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

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.

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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, televisionand films have made sense of the complex issues of their times, itmakes sense to do that with videogames.”

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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. Manymilitary games such as some of the popular Call of Duty and Medal ofHonor series are based on past American campaigns during the variouswars over the last century. The “serious games” movement, which oftenseeks to teach a particular message or idea, frequently draws oncurrent events as well. MtvU, the college version of Viacom‘sMTV, launched a Web game called Darfur is Dying in 2006 to teachabout the atrocities in the Sudan, and non-profit Global Kids anddeveloper Gamelab created Ayiti: The Cost of Life that challengesplayers to keep a virtual family of five alive and healthy in Haiti.

But Atomic Games argues that releases like those, while drawing fromreal facts, are still just historical fiction. Six Days, which usesactual events as its backdrop, is billed as having far deeper roots inreality and will be the first major game released about the ongoing warin Iraq. “We replicate a specific and accurate timeline — we mean sixdays literally,” says Mr. Tamte. “We track several units through theprocess 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.

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?

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[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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