Six Days in Fallujah Is Complicated and Painful For Those Connected to the Real Events

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The Second Battle of Fallujah, which passed off in 2004 throughout the Iraq War, resulted in the deaths of an unknown variety of Iraqi civilians — at the time estimated around 800 however probably many extra — in addition to over 100 US and British troops.

The battle was violent, tragic, and has been extraordinarily controversial, in no small half due to the US’s motivations for being in Iraq in any respect, most notably round the now thoroughly discredited rationale of “weapons of mass destruction.” But in particular, the Second Battle of Fallujah was criticized for numerous civilian casualties, as well as the US military’s attested use of white phosphorus against civilians and other alleged violent acts by the military forces against non-combatants. Though the US military has denied violence against civilians, numerous accounts appear to contradict their claims [Warning: Link includes graphic content].

Nearly 20 years later, there is a online game being made about the battle, and a variety of folks with connections to the occasion — via household, tradition, heritage, or expertise — are pissed off and offended about the manner in which its creators seem to be approaching this painful topic.

That ought to come as no shock. When Six Days in Fallujah was first introduced again in 2009, it was met with widespread criticism — finally inflicting then-publisher Konami to ditch the project. Now, it is resurfaced and is assembly renewed resistance.

IGN spoke with a variety of Arab and Iraqi sport builders and members of the online game neighborhood about their views surrounding the revival of Six Days in Fallujah. Five agreed to converse on the report, as did one US navy veteran. Many of these we reached out to declined to remark formally for numerous causes: for some it was a really private subject that they discovered difficult to discuss, whereas others had been involved that talking critically about both the US navy or the real-world occasions in Fallujah would outcome in repercussions to both their careers or their livelihoods.

The basic sentiment that emerged from these talks — amongst a lot else — was a distrust of Seattle-based developer Highwire’s capability to signify a truthful human expertise of the occasions. Alongside that got here worries about the sport’s illustration of Iraqi residents (and Middle Eastern cultures in basic), and a wider concern about the duty of attempting to flip a real-life warfare — notably such a latest, bloody, and controversial one — into an interactive leisure expertise.

The Intentions of Six Days in Fallujah

First, a little bit of historical past. Six Days in Fallujah was initially announced in 2009 by Atomic Games, below Konami’s publishing umbrella. Konami’s first response to criticisms at the moment was that it merely needed “to bring a compelling entertainment experience,” and that the product was “just a game.”

Not a month later, Konami dropped the project, saying it was in response to the public’s response. In its official assertion, nonetheless, Konami appeared to supply a really totally different take from its prior messaging about wanting to make an entertainment-first product.

In direct distinction to earlier feedback, a consultant of the firm at the time mentioned, “We had intended to convey the reality of the battles to players so that they could feel what it was like to be there,” foreshadowing the sport’s future struggles to clarify what it was attempting to make. Without Konami’s help, Atomic shut down shortly after.

Seven years later in 2016, former Atomic Games CEO Peter Tamte formed his own publishing studio, Victura, to help the sport’s 2021 reemergence with developer Highwire Games at the helm. Today’s Six Days in Fallujah is, per the sport’s personal web site, “a first-person tactical military shooter that recreates true stories of Marines, Soldiers, and Iraqi civilians who fought Al Qaeda during the toughest urban battle since 1968.”

More advertising and marketing, taken from the official web site, attests that its creators interviewed over 100 Marines, troopers, and Iraqi civilians to form “real-life scenarios” performed via the eyes of actual folks, who narrate what occurred throughout the battle. Details are nonetheless hazy however, based mostly on interviews and press supplies, it seems that the majority of the sport can be portrayed via the eyes of navy members. It can also be mentioned to embody not less than one mission the place gamers comply with an unarmed Iraqi civilian. The writer provides that no part will permit you to play as an rebel.

