Can a Game Based on the Iraq War be Apolitical?

Is a "realistic" game about war that's somehow entertaining an irreconcilable paradox? That's the question indirectly posed by Six Days in Fallujah, an upcoming third-person shooter from Atomic Games, the same company (in name, if not members) responsible for the seminal series of Close Combat real-time tactical wargames that ushered in complex psychological soldier morale models in the 1990s.

Six Days in Fallujah follows a squad of U.S. Marines over a six day span coinciding with the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004. Apparently the game came about after the 3rd Battalion 1st Marines — then working with Atomic to develop training tools for the Marines — was deployed to Iraq and engaged in the First Battle of Fallujah. "When they came back from Fallujah," explains Atomic president Peter Tamte in an interview with GamePro, "they asked us to create a videogame about their experiences there, and it seemed like the right thing to do."

The last "realistic" military game from Atomic (working with Destineer, which purchased the developer in 2005) was Close Combat: First to Fight, an attempt to simulate the "Ready Team Fire Assist" U.S. Marine Corps tactical combat approach involving four-man teams using coordinated movement tactics like bounding. The game was poorly received, including by yours truly. My review read something like "putting guns in the hands of enemy morons is how you make Doom 3 fun, not a serious military combat simulation."

Six Days already sounds dramatically different. For starters, Tamte claims the team's out to make "the most realistic military shooter possible." Diaries, military documents, satellite imagery, interviews with Iraqis, fully-destructible environments, etc. In fact Tamte actually defines Six Days as a survival horror game. To be honest, when I first read that on the game's Wiki page, I thought some drive-by polemicist was making a political point. Nope, just Atomic.

You see where this is going.

And that's apparently part of the design goal, and for my money, a whole lot more intriguing. Six Days doesn't sound like a modern warfare iteration of Brothers in Arms. It's not a tribute game, where the horror's glamorized and the psychological delving played out in the downbeats between bullet-saturated scrums as stirring orchestral sweeps tug at your emotions like marionette strings.

Of course Konami vice-president of marketing Anthony Crouts is already attempting (unsuccessfully and contradictorily in my view) to defang allegations of "political overtones" when he tells the Wall Street Journal

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... At the end of the day, it's just a game.

As Crouts and anyone else who's stopped to think about how games work for more than two seconds well know, however you fall down on the Iraq War issue, there's no such thing as "just a game."

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