We’ve heard a lot of comments about Six Days in Fallujah from creator Peter Tamte, comments that have invited a lot of criticism over the direction the game is taking, but how does this whole ordeal look to a US veteran of the Iraq War? The Gamer’s Cian Maher sat down with John Phipps, a US veteran who took part in the Iraq War, and was actually fighting during the very event the game portrays. Phipps was critical of Tamte’s comments and direction, but also provided some insight into what he’d like to see a game like Six Days in Fallujah do, including drawing comparisons to The Last of Us Part II’s complex and emotional storytelling.
Based on the Second Battle for Fallujah, part of the Iraq War in 2004, Six Days in Fallujah has been courting controversy for over a decade, not just for its gamification of a real-life (and rather recent) event, but also how it appears to controversially shift the lens and rewrite the history of the moment it is based on. At one time canceled and entirely dropped by Konami for its controversial nature, the title has once again resurfaced being developed by Highwire Games and published by Victura.
Second verse, same as the first. Six Days in Fallujah has garnered even more controversy since its re-reveal, and each additional interview with Victura CEO Peter Tamte creates more skepticism that the game will achieve its supposed goal of communicating the harrowing realities of war.
Tamte was recently quoted in a GI.biz article, stating “Very few people are curious what it’s like to be an Iraqi civilian. Nobody’s going to play that game. But people are curious what it’s like to be in combat.” Phipps called these comments “incredibly callous,” and further explained that you can’t tell stories of the Iraq War while brushing off the lives and experiences of Iraqi civilians.
“Nobody cares?” Phipps said. “Make them care.”
Speaking as somebody who was in Fallujah in 2004, this was an illegal war to start with. We never should have been there. There were a lot of heinous atrocities committed, especially in Fallujah. That’s not to say that all troops are war criminals, I don’t believe that for a second. Most of the people I was there with were genuinely decent people who wanted to try to do right by people. But that’s not to say that there weren’t acts of completely hideous atrocities there, because there were.
War crimes were committed by US soldiers and a lot of Iraqi civilians died, who didn’t need to die. Their deaths were completely avoidable and completely meaningless because we should never have been there. And so to say that, “Oh, who cares about an Iraqi civilian’s perspective on the Iraq War” – I mean, it’s their fucking country. You should want to portray that. Nobody cares? Make them care. If you are so dead set on making this game, make them care.
Phipps also says Tamte’s comments about making an apolitical war game are “nonsense,” noting that war in and of itself is inherently political in nature. “Show me a war that wasn’t started because of politics. You can’t. War is politics. It’s just a different form of politics.” He also talks about how the politics of war go far beyond the battlefield. It’s seeped into the promises made and broken. “We have had so many stories about the US military told in this medium. When are we going to tell the stories of the other people who were involved in the war, namely the civilians who were caught in the middle?”
While a number of games have tried to do this—even Six Days in Fallujah is including some gameplay as an Iraqi father trying to get his family to safety—most all of them come right back to celebrating the “heroics” of US forces, and painting war as something far less complex and nuanced than it actually is.
Talking about Tamte’s intention to make a game that gets right down into the gritty reality war, Phipps says, as somebody who has been there, that the experience is next to impossible to convey in a game.
Because my experience of war was screams, and people crying, and a lot of people getting shot. People getting killed, people I know getting eviscerated 30 feet away from me. Going to sleep every night wondering if I would wake up in the morning because you’re sleeping in an area with no cover and direct fire can come raining down at any time, which it often did. It’s years of PTSD, and physical therapy, and mental health therapy. Broken families, bereaved mothers. People who have lost husbands, wives, sons, daughters, cousins, brothers, sisters.
As a veteran, Phipps doesn’t want to downplay the individual heroism and actions of specific US service members. “There are absolutely stories of individual heroism and self-sacrifice you can tell on the part of the US military, I’ve seen them in real life. Instances of true bravery, valor, and concern for your brothers and sisters on the battlefield, and also for Iraqi civilians.” Instead, he casts the problem on the military industrial complex itself, which obfuscates the forest for the trees.
He says that in order to accurately talk about Fallujah and tell the stories of the Iraqi civilians, you have to accept that some US soldiers need to be portrayed as the bad guys.
You also need to be telling the stories of the Iraqi civilians who were just trying to survive and who were fighting back against an invading force. And if that means casting some US military units as the bad guy in a video game then so fucking be it. That’s life. It’s something that happened. If somebody were to invade the US tomorrow, we’d all pick up a weapon and fight.
