The ridiculous, censorious social media campaign against Six Days In Fallujah
The 'war crime game' is the latest on the cancellation block. Maybe we should play it first?
Six Days In Fallujah is an upcoming tactical shooter based on the events of the Second Battle of Fallujah during the US invasion of Iraq. Judging by the online fervor it’s created, you’d think it was more like the second coming of Hitler.
The battle the game portrays followed the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the killing of several US private security contractors. It was one of the bloodiest battles of the Iraq War, and the first major offensive against insurgents rather than Hussein’s Republican Guard. The US military said it was "some of the heaviest urban combat U.S. Marines have been involved in since the Battle of Huế City in Vietnam in 1968." A grim, horrific experience for all involved.
The game, according to developer Highwire Games, is an attempt to recreate that horror. It blends gameplay with documentary-style interviews that seek to portray both the feel of urban combat and the fear experienced by those present.
The game was set to release over a decade ago but was cancelled by then-publisher Konami after a furor was raised over its content. Now, many years later, Six Days In Fallujah is once again in development, and once again it’s stirring up controversy. The usual suspects have come out of the woodwork to condemn the game as a “war crime game” and decry it as apologist propaganda for US foreign policy in the Middle East and elsewhere. People are talking about how it harms people of color, enables white nationalism and all the same tired nonsense that’s dragged out time and time again regardless of context or fact. Some have even said that commenting on the game could result in their US visa being revoked, as though the US government is eagerly watching Twitter to see if anyone says anything bad about the game.
As a staunch opponent of the US invasion of Iraq—a costly, regionally destabilizing effort that was later repeated to various degrees by the Obama administration in Libya and Syria—I find all of this predictably absurd. War games, like war movies, don’t necessarily endorse or glorify, or minimize and trivialize the wars themselves or the foreign policy behind those wars or the victims of those wars.
From what I can tell, Six Days In Fallujah simply tries to recreate the chaos and terror US, British and Iraqi troops (and civilians) faced entering a deadly, hostile urban setting overrun by insurgents.
This is not Call Of Duty. It’s a slower-paced, tactical first-person shooter that uses procedurally-generated areas so that each time you enter the battle, you go in with uncertainty, not knowing what to expect, a mechanic that mimics the tension of a real urban warfare environment rather than the bombastic, frenzied levels of Call Of Duty.
Without having ever played this game, a cadre of game journalists, game developers from other studios and angry Twitter outrage warriors have descended upon Six Days In Fallujah and the people making the game, claiming without evidence that it makes light of the Iraqi civilians who died in the battle and presents a one-sided view of the war. Led by game developer Rami Ismail, they claim that it is setting back the hard work of purging the game industry from wrongthink:
Ismail’s tweets go directly after IGNs Ryan McCaffrey who had the audacity to speak with the devs in a podcast about the game. McCaffrey spoke with Peter Tamte and Jaime Griesemer, both former Bungie devs, about the controversy and other aspects of the game. Clearly he should be banished from polite society.
I mean, honestly, how dare a journalist objectively examine an upcoming video game or throw “softball” questions when they should be using their platform to cancel that game and have it banned? The role of the media in 2021 is not to present facts or have dialogue, it’s to create compelling (truth-adjacent?) narratives surrounding a very specific niche worldview and then use social media to bully anyone who disagrees into submission.
Ismail even jumps onto the “Stop Asian Hate” train in order to cast shade on the game, as though a battle in Iraq that took place nearly two decades ago has anything whatsoever to do with the issue of anti-Asian sentiment in COVID-19 America (another issue I will delve into soon; another issue fraught with lies and exaggerations pushed by the media to shape a narrative that does nothing to help actual Asian people who face prejudice over Trump’s blame China for the virus routine).
Others make claims that the game is not being “truthful” without backing those up (or considering that any work of art can only contain so much of any given truth/story/history etc.)
Some ignore the developers’ claims that the game aims to recreate the fear and chaos of a real-world battle rather than make a political statement, again without evidence, in order to argue that the game isn’t “representative” enough.