The web site goes on to say that whereas the Iraq War was controversial, that “doesn’t mean it wasn’t filled with remarkable stories of sacrifice and courage.” Six Days in Fallujah guarantees to embrace the capability for video video games to “connect us in ways other media cannot”, and clarify “not just what happened, but why it happened the way it did.” [Emphasis Victura’s]

“Based on their stories, we’ve invested more than three years building technologies to explore specific parts of the combat experience more realistically than other games have so far,” the web site continues. “We hope that participating in these real-life ‘moments of truth’ will give each of us a new perspective into events that have already shaped so much of our century.”

But even placing apart that the subject material itself is inherently a deeply delicate a part of US and Iraq historical past that might be powerful for anybody to grapple with responsibly — particularly corporations that historically make leisure merchandise — Victura’s statements and advertising and marketing supplies on its official web site have so far failed to encourage confidence in the sport’s course from many with ties to the Second Battle of Fallujah.

What’s extra, its official messaging — and the contradictions it poses — is one in every of Six Days in Fallujah’s largest issues.

Mixed Messages

The message, goal, and advertising and marketing of Six Days in Fallujah had been by far the largest, most typical criticisms of the sport from everybody we spoke to. Much of the concern stems from the incontrovertible fact that whereas the advertising and marketing converse on the web site says one factor, Tamte himself has given multiple interviews about Six Days in Fallujah that distinction starkly with that course.

“[We’re] not trying to make a political commentary.” Tamte mentioned simply over a month in the past. This remark — notably related to the similar statements that arose throughout the sport’s first announcement years in the past — is the focus of the controversy round the sport’s re-announcement. It’s additionally the comment that drew the most skepticism and anger from lots of these we spoke to.

However, following our preliminary interviews with the folks quoted in this piece, Victura issued a comply with up assertion saying that the occasions in the sport had been “inseparable from politics,” regardless of Tamte’s earlier feedback to the opposite. The assertion continued to say that Six Days in Fallujah discusses “many tough topics, including the events and political decisions that led to the Fallujah battles as well as their aftermath.”

Tamte himself subsequently told IGN that he was conscious of the political ramifications of the sport, however that the staff is targeted on the Battle of Fallujah itself, slightly than the wider circumstances of the Iraq War, regardless of the apparent connections between the two. But even with this shift in messaging, these we spoke to had been nonetheless involved that Tamte had so reflexively reached for “it’s not political” as a response to start with.

[‘It’s not political’] is used primarily by creators who’re resistant to requires a extra consultant online game panorama.

“[‘It’s not political’] is used primarily by creators who are resistant to calls for a more representative video game landscape,” said Anita Sarkeesian, media critic and executive director of Feminist Frequency, in her initial statement to IGN. “[It’s] a protection most frequently used to push the most regressive, conservative, and oppressive narratives.”

She and many different builders we interviewed remained unconvinced after Victura’s corrective assertion.

“The recent statement from Victura articulating that they understand that Six Days in Fallujah is in fact a political game is nothing more than crisis management, whether they actually understand the problems or not,” she mentioned. “It doesn’t change that the builders who labored on the sport for a few years labored on it whereas believing they weren’t making a political sport…It doesn’t change the incontrovertible fact that this sport is perpetuating the establishment of American imperialism and the unbelievable hurt it causes to the remainder of the world, and in this case to Iraqis, and Arabs extra broadly.

Alex, a Lebanese-Arab sport developer, agreed, saying they noticed this as a deliberate try to disguise navy propaganda in response to controversy. “Any time you make a war game and you have to [say it’s not] political, all it says is, ‘Hey, if you’re pro-military, we’re not questioning your beliefs. We’re not going to make you think about it.’”

One Muslim sport developer we spoke to with household ties in the Middle East (who wished to stay nameless) mentioned that Six Days in Fallujah’s advertising and marketing so far, in addition to Tamte’s statements, was one in every of the essential causes they had been skeptical about the sport’s capability to inform the story it intends with any sensitivity or cautious consideration.

“There is an entire possibility that they did their due diligence,” they mentioned. “Really made an effort to take a wide set of accounts and then build around it. However, given the comments of [Tamte], as in, if their opening gambit is, ‘We’re not making a political game,’ that doesn’t exactly inspire me with confidence in their ability to do something nuanced. When the whole idea is that you can take an event from the Iraq War, and just somehow absolve it of any of the political elements, or not engage with or discuss any of the political elements.”

