The day is November 10th, 2009. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, now one of my favorite shooters of all time, has released. I load up the campaign, and I’m confronted with a mission in an airport where I’m specifically instructed (but not forced) to kill as many civilians as possible.
I took part in the mission then, the 15 year old I was couldn’t wait to needlessly shoot as many people as possible. It was cool.
Fast forward to 2021 and it’s the only campaign mission in any game ever that I refuse to play. I sit through The Library every time I play through Halo: Combat Evolved, so we’re clear. But I refuse to play No Russian. The idea of shooting a bunch of random civilians, no matter a video game or not, makes me uncomfortable.
“I refuse to play No Russian”
Call of Duty campaigns, questionable though they often are, are usually complete fiction, or vaguely based on real world events. Usually very vaguely. 2019’s Modern Warfare came under fire for rewriting the history of “The Road of Death” – a American made attack on Iraqi soldiers while they were retreating from Kuwait. Modern Warfare rewrote those events as a Russian attack, instead of what actually happened.
But the Call of Duty games have always skirted true offensiveness by melding real world events to fit their narrative, filled with fictional characters and (mostly) fictional decisions. That brings us nicely to Six Days in Fallujah.
If the name of this game rings a bell it’s because Six Days in Fallujah, the game based around the real world events of Fallujah in Iraq, was originally slated for 2010. The game came under fire then, with many citing the game as too recent a reminder of the unwarranted Iraq war, and the specifically horrific events of Fallujah in 2004. The families of service members weren’t happy, and the general consumer base wasn’t happy. The supposed 2010 game was dropped by its publisher Konami, the game was cancelled and the developer, Atomic Games, went bankrupt a year later in 2011.
Then, on February 11th 2021, it was announced the game had been revived by Highwire Games, a studio made up of Halo and Destiny veterans amongst others, and the old CEO of Atomic Games Peter Tamte.
“on February 11th 2021, it was announced the game had been revived by Highwire Games”
If the name Peter Tamte sounds familiar, it’s because he has a storied history with video games outside the contentious Six Days in Fallujah. He was the executive vice president of Bungie through 1999-2001 and helped oversee the marketing and announcement of the first Halo game, a now massive franchise spanning over a dozen games.
He’s also the founder and CEO of Victura, the company publishing Six Days in Fallujah. Slated for late 2021 the first person shooter will, according to the Victura’s announcement:
“Ask you to solve real-life challenges from one of this centuries toughest battles for yourself”
Along with this, apparently the game is being created with the help of real world accounts of the events:
“more than 100 Marines, Soldiers, and Iraqi civilians have shared their stories with us, so you can participate in them through this unique, interactive medium”
Specifically Six Days in Fallujah is based on, and will presumably cover, the Second Battle of Fallujah. The second major move in Fallujah, it’s the source of much debate (there’s not much to debate) about the methods of the coalition forces in the battle for the Iraqi city.
Let’s go over some of the major details of Fallujah over the course of 2003 and 2004:
- US and Iraqi forces surrounded the city in a siege, preventing people from both entering and leaving Fallujah. Men aged 15-55 were specifically prevented from leaving in case they were guerilla fighters, in an attempt to keep as many hostile combatants in the city as possible. This either split innocent fathers from their families, or forced families to reside within Fallujah indefinitely – a city under attack.
- 12,000 US soldiers and 2500 Iraqi troops faced off against 4000 insurgents bunkered down inside the city of Fallujah. In the six days the siege/ battle went on, 95 U.S soldiers were killed, 560 were wounded. Most of the 300,000 Fallujah residents were made homeless in some fashion. The Red Cross claims that 800 Iraqi civilians were killed. Iraq Body Count also states that 141 children under the age of 12 died.
- Multiple human rights groups protested the display of force from U.S and Iraqi forces, citing the use of White Phosphorus, a chemical weapon that is not allowed under the Geneva Convention to be used in proximity of civilians, or in built up areas. The US initially denied these claims, but caved in 2005 and admitted it. It’s debated as to whether the use of White Phosphorus in this situation is a war crime.
- A mass grave in the centre of the city was discovered where it appeared like US forces had kidnapped and executed 21 unnamed Iraqi people. The US declined to comment.
