Documentary or distasteful? New Fallujah video game stirs debate
By STEVE MRAZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 17, 2009
Parents of troops who died in Iraq are speaking out against a game based on the second battle of Fallujah, saying it is distasteful and alleging that game makers are looking to cash in on the death of U.S. troops.
But the makers of "Six Days in Fallujah" say the game is a combination of documentary film and military-shooter entertainment. And, they say, dozens of Marines from the actual battle have worked on the game as consultants.
Konami Digital Entertainment and Atomic Games are working on the title that will have gamers engaged in virtual life-and-death combat during the late 2004 battle.
The bloody battle saw house-to-house fighting and spawned the iconic "Marlboro Man" photo of a battle-weary Marine smoking a cigarette. Some 38 U.S. troops died in the assault, and scores more were wounded.
Gold Star Families Speak Out, a group of family members of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, is blasting the game.
"These people who aren’t affected by the war get to sit on their couch and play this ‘fun’ game," said Karen Meredith, whose only son was killed in Iraq in 2004. "Talk to the families who have been affected by the war. This isn’t fun."
But according to the companies, U.S. troops wanted the story of Fallujah told through a video game. Marines who fought in the battle actually reached out to video-game makers to tell their story, said Brandon Cox, a Konami spokesman.
Access to battle plans, after-action reports, photos, videos and satellite maps will make the game incredibly authentic, Cox said.
"From our perspective, it’s being developed with over three dozen Marines who fought in the battle because this is how they wanted their story to be told," he said. "… We are taking every step to make this an engaging experience, but we do not want to make people feel uncomfortable."
Love the idea or hate it, the game is getting lots of pre-release buzz because of the controversy.
"We also think that [the game makers] are probably thrilled with the outcry, thinking ‘Oh, good. It doesn’t matter,’" Meredith said. "But it’s insensitive to my son, who is no longer with us. It’s insensitive to all of us who are learning to live without our loved ones."
The families have been asked why they are also not opposed to war movies and books.
"[With books and movies] you’re not playing a game," she said. "You’re not restarting and laughing because you dodged a bullet or laughing because you did get killed. And, ‘Oh, I can just start over because I didn’t get a good enough score.’ To me, it’s very insensitive."
Mike Ergo, a 26-year-old former Marine who fought in Fallujah, is one of the consultants on the game.
"What I am hoping this game will do is bring a better understanding of the gravity and chaos that was Fallujah," Ergo told McClatchy News.
Konami will address concerns over sensitivities raised by the game and partner with a veterans organization, Cox said. He did not offer any other specifics about what that the company was undertaking to address sentiments, saying Konami had just announced the game on Tuesday.
But in an interview posted online this week, the game’s creators made a claim sure to stoke more controversy.
Peter Tamte, president of Atomic Games, said in the interview that insurgents who fought against the Marines in the battle "contributed" to the game.
"They’re involved in the creation of the game as well, as are Iraqi civilians," Tamte said, according to Joystiq, a leading video game blog. "That’s important to us. It’s true. … We can’t recreate that without getting the perspectives of all the people who were involved."
"I think all of us are curious to know why [the insurgents] were there," Tamte said. "… Many of them knew that they were going to die, and they went there to die. And I think that’s a perspective that we should all understand."
Soldiers playing video games at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center on Tuesday had mixed opinions about the Fallujah game. While two soldiers freely offered their opinions, a third who was in the Marines and fought in the Fallujah battle said he did not want to talk about the game.
The soldiers were playing "Halo" and "Call of Duty" at the USO Warrior Center and are at Landstuhl for treatment of noncombat medical issues.
"You need to respect the family members," said Army 1st Lt. Clifford Slike. "What it looks like is, it’s opening some wounds for the families that they really don’t want to have to go through again."
On the other hand, Army Pfc. Jose Lopez mentioned that because World War II took place 60-plus years ago, there’s no outcry over the games that re-create those intense battles. With the battle of Fallujah happening just a few years ago, the immediacy is likely the source of the strong reaction. Lopez said that it’s possible he’ll play "Six Days in Fallujah" when it’s released.
"I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what it would feel like if I was there and somebody made a game out of the situation," he said. "But as long they do justice to the people who were there. Yes. I am a soldier, but I’m also a gamer."