War as a Game

War as a Game

War as a Game

Science, technology, and life.
April 17 2009 7:00 AM

War as a Game

We've talked a lot in this blog about what happens when war, through remote-controlled drones , becomes more like a video game . But what happens when a video game becomes more like war?

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Six Days in Fallujah, an interactive product being developed by Atomic Games, raises that question. Jamin Brophy-Warren explained the project in last week's Wall Street Journal :

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The company sees it as a new kind 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," Mr. Tamte [Atomic's president] says. ... "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. ... Atomic is working with more than three dozen soldiers who were in Fallujah, consulting thousands of photographs (some of which were mailed on memory cards from Camp Fallujah), and looking at classified satellite imagery to ensure that the game's appearance is faithful to the actual location.

The project's developers call it a "game-amentary." It sounds educational. But then a different kind of reality—commercial interest—intrudes on the documentary spin:

"Six Days" lacks one notable aspect of documentary: commentary. ... [T]hose involved in the new game said they didn't want to push a particular viewpoint and certainly weren't taking a stance on the morality of the invasion. "We're not trying to make social commentary. We're not pro-war. We're not trying to make people feel uncomfortable. We just want to bring a compelling entertainment experience," says Anthony Crouts, vice-president of marketing for Konami, the game's publisher. "At the end of the day, it's just a game."

Unless you think the battle of Fallujah was entertaining in real life, you can't make a video product about it that's both documentary and "just a game." Maybe someday, somebody will produce an interactive replica of the Iraq war. This doesn't sound like it.