Six Days In Fallujah lead Peter Tamte was, of course, taken out of context when he said the game wasn’t trying to make an explicitly political statement.
He told Polygon: “Just as that [Marine] cannot second-guess the choices by the policymakers, we’re not trying to make a political commentary about whether or not the war itself was a good or a bad idea.”
He also said:
“For us as a team, it is really about helping players understand the complexity of urban combat.”
He also added that he doesn’t think players are “going to walk away from this experience going, ‘We need more war.’ I don’t think that’s something that the Marines and soldiers want as a message. I don’t think that’s something that the Iraqi civilians want as a message. I think people do need to understand the human cost of war.”
But none of this has stopped the vultures from spreading mistruths and outright lies. Maybe because they only read Polygon’s deeply misleading headline . . . ? Maybe because the narrative is more important than the truth.
Osama Dorias, lead designer on Gotham Knights, pushed a petition calling for the game to be banned.
If you work your way through the replies and retweets to the petition tweet you’ll find plenty of people who should know better chiming in, asking for the game to be cancelled and banned (by the United Nations or Joe Biden, a man who voted to authorize the Iraq War it’s worth noting). They want this dangerous game banned.
And they haven’t even played it yet, and probably never will.
The petition includes a line that conjures up the absurd right-wing assault we’ve seen on video games since the medium’s inception—that they’ll lead to increased violence and other bad behaviors in young people.
“Bombing, shooting, and humiliating the Iraqi people is being normalized in this sick video game,” the petition reads, “which will also inevitably breed a new generation of mass shooters in America and brainwash gamers into thinking RACISM IS OK.”
Holy shit. Okay, now that I know that this indie tactical shooter will lead to another generation of mass shooters who think RACISM IS OK maybe I should get on board and sign the petition!? I mean, what about the children?
What about the children!?
Nah, the kids will be alright, at least according to all the available data about video games and violence. I’m probably a monster for saying that.
Then again, I’m okay with being called a monster. We diabolical types generally have to be.
If you’re not woke—which the vast, vast majority of people in the US and the world are not—then you’re part of the problem, people. If your game is deemed problematic in any way, even before anyone has played it, it’s part of the problem and it will literally kill people.
These violent delights have violent ends.
Uno momento, por favor. Tengo una pregunta:
Are video games art?
That’s the case that Michael Thomsen, writing at IGN when Konami first cancelled the game in 2009, made for Six Days In Fallujah after its first cancellation.
At the time, he wrote:
“Looking back over all the reported backlash of insensitivity in Six Days in Fallujah, it's clear the uproar was conceptual and defensive. No one had any specific offenses to lay at the feet of Fallujah, it was all hypothetical. "Considering the enormous loss of life in the Iraq War, glorifying it in a video game demonstrates very poor judgment and bad taste," Reg Key, the father of a British Red Cap killed in Fallujah, told The Daily Mail. Key later suggested that the game "trivialized" the horrors of Fallujah for the sake of "thrill-seekers."
“These arguments are laden with ignorance and inconsistency. How can something both glorify and trivialize an event? How can a player experience a digital simulacrum of a historical event without understanding that there are some fundamental truths missing from the experience? From that point of view, artistic expression is no more than a pamphlet that the audience blindly accepts as truth without any self-reflection. In this line of thinking cars can turn into four-story robots, people can fly, and Vin Diesel can sprint through a haze of gunfire unscathed because only he can save the day.”
“The saddest part of this debacle is that no one has gained anything. Konami has lost millions. Atomic has lost the time and labor of its staff. Those who might have been offended by Six Days in Fallujah must still endure the pain of their losses. Those who might have come to Fallujah for titillation and competition are not wanting for new titles with which to amuse their competitive egos.
”And those, like me, who looked forward to experiencing a game that broached some difficult and uncomfortable questions about humanity in extreme circumstances are left with the tired old fables of yesterday. Go watch Citizen Kane again. Go play Super Mario Galaxy one more time. Go read Huckleberry Finn. The only thing that's been accomplished is that a small group of people have been spared the uncomfortable experience of being offended; of having their presuppositions challenged.”