In that case, we are the Iraqi civilians – somebody has come into our country. It doesn’t make the entire insurgency evil. A lot of those people – all they knew about the situation was that a foreign army had come to their soil. Tell those stories.
Phipps worries that the current marketing machine for Six Days in Fallujah is targeted at a specific base of players. Acknowledging that he hasn’t played the game himself, he’s concerned about it offering confirmation bias that will paint stereotypes of Middle Eastern people, Arabs, and Muslims as terrorists. “There’s a real danger of furthering the stereotypes of ‘Arabs bad, brown people bad, the enemy, everybody’s a religious extremist’ when that’s just far from the truth. I think the whole project is ill-advised.”
However, Phipps isn’t completely writing off the concept of telling harrowing stories from a war front. He told The Gamer that Spec Ops: The Line (a game that was also about the harrowing events of Fallujah) came close to capturing the kind of psychological experience of war and “scars it leaves on your mental state,” saying it wasn’t perfect, but it’s “the closest it’s come.” Specifically, Spec Ops: The Line portrayed white phosphorus in a way that showed not only how it impacted those it burned and killed, but the people who witnessed what it had done. Tamte’s said that Six Days in Fallujah will omit it entirely as a “distraction,” despite being a major part of the experience for those who were there.
Phipps, who has been critical of Call of Duty in the past, says that at least that series knows what it is. Unlike Six Days in Fallujah, it doesn’t try to pretend that it’s something it’s not. “Call of Duty is very upfront with you about what it is and what it’s trying to do. There’s nothing wrong with that. [Six Days in Fallujah], however, seems incredibly and intentionally disingenuous to somebody like me.”
He also referenced The Last of Us Part II as a way to tell a story that blurs the line between villainy and heroics, showing that there is no perfect lens through which to tell any story, and that perspective can often shift who is the hero. But with Six Days in Fallujah told largely from the perspective of the soldiers, as well as its erasure of atrocities committed by US forces, it’s shifting a heavy weight towards portraying the US as the heroes when Phipps is vehement that they absolutely were not.
But at the end of the day, people are going to square with the fact that Iraq was our fault. All the US soldiers who died there, it was our fault. All the Iraqi civilians who died there, it was our fault. All the chaos that has been sewn throughout that country since 2003 is our fault. It’s all our fault. We were the bad guys. And the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can start to heal. We still have not apologized to Iraqi civilians for what we inflicted on them, and we really need to. The US government needs to formally apologize to the Iraqi civilians for all of the men, women and children who are dead for no reason, who should be alive right now. If you take nothing else away from this, bear in mind that all of this is 100% our fault.
So how could Six Days in Fallujah more effectively tell the story of the Second Battle for Fallujah? You have to be willing to paint the US as the bad guys. You need to focus on Iraqi civilians and erase stereotypes and tell all of the stories; the good, the bad, and the in between. You need to address the psychology, the fear, the regret, and the grief.
That is the reason that things got as bad as they did. Because we didn’t need to be there and the Iraqi people rose up against a foreign invader. That’s not something you can blame them for. Yes, we fought them, I fought them – but I was over there getting shot at. I wish I’d never been there, but I was. If you’re gonna try to tell an accurate story about the Iraq War – specifically the Second Battle for Fallujah, which is what this game covers – then you need to talk about the fear, the regret of US soldiers there. Most of us didn’t wanna be there at all.
You need to talk about Iraqi civilians losing their homes, their families, their children, and the anger that they feel as they pick up a weapon and fight the only physical manifestation of their grief they can, which was us. You have to be willing to portray the US military in a negative light. And that’s OK. It’s OK to do that. This fear that the industry has – and again, it’s not just [the games] industry, it’s the entertainment industry in general.
This fear we have of portraying US troops as the bad guys, or doing wrong, or being less than virtuous is ridiculous. People are virtuous and moral and just – organizations aren’t. Organizations are a reflection of the people that make them up and the US military is a melting pot of good people and bad people, just like society. It’s no different. So of course you’re gonna have good apples and you’re gonna have bad apples. It’s great to focus on the good apples, but you also need to focus on the bad apples because a lot of heinous shit was committed by US troops in Iraq and it directly shaped what happened on the battlefield. If you don’t tell those stories, you’re only telling about 25% of what actually happened in Fallujah.
Phipps isn’t confident that Highwire Games and Victura can accomplish this monumental task though. “Video games are absolutely an art form but they are meant to tell stories. They are not meant to actually educate you,” he said. “There is no video game on earth that can educate you as to what it was like to be in Fallujah in 2004. There never was and there never will be. I think this is gonna blow up in their faces. I really do.”
[Source: The Gamer]