The once cancelled game depicting the Iraq War’s bloodiest battle has been revived as a first-person shooter that attempts to engender sympathy for US soldiers at the expense of Iraqis.
The Second Battle of Fallujah, a violent and tragic episode that took place over the course of six weeks in late 2004 during the Iraq War, was heavily criticised for the scale of civilian casualties – and the US military’s use of white phosphorus and numerous violent acts by coalition forces against non-combatants.
Now, nearly two decades later, a video game about the bloody battle is being slated for release. Seattle-based development company Highwire Games is reviving the controversial project, Six Days in Fallujah – which was cancelled in 2010 – in conjunction with games publisher Victura.
On the game’s own website, Six Days is described as “a first-person tactical military shooter that recreates true stories of Marines, Soldiers, and Iraqi civilians who fought Al Qaeda during the toughest urban battle since 1968.”
A six-minute-long preview released on Tuesday, in which testimonials from some military personnel who participated in the battle in real life alternate with gameplay depicting scenarios from the campaign.
“Games by their very nature allow people to inhabit another person’s subjectivity and empathize with their perspective,” Dr Romana Ramzan, Producer at No Code Studio, tells TRT World.
“In this case, the game engenders sympathy with an event that resulted in the murder of innocent Iraqi civilians.”
Six Days is said to feature groundbreaking technology developed by Highwire called “Procedural Architecture,” which re-shapes the entire battlefield each time the game is played, assembling entire buildings and city blocks procedurally.
Marketing from the game’s website claims that its creators interviewed over 100 Marines, soldiers and Iraqi civilians to recreate “real-life scenarios” played through the eyes of real people that narrate what transpired during the battle.
However, it appears that the majority of the game will be portrayed through the eyes of US military members, including a mission where players track an unarmed Iraqi civilian. Victura adds that reprising the role of an insurgent will not be allowed.
The game was originally announced back in 2009 by Texas-based developer Atomic Games, and Japanese gaming giant Konami attached itself as publisher and funding partner.
However, shortly after its reveal the game would draw strong criticism from both veterans and anti-war organisations, eventually forcing Konami to drop the project a few weeks short of its debut. Atomic Games shut down shortly after and CEO Peter Tamte went on to form his own publishing studio, Victura.
The game remained in limbo since 2010, until Victura started working with Highwire over the last three years to relaunch it. It’s scheduled for release later this year.
The gaming industry’s Islamophobia problem
The subject matter Six Days grapples with is itself inherently a deeply sensitive portion of US and Iraqi history to render in a responsible manner by companies that are in the business of creating entertainment products.
Some criticism stems from the mixed messaging on how the game has been marketed. On the one hand, both the website and Tamte himself claim the game is not meant to reflect any “political commentary,” but contradictory follow up statements highlight that Victura does not deny that events in the game were “inseparable from politics”.
Marketing a game specifically based on a real battle that took place amid a catastrophic war that was the consequence of political decisions, only to absolve it of any political elements, reveals it as nothing more than military propaganda.
Perhaps most revealing is one of the aims the game’s developers endeavour to pursue: to teach players empathy. But that empathy is selective, reserved for the plight of US Marines that players will be experiencing the game through.
Forget that those same US soldiers went into a city and killed hundreds of civilians during a war that was thoroughly discredited over the justification of “weapons of mass destruction”.
That an elevated empathy for Americans must come at the expense of dehumanised other – the Arab, and more broadly, the Muslim – is a reflection of racist anti-Muslim sentiment post-9/11 fanned by the media and distilled through popular culture.
It’s then no surprise the gaming industry has been guilty of reinforcing Islamophobia through the reproduction of harmful stereotypes that render Muslims villainous and dispensable.
In an article for the Islamophobia Studies Journal, researchers Tanner Mirrlees and Taha Ibaid argue that digital war games have frequently peddled misleading stereotypes about Muslims that function to “prop up patriarchal militarism and Islamophobia in the context of the US-led Global War on Terror”.
The authors probe a slew of popular war games released between 2001 and 2012 from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare to Medal of Honor and found that they incorporated the gaze of the “mythical Muslim” to be “virtually killed in the name of US and global security.”
“People have become desensitised to killing, especially the killing of Muslims,” says Ramzan.
“Instead of trivialising and glorifying wars and violence, why can’t we show the human cost of war?”