- 36,000 of the 50,000 homes in the city were utterly destroyed. 60 of the 200 Mosques were destroyed as they were being used as arms caches. 60 schools were destroyed.
- 200 people protested a curfew set by US forces. Soldiers fired into the crowd, and although they claim to have been responding to gunfire, other reports deny this entirely. 17 civilians died, and over 70 were wounded. A protest for the killings took place two days later, and two more died.
“A 12 fold cancer increase in children under the age of 12”
All of the above barely scratches the surface of what is known about the various events of Fallujah, let alone what will never be known. To this day, people are being born in Fallujah with birth defects; an apparent side effect of the radiation from all of the munitions expended there. A 12 fold cancer increase in children under the age of 12, and a four fold increase in cancers of all types, not to mention roughly a 20% drop in male birth ratios.
So Fallujah was an extended military operation, and in fact took place across 2003 and 2004, but what about Six Days In Fallujah? The game initially pitched as a semi survival horror is based on the events following the eventually unsuccessful First Battle of Fallujah; the aptly named ‘Second Battle of Fallujah’. Taking place over the course of a week, this battle was referred to by the US as “some of the heaviest urban combat U.S Marines have been involved in since the Battle of Hue City in Vietnam in 1968”. It’s also referred to as the most brutal battle of the entire Iraq war for everyone involved. It got to the point that three days before the eventual invasion of Fallujah, flyers were air dropped over the city stating that any male considered to be over the age of 12 would be shot on sight.
“To this day, people are being born in Fallujah with birth defects”
So there’s your history lesson. Fallujah was a city struck by apparent war crimes, destruction on a near unparalleled level, and, apparently, served as the inspiration for the video game known as Six Days in Fallujah.
So what’s the problem? Well, the problem is that a game based on the events I’ve described above shouldn’t exist. It doesn’t need to exist. There’s perhaps a world where an educational video game, perhaps a visual novel or a walking simulator, is made that properly displays the horrors of Fallujah. It could be treated as an educational tool for the fact that war isn’t pretty, cool, or something to aspire to.
But it’s rapidly becoming apparent that Six Days in Fallujah is anything but that.
The 3:05 long trailer released with the initial announcement paints a grim image of what the game is likely to be upon release.
“They had to be stopped, or the country will turn over to Al Qaeda”
Just the first of inflammatory quotes and scenes from the trailer depicting the US as the hero in these events. The battle for Fallujah was not started due to suspected Al Qaeda control, but because four Blackwater mercenaries were ambushed, mutilated, and then strung up over a bridge in the city. It doesn’t take much fact checking to find out the true cause for the battle – which makes the trailer’s, and presumably the game’s intent of painting US and Iraqi soldiers as the heroes all the more worrying. Of course this is ignoring the fact that the actual Iraqi war was an illegal one. But that’s not as pertinent to today’s discussion so we’ll move back to the game.
I also could talk about the fact that the game is being released at a time where it’s common knowledge that US armed forces recruitment is struggling, inspiring a US Army Twitch account amongst other things.
The problem is that even in an ideal world, where Six Days in Fallujah is a sensitive, accurate, and non-offensive first person shooter that actually confronts the worst of the Iraq war, I still don’t think the world needs a first person shooter based on these events.
It’s widely agreed that video games don’t need to be fun. You can look at The Last of Us Part 2, Death Stranding, Super Meat Boy, and other such video games for proof of that. But video games are, at their core, entertaining in some form or another.
I genuinely don’t think that something depicting the events of Fallujah through the Iraq war should ever be entertaining. Likewise I shiver at the idea that when the game releases, some 14 year old could get this game for Christmas and feel genuine joy at detonating C4 inside a mosque, school, or (in the absolute worst case) – being responsible for the virtual deaths of civilians – something that actually happened.
“some 14 year old could get this game for Christmas and feel genuine joy at detonating C4 inside a mosque”
I shiver at that thought because the idea that I enjoyed, when I was a teenager, the No Russian level in Modern Warfare 2 makes me feel ill, and that was an entirely fictional event. The Second Battle of Fallujah was a very real event, in which very real battles occurred, and very real people died.
