June 10, 2009— -- It is billed as the closest you can get to the war in Iraq without going into combat -- a virtual assault launched from the comfort of an easy chair.
"Six Days in Fallujah" drops video players into the boots of Marines during Operation Phantom Fury, the most intense urban warfare for U.S. troops in half a century.
"What we are trying to do in the experience is to help people feel and understand just a little bit of what it is like to be a Marine in a modern war," said Peter Tamte, president of the game's developer, Atomic Games.
In the actual battle of Fallujah in November 2004, more than four dozen Americans and more than 1,000 insurgents were killed as coalition forces captured the city.
Turning the bloody fight into a video game has ignited a firestorm of controversy.
Karen Meredith, who lost her only son, Army Lt. Ken Ballard, in 2004, is among the Gold Star family members who've been vocal about their opposition to the game. "This is not a way to honor the soldiers who were killed," Meredith said.
Meredith also said she fears the game will trivialize her son's sacrifice. "I have this image of a bunch of guys sitting around playing 'Six Days in Fallujah,' laughing because they got killed or they didn't get killed, or, 'Let's start over because we can,'" Meredith said. "My son didn't have that choice."
Sensing a backlash, Konami, the game's publisher, abruptly dropped out of the project last month. But Atomic Games is pressing on with the aim, they say, of creating an experience that is part game, part documentary.
To add to the realism, Atomic Games, which hopes to release "Six Days in Fallujah" next year, has interviewed a number of insurgents and brought in more than 30 Marines who fought in Fallujah as consultants. The Marines' first-hand accounts form the basis of the game's characters and storylines.
"From a Marine's perspective, it's dead-on," said Sgt. Jason Arellano, who cleared improvised explosive devices during the battle of Fallujah.
Atomic Games Careful With Battle of Fallujah
Capt. Reed Omohundro, who commanded a company of Marines during the battle of Fallujah and consults for Atomic Games, said, "This [video game] format is just a standard progression, the next step in the medium in which history is going to be recorded."
The developer and the Marines say they have made decisions carefully. No real Marine's death will be depicted and the video game player can't play as an insurgent.
"This is not a 'kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out' type of game," Omohundro said. "If you make a choice that is not on the moral high ground -- you shoot an innocent, for example -- the game is over for you.
"I think everybody is going to want to try it because it is realistic," he said. "That may not make it very popular, but it will make it very accurate."