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Can a Game Be Journalism? Play ‘Six Days In Fallujah’ to Find Out

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Six Days in Fallujah isn’t the title of a war correspondent’s missives from the frontlines. It’s not even a book about the Iraq war. It’s a video game due out next year from Konami–albeit one where the ricocheting bullets, soldiers scampering for cover, and air strikes called in from the ground are based on real experiences. For their gut wrenching simulation of that infamously bloody battle, the developers at Atomic Games drew on interviews with over three dozen soldiers who fought there. As Peter Tamte, Atomic’s president, told the Wall Street Journal, the company sees Six Days as a revolutionary sort of documentary: “For us, games are not just toys. If you look at how music, television
and films have made sense of the complex issues of their times, it
makes sense to do that with videogames.”

This is far from the first time that a war video game has used a real campaign as the basis for its plot. As the Journal reports:

Videogames are not foreign to using real-life events as fodder. Many
military games such as some of the popular Call of Duty and Medal of
Honor
series are based on past American campaigns during the various
wars over the last century. The “serious games” movement, which often
seeks to teach a particular message or idea, frequently draws on
current events as well. MtvU, the college version of Viacom‘s
MTV, launched a Web game called Darfur is Dying in 2006 to teach
about the atrocities in the Sudan, and non-profit Global Kids and
developer Gamelab created Ayiti: The Cost of Life that challenges
players to keep a virtual family of five alive and healthy in Haiti.

But Atomic Games argues that releases like those, while drawing from
real facts, are still just historical fiction. Six Days, which uses
actual events as its backdrop, is billed as having far deeper roots in
reality and will be the first major game released about the ongoing war
in Iraq. “We replicate a specific and accurate timeline — we mean six
days literally,” says Mr. Tamte. “We track several units through the
process and you get to know what it was like from day to day.”

The soldiers themselves worked with Atomic to depict the way soldiers communicated on the battlefield, how Marines marked their locations in notebooks, for example, and how the troops moved across the front. True to life, soldiers bulldoze walls rather than kicking in front doors, which required Atomic to generate new software to model the physics. 

They insist that their game isn’t pro-war or anti-war, and that it’s delivered without commentary, as a truly even-handed documentary would. But shooting guns alongside the soldiers is a politics of its own. And one key decision that remains is whether to allow players to fight as Iraqi insurgents.

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At this point, Six Days in Fallujah raises more questions than it answers. Will the video game developers of the future be the best, most reliable reporters we have? And should wars still being fought–and lived–also be waged at home, with such verisimillitude, for fun?

[Via WSJ]

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About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.

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