Konami has dropped Six Days in Fallujah

Despite/because/completely independently of me writing a long and reasonably thought-out blog post about how Six Days in Fallujah might have the chance to address some of the long-running issues with war games making killing fun, its publisher has dropped it.

Too controversial, it seems:

‘”We had intended to convey the reality of the battles to players so that they could feel what it was like to be there,” said a Konami spokesperson in a comment to Asahi.com. “[But] after seeing the reaction to the videogame in the United States and hearing opinions sent through phone calls and email, we decided several days ago not to sell it.”‘

Of course, the developer might still carry on coding the game, but with a big publisher such as Konami dropping it so publicly, I wouldn’t put a huge bet on it actually getting a release.

In war games, killing is fun

[I wrote this for the blog I contribute to for work, over on bit-tech. I don't generally cross-post stuff I write for work here, but the idea for it grew out of writing the Peleliu post, so I think there's a good case to be made that it belongs here, too.]

Konami’s recently announced Six Days in Fallujah game rolls into town at the head of a of convoy of outrage over the fact it’s based on a very real and very contemporary battle of an ongoing war.  In a well-weighted editorial on Eurogamer, Rob Fahey nails why this outrage is nonsensical, and why it’s particularly unpalatable when it comes from the tabloid press:

“It’s not just the fact that the [Daily] 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… 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 news stand 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 whole piece is worth a read as it eloquently defends the right of games to portray reality. Fahey’s defence of games isn’t totally blind though – indeed, he challenges those making games such as Six Days in Fallujah to engage more fully with their subject material:

“If a game like Six Days in Fallujah is to have any value, it must come from adding something to that discussion [of the war]. This isn’t about taking a pro-war or an anti-war stance – although both are valid starting points, there are countless others. It’s about making people think, informing them through their entertainment experiences, and commenting, as creators, on the media we create and the events we portray.”

Games based on real combat aren’t uncommon – the Call of Duty series has been at it for longer than the duration of World War 2 – and Call of Duty 4 is the most notable depiction of combat in Iraq gaming has seen so far (although, bless its little corporate socks, Activision has decided to tell players it was actually set it in unnamed MiddleEastistan). What makes Six Days in Fallujah interesting is that unlike other ‘real war’ games, it’s not an FPS, or an RTS. Instead, it’s a third person ‘action’ game.

The problem previous ‘real war’ games have had is that none has managed to rise to Rob Fahey’s challenge. This is because of the problem of fun, namely that war games – and FPS war games in particular – make killing people fun. This is because killing is the central mechanic of the game. If there was no killing in CoD 4, for instance, there wouldn’t really be any game left. You’d be able to run, reload, crouch and open doors, but really, those actions are solely there to support you killing people.
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Input from everybody – Peleliu links

I ended up on Peleliu more by accident than design; I have family living on Palau, so my partner and I went to visit, and Peleliu seemed like an interesting day trip. I took the photos, wrote up the guide’s stories and did some Googling when I got back. One of the nice things about a blog post getting wider circulation, as mine on the Battle of Peleliu did thanks to Boing Boing, is that you get input from a huge variety of people.

Firstly, from the (very kind) comments here and over at BB, one book recommendation comes through very clearly – With The Old Breed by Eugene Sledge, so I’ve added that to my Amazon wishlist. First published in 1981, Sledge fought on Peleliu and in numerous other battles in the Pacific war. It’s very highly thought of, and it doesn’t flinch from depicting the brutality of the war. Paul Fussell, who himself wrote a brilliant book called ‘The Great War and Modern Memory’, praised it as ‘one of the finest memoirs to emerge from any war,’ which is about as good a recommendation as you can get.

With The Old Breed is, together, with another WW2 memoir, Helmet For My Pillow, being used as the source material for an HBO series about the battles across the Pacific. Called ‘The Pacific,’ it’s being produced by the same team (Spielberg, Tom Hanks etc) as the brilliant Band of Brothers, and will be on TV at some point this year. This site has a few YouTube snippets.

Also recommended was Ken Burns’ The War – I suspect this is fairly famous in the US, but this is the first I’ve heard of it. It’s easy to get on DVD though, so I’ll hopefully get a chance to watch it.

One commenter on Boing Boing wanted to know about the Japanese tank I photographed; another identified it as a Type 95 Ha-Go, and Wikipedia does indeed claim 15 were deployed on Peleliu.

Another added a link to a Flickr user with some shots of cleaning up unexploded WW2 ordinance in the Marshall Islands – this set in particular is well annotated.

A search on Metafilter revealed a post about American photographer James Fee. His father fought on Peleliu, and in 1998 James went back to the island to take photos. The exhibition he created combined his own images with shots is father had taken. You can see 18 of the images here and the book is available on Amazon. The picture of the Zero at the top of the post is his. It’s always interesting to see the approach other photographers take to the same subject matter. I’m definitely jealous of his Zero shot; it’s terrifically moody. I’m surprised by how different his images seem to mine; they’re hazier, more lyrical – he seems more wary of the colours, of the brightness of the sunlight that I was.

Finally, someone asked what I used on Peleliu – it was a Nikon D40 with the 18-55 kit lens, and for some of the shots, an 85mm f1.8 prime. It doesn’t auto-focus on the D40, but it really isn’t a problem when you’ve got such bright sunlight, and such still scenes to shoot. I’ve written about my love for this camera quite a bit; honestly, some of the best money I ever spent. I’m glad people appreciated the pictures.

Thousand Yard Stares: Ruins and Ghosts of the Battle of Peleliu, 1944, 2008

Peleliu is a small island that forms part of the nation of Palau in the Pacific. It’s about five hours flying time south of Japan and three hours east of the Philippines. It’s now, like the rest of Palau, beautiful, peaceful and home to more shades of blue in the sea and sky than you or your camera lens would ever have thought possible.

Blue wasn’t always the colour.

Between September and November 1944, it was the site of an incredibly fierce battle between US and Japanese armed forces. Peleliu island is about 14 square miles of terrain; during the three months of fighting, the casualty rate worked out at just under 1,000 men killed per square mile of island. Close to 1,800 American servicemen died; of the 11,000 Japanese soldiers defending the island, only 202 were captured alive.

The battle was fought over the fact Peleliu had an airfield, and was within range of the Philippines, from where the US planned to eventually launch strikes against the Japanese mainland. The plan to attack Peleliu was a contentious one – not all of the US high command thought Peleliu was strategically important, and after the battle, the US found the airfield was barely operational, and posed almost no threat to US forces elsewhere in the Pacific.

I’m from the UK, and visited Palau in October 2008. I took a day trip to Peleliu with a Japanese tour group. I took some photos, and made some notes. The photos are all hosted on Flickr. You can see the images as a slideshow on Flickr, check out the full set, or read the rest of this post to see what I saw.

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