Empathy — But With Whom?

But the combined messages of Six Days in Fallujah are removed from the solely drawback these we spoke to have with the sport. Many take difficulty with the sport’s different, largely constant goals, together with Tamte’s said purpose: to train gamers empathy. Tamte mentioned he needs gamers to empathize with the US troopers concerned in the battle, via whose eyes gamers will expertise the majority of the sport.

That empathy, Alex mentioned, isn’t accurately positioned. They say {that a} sport like this inherently presents a standpoint and set of values, and that these values traditionally reinforce the establishment and empathize with one aspect over the different. Tamte’s feedback actually appear to affirm that in this case.

“He mentioned you are supposed to empathize with the Marines and what they went via. The Marines went into that metropolis and fucking killed all people. What am I supposed to empathize with?”

As Sarkeesian has mentioned, by asking gamers to empathize with US troopers in the Iraq War, Six Days in Fallujah runs the danger of including to a higher, ongoing tradition of generalizing and dehumanizing Middle Eastern cultures in media, particularly video video games, and particularly since 9/11. Numerous studies and articles have been published about how 9/11 induced a spike in racist anti-Muslim and anti-Middle Eastern sentiment in the US that hasn’t gone away even 20 years later, and continues to be a problem in media depictions as effectively.

Having talked at length before about the dangerous portrayals of Arabs and Muslims in the media, Sarkeesian spoke to us each as a critic and as an individual linked to Fallujah through her household, with mother and father born and raised in Iraq and different kin who had been working in Fallujah throughout the warfare. She referred to as the homogenization of Arab tradition in Western media “shameful.”

In tandem with narrative media villainizing Arabs, the information media spent a long time justifying assaults on the Middle East, a lot in order that Americans had been already primed to settle for the 2003 invasion of Iraq as if it was a simply, ethical, and inevitable motion to take.

“It is extremely well documented at this point that Arabs in American media have overwhelmingly been portrayed as unhinged terrorists who hate ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy'”, Sarkeesian mentioned. She pointed to the truth there’s not often an try to construct empathy towards Arabs in media, which inspires an absence of empathy from those that eat it. “Talk about constructing empathy? Where are the tales about Arabs residing their lives, loving sports activities, mastering a musical instrument, falling in love, discovering consolation in their non secular or non secular religion, rebelling in opposition to their mother and father, cooking with their grandparents? Where are the tales that present the very big selection of cultures and nations that we lump into the phrase Arab?

“In tandem with narrative media villainizing Arabs, the information media spent a long time justifying assaults on the Middle East, a lot in order that Americans had been already primed to settle for the 2003 invasion of Iraq as if it was a simply, ethical, and inevitable motion to take.”

Most of our sources identified that video video games’ tendency to painting inaccurate depictions of Middle Eastern people and teams as faceless dangerous guys in sport after sport has not helped matters. One Arab-Lebanese sport developer, Lee Hammoud, mentioned that the development of media that takes place in the Middle East “almost makes me feel we’re just a bunch of NPCs to a lot of [people].”

Alex agreed. “Post-9/11, it became really clear to me that there was a trend of dehumanizing Arabs in media,” they mentioned. “You by no means really understand it is you that they imply as a result of they’re such ridiculous caricatures that look nothing such as you.” For instance, Alex talked about the depictions of terrorists in Army of Two, a sport they loved taking part in with their brother as a teen. It’s a standard connection that highlights how media continuously chooses to establish Arabs as inherently evil. Alex recalled “the Arab bad guys that were supposed to be us.”

“In my head I’m like, ‘No, it is these different terrorists,'” they said. “And as me and my brother are dropping in Army of Two right into a mission and then the pseudo-terrorists are coming at us, they began talking my dialect of Arabic…I simply sort of went, ‘Oh.'”

The Middle East turned a simple setting to provoke a base in opposition to, Alex mentioned, as a result of Americans didn’t have to suppose too arduous about it. “You just turn on a game, you see some terrorists, and you start shooting at them.”

