Are Realistic Wargames Intrinsically Offensive?

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War isn't pretty and it's certainly not glorious, but it has to be culturally palatable enough to wage, so it's conventionally understated, to a certain extent even celebrated, and when it comes to artistic hindsight, incredibly romanticized. Apocalypse Now may seem like the quintessential antiwar movie, except for the part where it's also one of the most hauntingly beautiful films ever made (check out that movie poster!). That's the wages of recollection by way of Hollywood's prism. Entertainment first, reflection second (or second to last).

Et tu, video games?

Yesterday I wrote about Six Days in Fallujah, a third-person "survival horror" game that trails a squad of U.S. Marines over a six day span coinciding with the Second Battle of Fallujah. Today the blogosphere's resonating with grumblers for and against the notion of that particularly controversial battle being rendered as another point-and-shoot.

Writing today, GamePolitics notes "It has been only a day since the news broke of Konami's plan to publish Six Days in Fallujah, but the game is already sparking anger as well as calls for a ban." TechRadar reports on a UK-based antiwar coalition that says "To make a game out of a war crime and to capitalise on the death and injury of thousands is sick." And The Daily Mail has a story about a father whose son was killed in Iraq calling for the game to be banned.

Everyone's picking up the TechRadar and Daily Mail stories (as opposed to generating new ones) so hype detectors at the ready when it comes to gauging how widespread the "outrage" actually is. You're talking a lot of fathers and decorated Iraq War veterans out there who haven't weighed in, not to mention the public in general. It'd be interesting to hear what they have to say, as opposed to the one or two folks profiled in these pieces.

For the record, I was against the war. Still am. The last war I considered really-truly necessary occurred back in 1939. That's just me, and who cares, except that it rankles with the fact that I'm also an enthusiastic wargamer.

Okay, and therefore probably a freak of nature, too. Point is, where I can sympathize with the folks opposed to the game, I'm not ready to run the idea off a cliff. Given my sense for what Atomic's trying to do based on company president Peter Tamte's thoughts (Konami's paradoxical comments about it being "just a game" notwithstanding) I'm not so sure they can't engage the conflict in a way that's as respectful and educational as it is "entertaining."

Games have every right, and certainly the capacity, to be taboo-smashers. There's no reason we can't have games that maturely deal with slavery, racism, sexism, ageism, child abuse, nazis, the holocaust, genocide, whatever. A game is no more automatically a piece of flip entertainment than a comic book is just another artless "funny paper." People see "game" and they assume commercial exploitation or frivolous activity. There's that, to be sure, but not by definition or necessity. It's as ignorant to reflexively assume a game — any game — is incapable of grappling with what happened in Fallujah as it is to say the same of a book, a movie, or a song.

Let's put Atomic on notice that we're expecting something unusual — more than just Medal of Honor: Iraq — then let them do their job, and see what comes out the other side.

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