment, a day-night cycle, and an assortment of interactive wandering pedestrians; the latter a heavily stylised, featureless and unattractive urban sprawl, its streets virtually empty save for a few faceless wandering souls who never even acknowledge the player’s presence, and a small number of consumer outlets selling desirable items that confer no significant in game advantage. But in GTA every non-scripted encounter (as opposed to the game’s main story) offers an absence of meaning – there’s no ‘realism’ in shooting someone in the street if they have no identity, no personality, no family, and if there’ll be no memory of the incident the moment you leave the area and escape the police – whereas NMH manages a cohesive and more deeply satirical social vision and meta-narrative, with themes of alienation and empty consumerism, and their relation to the main character’s desperation for acknowledgment and subsequent celebration of infamy. Most crucially, this is achieved not with a tacked on non-interactive Hollywood style storyline, but by suggestions ingrained in the game structure itself.)
If someone’s going to make a responsible videogame about the experience and atrocities of war and do it by trying to represent it as closely as possible, they have to be smart and brave enough to show that the horrors of war and pure entertainment are mutually exclusive – something which the announcements about Six Days in Fallujah never really grasped. There’s no reason in theory why someone can’t still make a challenging game – in terms of skill and tactics – that also seriously makes the player question what he/she is being asked to do and why he/she is doing it, or that makes the player face the consequences of his/her actions. For videogames in general it’s time game developers and publishers, as well as the media and many gamers themselves, paid more attention to those games that have made an intellectual impact and how they have done it. If game producers really want to give their audience insight into social and political issues, they must take a more mature approach, not only to the issues themselves, but to the unique forms of expression available to videogames. They will also have to commit themselves to the idea fully, which may, god forbid, mean defending their choices, alienating sections of their established audience and taking a risk on the bottom line (otherwise, why go down that road at all?). And if more people who play games broadened their horizons to take in some of the interesting abstract titles on offer, they may consider that games can have more import than they’re given credit for and start to question why ‘real war’ games should be entertaining. And if the tabloid papers could…well…one step at a time.
In principle a videogame that, in one form or another, has something to say about Iraq and says it well need not be a ridiculous idea, and it would be a shame if a developer that had the vision to do it justice was put off by reactionary criticism. Even so, Six Days in Fallujah does not appear to be that videogame.
1. ‘Konami reveals Iraq war game’, www.computerandvideogames.com, 7 April, 2009;
‘Six Days in Fallujah, One Small Problem’, www.shacknews.com, 14 April, 2009;
2. ‘Under criticism, Konami ditches realistic “Fallujah” videogame’, www.asahi.com, 27 April, 2009.
3. ‘Iraq War video game branded “crass and insensitive” by father of Red Cap killed in action’, www.dailymail.co.uk, 7 April, 2009.
4. ‘Six Days in Fallujah, One Small Problem’.
Jon Bailes is co-editor and webmaster of State Of Nature. He is currently writing a PhD thesis on ideology theory at the Centre for European Studies, University College London, and has an MA in European Thought from the same department. He is co-author of Weapon of the Strong: Conversations on US State Terrorism (London: Pluto, 2012).