A Military Story and a Conflict of Interest

None of that is helped by the incontrovertible fact that, as lots of these we spoke to mentioned, the group making Six Days in Fallujah appears very far faraway from the actuality of the scenario they’re exploring. Highwire Games, they are saying, is a Western studio, and not less than in appearances would not appear to have a lot Iraqi illustration in its ranks — or would not care to put that illustration ahead to lend itself authenticity.

That could be regarding sufficient, they are saying, however the driving power behind the venture, Tamte himself, used to build training systems for the US Marines. Though his writer Victura has denied official US military involvement in the current version of the game, the folks I spoke to remained skeptical.

“I’m not quite sure why, all of a sudden, someone who would spend their time creating simulation tools for the Military — and I understand that’s an industry in and of itself, that’s a whole separate thing,” mentioned the nameless sport developer we spoke to. “But, the idea that somehow, on some level, that experience, or their potential connections were not involved in any manner, it seems incredibly odd…the bottom line is, I’m not quite sure someone can outright say that their previous experience, or previous connections, or that even this game’s previous connections, somehow do not tie to the Military in some way.”

I’m not fairly certain somebody can outright say that their earlier expertise, or earlier connections, or that even this sport’s earlier connections, one way or the other don’t tie to the Military in a way.

At greatest, these we spoke to fear {that a} group of individuals with sympathy and vested curiosity in the US navy will inherently be biased towards it, and could consciously or in any other case inform an inaccurate story that portrays the navy in a extra favorable mild whereas casting those that lived in the nation it invaded as villains. That fear has already born out considerably, provided that Victura has accomplished little in the manner of actively disclosing its earlier navy connections as a possible battle of curiosity, and has in truth actively tried to separate itself from them regardless of clear proof the sport was, not less than at one level, clearly wrapped up in them.

At worst, they believe it may even be a deliberate try to inform the story of Fallujah in a manner that erases the hurt that the US navy induced in favor of a heroic story of sacrifice that makes the US look purely courageous, ethical, and justified. While this concern could be comprehensible regardless, given the historical past of how conflicts resembling these have been portrayed in the previous, the quite a few crimson flags and combined messages all through Six Days in Fallujah’s advertising and marketing have solely induced extra confusion and forged extra doubt.

Yifat Shaik, an Iraqi-Jewish sport growth professor, particularly referred to as out the sport’s advertising and marketing for resembling navy propaganda, analyzing this tweet from Victura for instance.

“This image is selling you the idea that the soldiers are brave and are going to fight the bad guy, or are going to encounter something dangerous. It does not show the fact that it’s a house and it is very likely that the people on the other side are civilians and are very likely going to be killed.

“It sells you the concept that the troopers are courageous and that their trigger is simply with out displaying you if their concern is justified or not. We don’t see what they’re encountering, the enemy is faceless and unvoiced…It’s propaganda as a result of it’s telling you (and that is true for all the gifs and photographs they’ve on Twitter) that they’re the good guys and that they’re combating a anonymous enemy. It is there to promote you the concept of warfare being simply and that the US Army [are] the good guys in this case. If I reverse this, and these would have been Iraqi troopers or insurgents, our response could be loads totally different.

“Basically when we look at a piece of media we have to ask ourselves: What is it trying to tell us? Who is it serving? Who will have the most to gain from the acceptance of this media is the truth?…I would argue that it is not the Iraqi civilians.”

Tamte has tried to counter considerations that the story can be solely centered on the US navy perspective by noting that in not less than one mission in Six Days in Fallujah, gamers can be in the footwear of an Iraqi civilian attempting to flee the metropolis. But lots of these we spoke to distrust this framing, together with Alex.

Basically after we take a look at a chunk of media we have now to ask ourselves: What is it attempting to inform us? Who is it serving? Who could have the most to acquire from the acceptance of this media is the fact?

“Given your [previous military connections and] bias, I do not trust you to tell that story…I’ve seen it a million times before. I’ve seen the narrative. There’s a playbook to this stuff and people are scary good at it. Every time someone goes, ‘Oh, this is a movie about empathizing with X marginalized person,’ you have to look at two things. Who made it? Is that person from that community? Okay, maybe I’ll listen. If not, then what is the underlying message? What is this trying to sell me under the guise of empathy?”

