War in a Time of Games: Just Who is Six Days in Fallujah For?
I’ve been playing propaganda for most of my adolescence and adult life. But I have had the luck and the privilege to have developed the basic critical thinking skills to recognize propaganda early on. The thing about propaganda is that it’s like pornography: I’ll know it when I see it. In fairness to propaganda it’s a bit more subtle than pornography. Everyone will instinctively, if not consciously, know when they see propaganda. Whether it’s the slick Chinese action blockbusters Wolf Warrior 2 or Operation Red Sea, the rancid American Nazi novel The Turner Diaries and pretty much every Call of Duty game since at least 2007’s Modern Warfare. So, when I see a game like Six Days in Fallujah I know what I’m in for.
Fallujah has, quite literally, been through the wars. Two battles devastated the city in 2004 rendering hundreds of civilians dead and thousands more homeless. The city would later fall a decade later as Islamic State took the central Iraqi city in 2014. The city would be retaken in 2016 by the Iraqi government but Six Days in Fallujah is set during the second American-led assault on the city. Little more than a revenge campaign for the killing of four Blackwater mercenaries by Iraqi insurgents the first two battles would be recognized as a turning point in the Invasion of Iraq and the point that the Forever War became literal for a new generation.
Six Days in Fallujah is not a new game. It was originally slated for release in 2010 with Atomic Games on development duty. Six years, however, is not that long a time and the game was quickly dropped by publisher Konami due to controversy arising from protests by veterans and the British pressure group Stop the War Coalition. Since then Six Days in Fallujah has laid in wait, weathered its original developer’s bankruptcy and now is ready to be released into a market suitably distant from the lingering horrors of the Second Battle of Fallujah. But should it be?
Releasing Six Days in Fallujah now is a more sound financial decision. In an always online world where each day brings both genuine outrage and it’s parsel-tongued cousin faux-outrage Six Days in Fallujah is a flash in the pan. It’s a spark in a raging wildfire. It will probably sell better when the controversy flares again in a few months and then just as quickly burns out. But that doesn’t make it any less wrong. The Call of Duty series has the benefit of being fiction no matter how much they might base their campaign stories on real world events. Even when they blamed the infamous Highway of Death on the Russians in 2019’s Modern Warfare or the Iran Hostage Crisis in last year’s Black Ops: Cold War on the Russians (again) they had the benefit of being fake. It’s revisionist sure but a lot of Call of Duty players rarely touch the campaign mode and any teenager should hopefully know to take a video game’s fictional story with a large grain of salt. Not so with Six Days in Fallujah.
It’s unclear what form Six Days in Fallujah will eventually take. Past interviews described it as a survival horror without a supernatural or monstrous element. The fear would have apparently come from playing as a marine going house-to-house in the city and after a series of empty houses being ambushed or otherwise engaged by insurgents. This sounds thrilling on paper and worked wonders in the tense Vietnam tunnel mission of the first Black Ops but Six Days in Fallujah is quite literally adapting real life events rather than just using them for AAA blockbuster inspiration.
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The inspiration for Six Days in Fallujah came from the Marines the team were developing training tools for. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for an unbiased adaptation of one of the most controversial battles of all time. Regardless, the men of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines were pulled away from advising Atomic Games and deployed to fight in Fallujah. When they came back several of them asked for the training game to be a depiction of their experiences in the city. Atomic Games set to work on a game that would incorporate the names and likenesses of these men into a tactical shooter featuring totally destructible environments, heart-in-your-mouth tension and an incredibly detailed recreation of Fallujah.
I’ll be honest, divorced from the reality of its setting and story Six Days in Fallujah sounds fun. Whether the new developer Highwire Games – made up of former Halo and Destiny developers – is staying true to the house-to-house combat that was the original idea is anyone’s guess. But even if Six Days in Fallujah does everything it says it will it’s still a political firebomb impossible to separate from the situation that spawned it no matter what its director Peter Tamte says. Tamte is an FPS veteran which his years as Executive Vice President at Bungie during Halo’s development will testify to. But his arguments – made in both 2012 and just a few days ago – that Six Days in Fallujah is an apolitical game ring hollow. A game doesn’t need to mention or explain politics for it to be political, something Ubisoft has been forced to reckon with in the last decade. Six Days in Fallujah is, by it’s very nature, extremely political.
According to Tamte Six Days in Fallujah will tell the story of the Marines themselves and their experiences with both the insurgents and innocent civilians in the city. A side story of one such civilian attempting to escape the city will also be playable. Reading the interview linked just above it’s clear that Tamte and the team at Highwire are very interested in the stories of the Marines and civilians but much less interested in the why of these stories. The fact remains that war crimes were committed in Fallujah by Coalition forces. White phosphorus was used in close proximity to civilians as were depleted uranium rounds. White phosphorus burns hot enough to melt through titanium and it has a wide spread when dropped from the air. Depleted uranium rounds are very dense slugs that shatter on impact and the lingering heavy metal has been linked to the exponential rise in cancer diagnoses and birth defects in Fallujah.
It was once known as the City of Mosques but over the course of the 2004 battles 60 of its 200 mosques were destroyed. The story of the Battles of Fallujah deserve to be told, people need to know the what, why and how of this historic conflict. But they need to hear it from every side only then can we come close to reckoning with the truly devastating and far-reaching consequences of the War on Terror. One American strategist wrote: “The Battle of Fallujah was not a defeat—but we cannot afford many more victories like it.” Maybe that’s the story we need to hear.