Six Days in Fallujah: Modern Censorship - ArticleLee Mehr , posted on 02 May 2021 / 1,909 Views
Like most of the US' post-WWII military engagements, the Iraq War will go down as another strategic and – more importantly – moral failing for the country. History books will never be kind to it. This reality presents an interesting dilemma for games with respect to recency bias: does this interactive medium enable a pernicious form of propagandistic messaging? If so, is censorship a valid weapon against it? As though rising above the ashes, Six Days in Fallujah returns a decade later to revive this quandary. The difference this time? Even video game artists are among the ranks to take aim against it.
To those unaware, Six Days' story framework is heavily inspired by the Second Battle of Fallujah, which is credited as the bloodiest battle of the Iraq War. The timeline between this violent bout and Six Days' official announcement was less than five years. Given this fact, plus the continued fighting, it's no surprise mainstream media would latch on to this controversy. Fox News' Gretchen Carlson even sandbagged a veteran who served an advisory role for then-developer Atomic Games. After continued phone & e-mail campaigns from various groups, then-publisher Konami decided to drop financial support altogether. The concomitant effect of this was Atomic Games eventually withering on the vine.
Fast-forward to a new developer and publisher, Highwire Games & Victura respectively, Six Days finds new life with a slated 2021 release window. The controversy has been revived too. Hot off a new gameplay trailer, Hala Alsalman made a change.org petition directed at various software industry leaders, UN Secretary General António Guterres, and even President Joe Biden (who actually voted in favor of The Iraq War as a Senator). This consideration for censorship initially came with the loaded claim that Six Days was "inevitably breeding a new wave of mass shooters" before an impromptu stealth edit massaged the charge down to conditioning players to be racist.
Such low-hanging fruit as a random online appeal might imply I'm desperate for a new article. After all, I could just as easily petition every foreign leader to ban Klondike Bars on the notion that "some will go to any length for one." But it's the 16k signers (and counting), not the original petitioner, who warrant greater attention. Artists and critics such as voice actor Jennifer Hale, Gotham Knights' Lead Game Designer Osama Dorias, The Gamer writer Seth Parmer, Respawn Senior Designer Alexa Kim, Unreal Lighting Artist Olivia Wertheimer, and many more industry figures are openly indignant about Six Days returning. Just to highlight its importance: it's very likely each of these individuals signed onto a petition when the 'mass shooter' presumption was spelled out. I guess it was more of Jack Thompson's political affiliations than his reasoning that was their issue with him.
Please take the time to sign this petition to stop the making a game that intends to normalize and trivialize the murder of my fellow Iraqis.— Osama Dorias (@osamadorias) March 24, 2021
Please RT and spread the word any way that you can. Don't let these monsters get away with this.https://t.co/2F7QMXDopv
I don't believe that parallel to gaming's past is forced either. The internet tends to muddy terminology around free speech and 'capital C' censorship, but it's applicable to invoke Thompson here. The arena being an online link versus the Supreme Court does not dismiss the clearly stated intentions. The calls for deplatforming were both focused to specific storefronts (soft-censorship) and expansionary to include leaders of governing organizations (censorship). So, this effectively means each signee believes it's a societal good if this game were banned from prominent online stores and even nations altogether.
I've harped about the obnoxious cliques within games media before, but there's something so confusing in seeing prominent pockets of this industry seething over creative expression. The most prominent gaming sites & personalities were happy to take authoritarians to task whenever shooters were considered murder-spree simulators; now, they'll happily sign on to something assuming games will manifest a new wave of hate crimes. I'm sure we can consider various nuanced studies that examine short-term aggression or whatnot, but leap-frogging that to vicious acts against innocent people is still unfounded. The point being: you'd think gaming's previous battles over this would mean defending free expression was the default position.
Another lesson this pious collective hasn't internalized is how ineffective this move is to their own "cause." Do any of them not remember how Hatred and the Postal series became household names thanks to free advertising? This is gaming's equivalent of a Parental Advisory stamp. Would-be censors bleat on and on about an offensive game; then, lo and behold, consumers flip them off by purchasing it. What initially seemed like an unremarkable FPS, outside of the neat tech, now goes on to be a statement.
Let's say that this stand against Six Days breaks that mold, then. Maybe it’s legitimately censored across the world – outside of PirateBay – and other upcoming modern military shooters are cancelled as a result. Despite not knowing just how worthwhile this game will be, I still think that would be a terrible mistake. In my eyes, those in favor should receive the same contempt as Gretchen Carlson's repugnant tone towards said soldier. Because they're treating this the same way nanny-state conservatives did in the past: with no trust in the creatives.
To emphasize this fault, I'll call upon Six Days' advertising to enhance my point. For all the whining about "disregarding Iraqi voices" in that petition, it's funny how the new trailer literally interviews two Fallujahens describing their mindset at the time; that part was truly effective to me. One of the game's big draws is in striving to be a "playable documentary" of sorts, an interactive examination of Fallujah's hellish conditions. It remains to be seen how well the team keeps to that promise. Should these interview splices be carefully integrated throughout the main game? This effectively means distant Iraqi voices could be heard by a new mass of people who would've otherwise remained ignorant. Think of how ironic it sounds to cancel that chance on a whim.
In summary, the best approach I see moving forward is the inverse of this injudicious petition. To put it modestly: you owe at least an inch to every well-intentioned developer. Granted, modern military shooters can be rife with exploitative material; in fact, I reviewed one that featured a pathetic waterboarding mini-game. But there are also interesting counter-examples like Spec Ops: The Line too. Both games had as equal a footing as possible and both were challenged on their merits through critique. Instead of adopting the stifling attitude of censorship, let's pursue an approach that not only broadens dialogue but also potentially refines every artists' voice in the process.
Despite being one of newest writers on VGChartz, Lee has been a part of the community for over a decade. His gaming history spans several console generations: N64 & NES at home while enjoying some Playstation, SEGA, and PC titles elsewhere. Being an Independent Contractor by trade (electric, plumbing, etc.) affords him more gaming luxuries today though. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.