This Developer’s Life: Six Days in Fallujah
Sorry, they’ll be no lifestyle or gossip today, I want to talk about something a bit more serious. I want to talk about Six Days in Fallujah.
For those of you who don’t know what Six Days in Fallujah is, I’ll get to that in a moment, but for right now I have something I want to get off my chest:
As game makers we are weighed not on the merits of our work but on the name of our medium. This is a sad and shameful fact. Shameful to those who judge us, but perhaps more shameful to those of us who won’t stand up for the work we do. We cannot run at every controversy or hide behind that mantra of self dismissal “we’re just making games” anymore.
If we are to grow as a medium and evolve into something with the social, artistic and commercial reach of the other mass media we must be willing to stand up, as an industry, and defend works of merit rather than meekly abandon them whenever objections get raised.
It’s a travesty that the only time we come together is to defend our use of ultra-violence…
This is something I’ve been mulling over for a while, probably since before Nintendo rejected Imagination is the Only Escape, but when I saw Six Days in Fallujah on Fox News it all came to a head for me. For those of you who don’t know, Six Days in Fallujah is third person combat simulation about the second battle of Fallujah being developed by Atomic Games and, from what I’ve heard about it, it’s about as close to a documentary as we’ll ever come.
The game’s inspiration is novel and, in my opinion, noble. Atomic’s not a huge studio, they were doing some side work helping the US Marine Corps develop training tools when the battalion they were working with was called away to Iraq. When the men returned they started telling the Atomic devs about their experiences if Fallujah. Many of these marines were young guys, guys who play videogames, who probably considered games to be one of their comforts in the desert, who perhaps even, in their brief moments of rest and quiet, used them to find a few minutes escape from the horrors they had been dropped into. These guys came back and told the developers from Atomic that they wanted people to understand what they had experienced, even just a little part of it; they asked the guys at Atomic to make a game about what they had lived through.
I run a small studio, I know what greenlighting a project like this means, it’s a big risk. It’s not something you do unless you really believe in the project, and I don’t think the guys at Atomic believed that Six Days was going to make them a hundred million dollars…
The project was slated to be published by Konami, then Konami pulled the plug in response to groups arguing that making a game about the Second Battle of Fallujah would disrespect those that died there, not because of the content of the game but because it was a game. Now, Konami, I respect you guys, I love your games, and I know the pressure you’re under as a business to maintain your brand and to avoid even spurious law suits, but sometimes values must trump all that. I know that if you believed Six Days in Fallujah was going to disrespect the dead you would never have given it the go ahead in the first place - you’re a better company than that - so why run for cover at the first sign of dissent? If you’re going to do anything worthwhile, someone is going to object to it…and as I understand it, the objections in this case weren’t even that vehement or widespread.
By caving here you validate all the accusations. You legitimize calumny founded in ignorance and guarantee a larger outcry the next time you try to publish one of these games. Don’t believe me? Watch this video. When the host on Fox smiles sweetly and says to the CEO of Atomic Games “Mr. Tamte, I think I’ve read in the notes that you’ve lost your funding…tell me a little bit about that” all his credibility vanishes. To that audience, even we had agreed, this game should not be made.
Those men returning from Fallujah deserve better than this.
I’ve heard it argued that we need a rebranding, that we need to take on a new title for our labor, that, in much the same way that comic books had to take on the name “graphic novel” to garner recognition and respect, we too need a new moniker (“Interactive Experiences” perhaps?). This is probably true. We also need to expand the scope of what we do to include more of the human experience and address a broader set of ideas. But before all this we need to stand up without fear and embrace what our medium has become and what it has the potential to be. We cannot continue to marginalize ourselves by pretending we only craft products for children.
This will take real courage from within the industry. It will take the bravery to face critique and the fortitude to weather outcry. It will ask that we expose ourselves to short term financial risk and that we don’t back down from early losses, firm in the knowledge that we are doing right. We will have to be steadfast under the scrutiny of the world and resolute when asked to justify ourselves in court of public opinion. It will ask that, for a moment, we give up ease.
But if we can do this, we can do good, real good, with our medium. If we do this we can expand the industry and bring whole new genres within the purview of “games”. If we do this we can turn a greater profit while providing more meaningful experience and reach audiences hitherto unthinkable. If we do this we can perhaps elevate some small portion of our labor to an art… But if we do this we will no longer be able to pretend as if what we do doesn’t matter. If we do this we can never go back to the way it was before.
Our salvation shan’t be found though fear and trembling…
As always, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or jamesportnow on twitter.