Sarkeesian shared an analogous criticism, pointing at the sport’s advertising and marketing — virtually completely centered on the US perspective so far — as proof that the sport wouldn’t take the time and care it wanted with the Iraqi aspect of the story.

“The developer statements very carefully acknowledge the Iraqi casualties but they are not providing any context about the fact that the heroes of this story are murdering people who are defending themselves and their homeland, a people who have been targeted repeatedly over the years by world powers, including the US.”

Realities of Combat

But criticism of Six Days in Fallujah doesn’t stem solely from these with connections to the Arab and Iraqi communities. John Phipps, a veteran concerned in the Second Battle of Fallujah, expressed related worries about the messaging surrounding the sport, agreeing {that a} Western, navy perspective on Fallujah was not a reliable one.

“There is a massive unwillingness on the part of American media, no matter what form of media it is, to portray US soldiers as the antagonists or the bad guys, which, in that instance, we were,” he mentioned.

Phipps added that he additionally felt the Six Days in Fallujah staff’s guarantees to painting warfare in an particularly life like manner couldn’t moderately be fulfilled, no matter which aspect the battle was proven from.

“Somebody asked me a little while back what the difference was between something like Six Days in Fallujah and something like Saving Private Ryan,” he mentioned. “Of course, Saving Private Ryan was a extremely stark take a look at World War II, particularly Europe and Normandy and going into France. My reply to that was: One, in motion pictures versus video games you’re a passive observer as opposed to an lively participant. Two, Saving Private Ryan by no means promised to ship you to the battlefield and make you expertise firsthand what these troopers did. It was a film about one thing that was utterly fictional. The backdrop was World War II in fact, however the precise story of the squad that went to go save Private James Ryan was fictional.

There is a large unwillingness on the a part of American media, it doesn’t matter what type of media it’s, to painting US troopers as the antagonists or the dangerous guys, which, in that occasion, we had been.

“What they’re doing in Six Days in Fallujah is actually using the [stories] of Marines…and having the player act out scenarios in which real Marines were actually involved. So now, you’ve made a promise, which is something that films don’t do, certainly not something that Saving Private Ryan did. You’re making a promise to transport people to the battlefield. You’re making a promise to gamers to let them experience what it was like in Fallujah. It doesn’t matter what the battlefield is — that’s empty, that’s a hollow promise. You can’t do that. There is no way you are going to portray anywhere near what it’s like to be on a battlefield digitally. And if you somehow figure out a way to do that, you need to get rid of it because it’s, quite frankly, a product that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”

Shaik, who can also be an Israeli navy veteran, believes that navy video games continuously have a tendency to gloss over the true horrors of warfare in addition to the usually mundane realities of most navy jobs. It’s a purposeful transfer used as a device for navy recruitment, she mentioned. She provides America’s Army (with its tagline “The Official Game of the US Army”) for instance of this, whereas others we spoke to identified numerous partnerships between the US navy and video games like Call of Duty over the years to usually promote and painting the navy in a optimistic, heroic mild, all from the security and consolation of a participant’s lounge.

“The reality portrayed in video games is not the reality of war or combat itself,” Shaik mentioned. “You can take a game like Six Days in Fallujah and [portray the player as] a hero, a soldier fighting there. But it’s probably not what was really there, and…you don’t come out of battle happy or safe or feeling comfortable.”

Who Can Make Six Days in Fallujah?

Not everybody we spoke to believed that the very concept of Six Days in Fallujah as a sport was a totally misplaced trigger. Hammoud, for instance, mistrusts the sport due to two main causes: concern that the sport’s creators could be constrained by the industry-wide strain to make one thing that might promote effectively over prioritizing the necessity for sensitivity in its storytelling, and the sheer recency of the Second Battle of Fallujah. As an instance, Hammoud steered nobody would make a mass-marketed sport about 9/11 as a result of it was too latest, and too personally traumatic for therefore many individuals. The Second Battle of Fallujah — the place repercussions are nonetheless being felt in the present day — may evoke related emotions in people who find themselves linked to the metropolis or the area.

