Six Days in Fallujah’s Resurgence and Army Recruitment in Video Games
How the U.S. Army’s influence turns a game into propaganda
It’s been twelve years since Konami backed out of publishing Six Days in Fallujah due to controversy surrounding the title. A game pitched as “A video game about the real experiences of Marines, Soldiers, and Iraqi civilians who fought Al Qaeda during the Second Battle for Fallujah in 2004.” According to their website, Six Days in Fallujah is poised to be rife with even more controversy than it was 11 years ago. Originally cancelled in 2009 due to a large amount of criticism from press, activist groups and people alike, the game now finds itself resurfacing 11 years later to mixed reactions.
While it’s been in hibernation, many other games and developers have stepped up to showcase what Six Days wanted to show; the atrocities and multiple sides of war. Spec Ops: The Line won multiple awards for its depiction of the horrors of conflict, and Six Days in Fallujah wants to do the same by showing the perspectives of marines, civilians, and insurgents during the Battle of Fallujah. Rumors are already making their way around social media, accusing the game of being a tool to recruit more people into the ranks of the U.S. Army. These rumors are, unfortunately, not entirely unfounded. The game is being published by Victura, a studio helmed by Peter Tamte, who originally founded another studio named Destineer. Destineer was funded by In-Q-Tel, a venture capital group that is funded by the CIA to create simulation training tools for the Intelligence community, which immediately calls into question the intentions of Six Days in Fallujah. This wouldn’t be the first time the United States government has used video games to drive up recruitment numbers. Everything from government financed shooter games to a live streaming channel used to recruit Twitch viewers have been used to add more bodies to the army. In fact, the U.S. military has developed its own series to help recruit the youth; America’s Army.
America’s Army is a long running series created and financed by the U.S. government to “educate and recruit civilians” into the military. The latest game in the franchise, America’s Army: Proving Grounds released on Steam in 2015, and currently sits with “Mostly Positive” reviews on the platform. A multiplayer game with fast paced movement and arcade-y shooting mechanics, it’s hard to not enjoy yourself playing this thinly veiled advertisement.
That’s the problem. It’s fast, it’s fun, and it’s not at all realistic.
These games are designed from the ground up to be fun, and to casually gloss over the details of conflict. Under normal game development circumstances, there’s nothing wrong with that. Games should be fun experiences, right? The problems arise when the game is being used as a tool to recruit impressionable people into the military. If you use a flashy, frenetic game filled with montage moments to attract a younger and easily influenced audience, while conveniently leaving out the real issues of war, you’re being disingenuous at best, and insidious at worst. The games gloss over the grueling training filled with instructors abusing you. The hours upon hours of boredom experienced guarding base and cleaning. Not to mention the complete lack of information on the atrocities of war, and how they can leave one permanently scarred. Proving Grounds’ recruitment drive ends up manipulating the facts and presents you with a fantasy; you can do all these cool maneuvers to out skill your opponents in real life; just come join the U.S. military!
I myself considered joining the military because of the influence of America’s Army. I was a poor kid scrounging around the internet for any free to play games I could get my grimy hands on. I stumbled across one of the numerous America’s Army games and found myself enthralled within minutes. A fast and fun shooter where I could learn valuable skills like first aid? Sign me up! I found myself admiring the soldiers in the game after playing for a few days. The training courses contained within the game (some being used in actual military training) were informative, and I found myself gravitating towards the medic classes. The virtual instructors inside were telling me I could join up and help people with simple tourniquets and bandages, which had the younger me excited. Not only could I learn for free, but I’d also get paid and get to help people? It seemed too good to be true, so I did what any sensible kid does; ask his parents about the U.S. Army.
Proving Grounds’ recruitment drive ends up manipulating the facts and presents you with a fantasy; you can do all these cool maneuvers to out skill your opponents in real life; just come join the U.S. military!
Not only could I learn for free, but I’d also get paid and get to help people? It seemed too good to be true, so I did what any sensible kid does; ask his parents about the U.S. Army.
When I brought up potentially joining the military to my parents, they were confused. I was a very young teen, so they wondered why I was suddenly bringing up recruitment. I told them about the military shooter I’d been playing, and the light bulbs lit up in their heads. They told me to talk to a few of my family members who served in the military, and because of their advice, I got a better idea of what service is actually like; very long periods of boredom, followed by very intense periods of action and pain that have the ability to stay with you forever.
Therein lies the potential danger of a game like Six Days in Fallujah. With almost no gameplay or story elements shown, we have no evidence that this game will actually showcase what war is like, or if it’ll be a thinly veiled recruitment drive. The developers have spoken out multiple times about their vision, touting that the game “can help us understand not just what happened, but why it happened the way it did.” So far, there is no evidence of this being true. From the why section on their website, the team at Victura wants to create a video game experience that brings insight into the Battle of Fallujah. According to their own FAQ, we know that there will be no part of the game where you will play as or experience being an insurgent, so immediately one side is going to have less screen time than the marines or civilians. This is a semi-contradiction with Tamte’s statements in an interview from 2009, where Tamte says that insurgents are involved with “the creation of the game as well.”
Vague statements on how the team has taken into account the experiences of the marines, civilians, and insurgents have left us guessing at how exactly the atrocities and pain of The Battle of Fallujah will be displayed.
I find it hard to take what the modern team is saying at face value, especially in times of dwindling Army recruitment and the previous ties of the founder, Peter Tamte. Tamte has previously worked with the CIA and FBI, receiving financial aid from them to create simulated training tools. Jumping from the creation of simulations to video games for the U.S. military does not require a large leap. Vague statements on how the team has taken into account the experiences of the marines, civilians, and insurgents have left us guessing at how exactly the atrocities and pain of The Battle of Fallujah will be displayed. Will we see the catalyst for the battle, which includes the death and mutilation of several Blackwater PMCs, or will we see the use of white phosphorus on the city? There are a multitude of ways that the horrors of Fallujah could be displayed to show a realistic, visceral depiction of what the battle was. Unfortunately, it’s hard to believe that the game will display anything short of a rewrite of history. The video game industry is filled with arcade-y military shooters that wear their inaccuracy and dedication to American exceptionalism on their sleeve, and Fallujah will potentially join them in the coming months.
If Six Days in Fallujah wants to live up to its lofty promises of accurate depiction, it’s going to have to make everyone uncomfortable. It’ll have to show us things that have only been hinted at in games that came before it. It will have to show the casualties of war in a very grim and realistic way that will make the player squirm at their own actions. Without any reassurance that the game isn’t being funded by the military, we have no guarantee that the game won’t just be another example of the glorification of American conquest and warmongering. That’s where the real terrors of a game like Six Days in Fallujah lie; We have no guarantees of realistic depiction. Only the vague promises of a few developers, and the worrying sidestepping of PR speak.
That’s where the real terrors of a game like Six Days in Fallujah lie; We have no guarantees of realistic depiction. Only the vague promises of a few developers, and the worrying sidestepping of PR speak.
The only thing we can do is hope that the developers live up to their promises. Six Days could end up being the game of the century for all we know at this point, no matter how unlikely it looks. Personally? I’m not confident that will be the case based on their recently released trailer. With nothing to show but a few gameplay segments entirely focused on Marines and their stories, I find myself feeling worried for the game’s release. Is there going to be a real attempt to showcase the horrors of Fallujah accurately, or do we have another glory shooter that spams you with serotonin inducing medals for war crimes?
We can hope for the best, and fully expect the worst.