Everything you wanted to know about gaming, and less
by Jamison DeLorenzo
It is not as nearly a compelling title, but it’s not like there is any competition now. Konami was able to make headlines recently by walking away from their war game based on the Iraq War. Having known nothing about the game or much about the conflict, largely due to my indifference to war games, this event prompted me to educate myself a little about the development of this former project.
Before I dive in, let me say something about the development of games dealing with a war that is still in progress – good luck. Six Days in Fallujah, you never had a chance. I say this, however, not for the reasons you would think. It comes as no surprise that there was a ton of blowback once people found out about this game. It comes as no surprise Konami received a bunch of complaints. The cancelation of the game was, for all intents and purposes, inevitable.
One of the interesting facts about this former project was that journals and diaries from soldiers involved in the conflict were used as a reference for the game. Other soldiers encouraged Konami to go ahead with the game. Why their voices do not get to be heard is a story for another time. Perhaps.
I bring this up not to start a debate over the war, but instead to get people to see multiple sides of this story. The crux of the problem here is when is it safe to create a social commentary about a war? Until soldiers want stories about their experiences to be told, I firmly believe no for-profit stories should be produced. This includes movies, books, games, or any other media. War has a massive impact on everyone involved, and, like it or not, the discussion afterwards needs to begin with them. If soldiers were contributing to this project I thought this time would have arrived, but this is obviously not the case.
As one should expect, there are plenty of people that had a problem with this game being made. The war is still going on. People are still over there. Also, there appeared to be some contributions on the game from Iraqi citizens and insurgents. You are certainly welcome to react to this however you want. I’m going to let that point be for now and build on it later.
I think a good chunk of the anger goes back to what Roger Ebert said over a year ago about video games – that they are not proper art. A lot of video game pundits, if not every one, laughed off this comment as being misinformed and out of touch. It should not surprise anyone that other people besides this movie critic have this opinion (and, by extension, people will also view as out of touch). You are all welcome to ignore the numerous stories on TV about this war. Ignore all the books published about the war. Ignore all the stories news anchors used to draw people into watching their broadcasts (yes, I have every right to make this criticism in an age where stations view news as entertainment). These are all welcome and it’s not hypocritical to accept those and reject a video game.
The thing is, I have to ask myself if I am ready to openly criticize the aforementioned hypocrisy intertwined in this situation. As I am someone who knows nobody that has been or is overseas in the Iraq war it is a lot more difficult to remain objective when discussing this. Then again, why even bother writing about video games at all if I am afraid of what my opinions mean?
I have no idea why people still struggle with viewing different forms of art objectively. There is art out there with the sole purpose of inflaming the senses. It is probably safe to assume that was not Konami’s intent with this game. What boggles my mind is why many people still see all video games in a constant vein of evil and void of any intrinsic value.
Something I need to be clear on – I do not have any concrete information on how Konami was approaching the story in this game. We’ll get to that in a minute. Remember that art is subjective by its very nature. Disagreeing with a viewpoint should not necessitate its very existence. If you cannot handle something’s existence just because you don’t like it, well, that does not mean the problem lies with the object of your ire.
What I cannot do is claim to be an expert on sensitivity. I am willing to entertain the notion that it is too early to make a game closely representative of the conflict in Iraq. Some soldiers want their story out in the open, as evidenced by the development of this game, but many people still do not. So we shelve the project and wait. That is fine with me. But I have to wonder – what is the appropriate time needed before a game like Six Days in Fallujah can be made? What are the variables? Does the number of deaths, duration, number of nations involved, or overall brutality of the war make a difference? Is anyone qualified to answer this question?
I live by a certain set of rules. One of these rules is to always welcome new information into a discussion. Let people speak their minds. It is always up to the recipients of the information to determine whether they agree with it. After all, it is no fun to call people idiots without hearing their side of the story first. Again noting my detachment from this situation, this is why I have no problem with Iraqi citizens and soldiers contributing to it. I get why this annoys soldiers involved and others as well. Developers were trying to get as much information on the battles as they could. If you are reading more into it than that, fine, but you simply don’t understand the roles and functions of video games.
With all this in mind, it’s time to identify the primary idiots.
Konami, let me be one of many to say thank you for your completely spineless reaction. Thank you for shrinking into the sunset. You are doing the gaming industry absolutely no justice here. Saying “we just wanted to make an entertaining game” is the same lame response any publisher uses for any public backlash. Not wanting to use controversy as a selling point is fine if that’s not the type of attention or reputation you want. I find it hard to believe, however, that you did not see any potential issues when starting this project. Is there any chance we can stop your work on the next DDR abomination if we whine enough?
We saw this response from Capcom when Resident Evil 5’s details starting coming out. Even Bioware didn’t stand up for itself (not really) with the Mass Effect controversy that the media tried to stir up. In terms of corporate PR they probably did the right thing, but I still don’t think they sent the right message to service the industry as a whole. If our industry didn’t have Rockstar I would wonder if anyone in the industry had any backbone at all.
Here is the message publishers and developers need to say when people overreact – “we are not the first ones to make a statement about this topic, we are not even the first ones to make the statement we are making, thus we have no plans to change our direction in making what we think will be a great game.” Tailor this sentiment into any specific situation and we are all set.
If you plan on making a game that you know is going to be controversial on some level, then why would you back off once the… wait for it… controversy begins to take shape? React with however much knee-jerkiness you feel is appropriate (this includes the gamers out there who are sure to whine about this incoherently), but the fact that people were upset that this game was being made should only be a surprise to idiots.
War is a very serious issue. Any work, whether it be a book, film or game, can go about a right and wrong way. The problem is that by and large people hate video games (or anything else they do not understand). We need to get people to see things on a level playing field. Just as I do not see the inherent disrespect in a game about a war, others do not see the valuable reason for the game to exist. Both are valid opinions and I wish people would see that.