But he did acknowledge that there was a chance it may find yourself being a useful portrayal — if it managed to middle the experiences of the victims slightly than the perpetrators.

“How are you going to depict it?” Hammoud mentioned. “Are you going to depict it in a manner the place it is simply precisely the way it occurred? Are you attempting to increase consciousness about what occurred? Are you attempting not to make a heroic story out of it? What are you attempting to do precisely? If what you are attempting to do is simply to describe the battle in the heroic cinematic dramatic manner…that is simply going to make it worse.

“But if you’re doing it in the sense of, for example, This War of Mine. They have portrayed the idea that victims go through this and even if they survive they still have very long, life-changing effects. Sort of like what Spec Ops[: The Line] did as well. That could definitely help in sort of solidifying the idea that the victims over there are humans like everyone else and they’re not just numbers on Wikipedia.”

I don’t need to say we are able to by no means have video games about warfare or violence however I feel we actually want to reckon with how we’re telling these tales.

Others, like Sarkeesian, felt that Six Days in Fallujah’s very nature was a contradiction that inherently can’t accomplish its objectives.

“Every now and again a video game comes along that claims it is trying to challenge the glamorization of violence, but the problem is that these games are asking the player to do violence; they are building amusement and entertainment into the act of violence,” she mentioned. “So what’s the precise problem? That gamers may really feel dangerous a couple of selection they’ve to make? That the sport could flip one killing the participant commits right into a second of regrettable necessity or grim character growth for a protagonist, earlier than they go on to slaughter a whole bunch extra anonymous NPCs?

“I don’t want to say we can never have games about war or violence but I think we really need to reckon with how we are telling those stories. From whose perspective is the story being told? What tools and mechanics are being used to tell those stories?”

Alex, in the meantime, mentioned {that a} story like the Second Battle of Fallujah would ideally be informed from an Iraqi perspective — however added that making this sort of sport ought to by no means be one thing audiences ought to merely count on or demand marginalized builders to do in the first place.

“A lot of marginalized people are expected to make ’empathy games’, basically so that the boot on our neck or the people who are profiting from that boot on our neck can empathize with us a little bit and just kind of be like, ‘Oh, shit. Actually massacring an entire city, that was wrong.'”

Ultimately, Alex and a number of of the others I spoke to want that the video games already being made by Arab sport builders — no matter whether or not or not they cowl deeply traumatic occasions — acquired the similar sort of mainstream consideration and consideration as Six Days in Fallujah. If video games are to be used to construct empathy, they mentioned, it’s higher to uplift the artwork already being made by those that have been harmed by the Iraq War and its widespread penalties for Arabs and Muslims globally. Better, actually, than making yet one more warfare sport with tales, true or in any other case, informed via the middleman of a Western, military-connected studio.

What white folks needed to see from us…was a hand-wringing narrative about dying and warfare and despair…That was the solely manner they might relate to us.

“Coming up as an artist, I did not want to touch the Lebanese war,” Alex mentioned. “Being a younger artist in Lebanon, most of the folks in college we knew…what white folks needed to see from us, what the folks with the cash needed to see from us, was a hand-wringing narrative about dying and warfare and despair. And simply mainly circling all the pieces again to our civil warfare and our wars with Israel and all of that. That was the solely manner they might relate to us. And I simply all the time needed to make completely satisfied media simply as a manner to combat that.

“But there’s always a part of you that’s like, ‘Well, I have this platform now. Shouldn’t I be countering stuff like Six Days in Fallujah? Shouldn’t I be telling our story, even though I’m just a tiny, very specific facet of that relationship that many Arabs have and Muslims have with US imperialism?’ I don’t know. I don’t know what the answer is. I just don’t know. It’s really hard to walk that line between feeling like a race traitor for not absorbing the trauma of my people every day and trying to fix it every waking moment and also just trying to make the things that I want to make. And I think a lot of other Arab devs feel the same way, probably.”

Rebekah Valentine is a information reporter for IGN. You can discover her on Twitter @duckvalentine.

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