I don’t want to buy Six Days in Fallujah and catch myself having a good time with it. That’s not what the dead, families of the deceased, or those still affected by the events of Fallujah deserve. I don’t want to enjoy it. Just to be absolutely clear as well, SeriouslyAverageGamers has no intention of buying or otherwise reviewing Six Days in Fallujah; I’m talking in hypotheticals only here.
It only gets worse once Peter Tamte opens his mouth as well. In a recent interview with Polygon, which you can read here, Peter Tamte seemingly went out of his way to make Six Days in Fallujah an inaccurate telling of the events, instead seeming one sided, based on the US as saviours, or something similar.
“There are things that divide us, and including those really divisive things, I think, distracts people from the human stories that we can all identify with,” Tamte said. “I have two concerns with including phosphorus as a weapon. Number one is that it’s not a part of the stories that these guys told us, so I don’t have an authentic, factual basis on which to tell that. That’s most important. Number two is, I don’t want sensational types of things to distract from the parts of that experience.”
Shocker, the people you interviewed for the game didn’t mention the admitted use of chemical weapons in Fallujah. In fact the quote “I don’t want sensational types of things to distract from the parts of that experience” paints the reported use of white phosphorus as fabricated, not to be mistaken for true events. It’s an egregious oversight to erase one of the major things that makes Fallujah such a horrifying series of events.
Next up, Peter Temte stated that:
“I think reasonable people can disagree with that,” he told Polygon of his narrative strategy. “For us as a team, it is really about helping players understand the complexity of urban combat. It’s about the experiences of that individual that is now there because of political decisions. And we do want to show how choices that are made by policymakers affect the choices that [a Marine] needs to make on the battlefield. 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.”
“We’re not trying to make a political commentary about whether or not the war itself was a good or bad idea”
Ah yes, I love when my games based on a real war, and real specific events, are presented as apolitical. What’s ironic is that Temte would’ve had an easier time pitching this game when it was initially planned, when general US opinion about the Iraq war was still semi-positive. Now, people’s opinions have shifted massively with many rightfully calling the invasion of Iraq illegal. But yet Temte seems intent on absolutely phoning in any chance of selling the game before it releases in late 2021.
Polygon even claim in the article that Highwire Games, the developer, will try and:
“engender empathy for American troops in the field, for their work destroying the insurgents that dug in throughout Fallujah, and for the civilians trapped in between.”
Highwire Games even state in their FAQ that:
“No, you’ll never play as an insurgent during the single-player campaign, or in a multiplayer recreation of an actual event.”.
While that claim makes sense, given that real world accounts of the battle from an insurgent likely don’t exist at this stage, it also begs the question; how are you going to make a wholly honest demonstration of the events of Fallujah, when you don’t showcase the experiences of the other side at all? You’re not, is the answer to that question.
At every turn, either the developer or Peter Temte himself demonstrates exactly why this game doesn’t need to exist.
Just one look at the trailer paints a picture of US superiority, the story of their victory over the insurgents. Most of the trailer is presented from the perspective of Coalition troops, complete with in-game representations of soldiers that were willing to allow it. Hell the trailer is even complete with an inspirational piano score to really sell the fact that the coalition, specifically the US in the case of the trailer, were the good guys.
Highwire Games and Peter Temte are claiming that the game is entirely self funded, and the US government isn’t involved at all. Many find this hard to believe, especially as Temte worked on military training systems in the past (funded by the CIA, wouldn’t you know). But without any evidence that comes down to suspicion and hearsay – albeit warranted.
Is there still hope that Six Days in Fallujah can be the educational and true-to-life game that the battle requires? Perhaps. Peter Temte explained to Polygon that 10% of the game (generous right?) would be attributed towards the story of an Iraqi father attempting to get his family out of Fallujah safely. I wonder whether the game will depict this father getting turned away, back into the eventually wartorn city, like in real life?
Somehow, I doubt it. Maybe they’ll just make him 60 years of age, therefore free of the evacuation restrictions, to avoid making the game too “political”. I guess we’ll see. All I know is, I genuinely believe there’s no place in the gaming scene for something like Six Days in Fallujah.