The entire piece is excellent and worth a read. It’s also strange and unsettling to read something 12 years old that’s making all the arguments that need making now, and in the past tense.
As Thomsen noted back in 2009, all we really do by cancelling Six Days In Fallujah is prove that games aren’t serious and that gaming can never join fiction or film as a serious medium, that they’re merely toys incapable of grappling with uncomfortable truths.
(Then again, I remember when that one critic published a scathing review of American Sniper based only on its trailer…indeed, this entire kerfuffle reminds me a great deal of the narrative conjured up about that film and its “glorification” of the Iraq War. This is not unique to the gaming space).
So, are games art?
If so, what value do we create (and what values do we espouse) when we cancel a game simply because we think it contains a harmful message? Should art never be transgressive or dangerous or ask us to confront something ugly or painful about the world? Are we to be so enshrined in safe spaces that any hint of peril sends us running for the hills? (Might we not, for that matter, have just a little more peril?)
Do we believe in the right of artists, for instance, to publish comics making fun of Jesus Christ or the Prophet Muhammad—or should those be censored? Are said illustrations statements worthy of protection under the tenets of free expression, or are they simply much too perilous?
Two heavily-armed terrorists killed 12 and injured 11 others in January, 2015 at the offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in murderous response to the publication of comics that mocked the prophet Muhammad.
Last year, French middle-school teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded by an Islamic terrorist for simply showing a Charlie Hebdo cartoon to his class (even though he gave them permission to sit that class out). The murder followed an online campaign against the teacher after one of his students lied about what happened in the class. That online campaign, carried out both via legal complaint and on social media against Paty, ultimately led to his violent murder.
Charlie Hebdo’s comics may indeed be offensive to Muslims, just like “Piss Christ” might be offensive to Christians. Does your right not to be offended trump my right to create art or exercise my free speech?
Let me be blunt: Hell no.
Whether or not we call it art or journalism or satire or a video game or a book, do we have the right to create something that makes people angry, subverts their belief systems, topples their sacred cows—or don’t we? Decide.
To boil this way, way down, I believe there are only two choices.
Choice one: we support free expression even when we disagree with it; or choice two, we support censorship of ideas that we find offensive or harmful. You can only pick one.
And maybe you don’t support book burnings or beheadings or shooting up a newspaper, but you’re still aligning yourself with those very same people who take matters into their own hands, and with governments who decide what’s acceptable speech and what isn’t. You’ve chosen your side and you need to own up to it, because your narrative is more important to you than the truth.
The logical end to free expression is dialogue and debate. We engage with ideas, even abhorrent ones, and see what happens. We are free to do so without intimidation and without intimidating our interlocutors (who we view as opponents rather than enemies, whenever possible—people, not monsters). Maybe those ideas are exposed as terrible and their proponents are laughed off-stage. Maybe those ideas catch on and we have our work cut out for us.
Either outcome is better than the result of censorship which is, ultimately, always and only violence.
Whether we’re talking about Islamic extremists shooting up a newspaper or a government using the power of the state to forcibly prevent artists or journalists from publishing their work, it makes no difference. Both are violence carried out in the name of protecting us from “wrong” ideas or blasphemy or protecting certain people we deem vulnerable from being triggered.
It is perhaps ironic that the gaming press—and the extreme woke cabal that’s so inexplicably taken over mainstream media—is calling for censorship. What a gross abandonment of all that the press ought to hold holy. There are a record number of journalists imprisoned worldwide thanks to the authoritarian overreach of nations with little regard for freedom of speech or expression, let alone truth. These governments spin their own false narratives in order to retain their grip on power.
But here we are, witnessing it happen at the hands of the very same people who are supposed to be defending the truth at all costs.
I’d say it’s shameful, because it is, but more than likely we’re dealing with the “Streisand effect” here. The game will sell more copies and gain more notoriety thanks to these scolds than it ever would have relying on traditional marketing.
But hey, pour more gasoline on the fire, geniuses. It’s what you always do.
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Edit: An earlier version of this post attributes the Change.org petition to Dorias. He was merely spreading the petition which was actually written by Hala Alsalman.