War Games

Games have every right to explore modern wars, but they must tread with care.

Published as part of our sister-site GamesIndustry.biz' widely-read weekly newsletter, the GamesIndustry.biz Editorial is a weekly dissection of one of the issues weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to GI.biz newsletter subscribers.

It's difficult to sympathise with the positions of those leading the calls for Konami's forthcoming Iraq War game, Six Days in Fallujah, to be banned. Newspapers like the Daily Mail, which is leading the charge in Britain, have a lengthy and unpleasant history of building support for censorship and authoritarianism through reporting which is biased at best, and utterly ignorant or dishonest at worst - with this week's piece on the Konami game tipping precariously into the latter camp.

It's not just the fact that the Mail and others are essentially calling for the worst form of censorship, the blocking off of an entire event and saying "this is off limits, and may not be portrayed" - something which would stab to the very heart of the freedom of expression our media should be championing. Nor is it even the strong impression that some of those quoted in the article were duped by the Mail's journalists, with their reactions being based on inaccurate and biased information about the game provided by the writers themselves.

No, the thing that rankles most about this situation is the fact that this is a tabloid newspaper telling another medium that the way in which it's handling current events is insensitive. I won't need to remind any reader who walks past a newsstand on the way to work, or flicks on Sky News or CNN in the evening, just how "sensitive" the news media is in its coverage of war.

The absurd, adolescent delight in footage and pictures of battles and bombing, the huge print headlines filled with action-movie soundbites like "Shock and Awe" or "Mission Accomplished". At the invasion of Iraq, 24-hour rolling news breathlessly reported on the latest bombardments, piping live feeds of the green-tinged sky over Baghdad filled with smoke and explosions into every living room in the western world. Reporters can barely conceal their glee when machineguns rattle and bombs drop. This isn't news. It's pornography. War porn, on every TV screen and splashed on every front page with garish colour photography and three-inch-high headlines.

And the same organisations, the very same people who produce this extraordinary deluge of crass sensationalism, who feed the baser instincts of their viewers with violence and slaughter dressed up as something sexy, exciting and empowering - these same people have the gall to turn to a videogame which they almost certainly haven't even seen in action, shake their heads and go, "oh no, that's terribly insensitive"?

None of which, of course, is to say that Six Days in Fallujah deserves to be entirely free of criticism - it may, indeed, be perceived as insensitive in some quarters. However, it is but a product of our times - and if we've come to perceive war as entertainment, well, look no further than the news media for the pioneers of capitalising on that perception.

Looking beyond the astonishing hypocrisy of the Daily Mail and other such outlets, however, one aspect of the controversy surrounding Six Days in Fallujah leaps out at me as being particularly saddening.

I refer to the comments made by Konami's VP of marketing, Anthony Crouts, when speaking about the game to the Wall Street Journal. "We're not trying to make a social commentary," he told the paper. "We're not pro-war. We're not trying to make people feel uncomfortable. We just want to bring a compelling entertainment experience. At the end of the day, it's just a game."

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