Six Days in Fallujah wants to avoid politics in war - and that is not possible

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Six Days in Fallujah wants to avoid politics in war - and that is not possible

Six Days in Fallujah was a controversial prospect in 2009, which forced Konami to scrap it. That controversy has not lessened with time following the announcement that the title would be making a comeback in 2021.

Set during the Iraq war, Six Days in Fallujah looks to tell the story of the American soldiers involved as they try to retake the city of Fallujah from insurgent forces in what would become known as the Second Battle of Fallujah. It would ultimately become the bloodiest conflict involving US forces since the Vietnam War.

The Iraq War remains a contentious issue, nearly 10 years on from the day forces were withdrawn. Peter Tamte, the head of Six Days in Fallujah publisher Victura, however, says they are not interested in politics.

Speaking to Polygon, Tamte stated that developer Highwire Games "will not grapple with the political machinations that led to the titular conflict" but would aim to "engender empathy" for the American troops battling insurgents, and the Iraqi civilians caught in between.

"For us as a team, it is really about helping players understand the complexity of urban combat. It's about the experiences of that individual that is now there because of political decisions," Tamte told Polygon. "And we do want to show how choices that are made by policymakers affect the choices that [a Marine] needs to make on the battlefield. Just as that [Marine] cannot second-guess the choices by the policymakers, we're not trying to make a political commentary about whether or not the war itself was a good or a bad idea."

This is the first major failing of the argument that you can make an apolitical war game. Suggesting that you are depicting the consequences of policy means you are presenting a commentary on that policy. If the game presents the soldiers as heroic, the game is inherently justifying the policy. If the game depicts the scenario as terrifying and senseless, the game is critiquing the policy. You cannot avoid commentary. If you opt to avoid a negative portrayal of the events, you are tacitly presenting a positive one.

My unease surrounding Six Days in Fallujah continued as Tamte clarified that the game would be taking some liberties with the truth. The developers have made the decision to excise the use of white phosphorous from the game. White phosphorous was used for flushing out insurgents from bunkers.

The Chemical Weapons Convention states that white phosphorus is permitted in war if used to camouflage movement, but not as a weapon. At that point, it becomes a war crime essentially.

Six Days in Fallujah will make no reference to this as Tamte says "There are things that divide us, and including those really divisive things, I think, distracts people from the human stories that we can all identify with."

He went on to say, "I have two concerns with including phosphorus as a weapon. Number one is that it's not a part of the stories that these guys told us, so I don't have an authentic, factual basis on which to tell that. That's most important. Number two is, I don't want sensational types of things to distract from the parts of that experience."

While it is likely true that the stories they were told did not feature white phosphorous, Victura and Highwire Games are the ones who decide which stories are told. The second concern of Tamte's makes it far more clear why they chose the stories they told.

At this point, it is hard not to view Six Days in Fallujah as propaganda. By cherry-picking the least contentious stories to depict, they decide which truths matter the most. They are sanitising the reality of that situation to make you relate to the US soldiers more. They are not being honest about the battle, there is no real effort to accurately depict the events, they are essentially doing PR for the US military.

Developers and publishers who claim to be making something apolitical are usually making something aggressively political. It's just that they are aware the politics are indefensible and want to side-step that conversation. Ubisoft attempted the same thing with The Division series. They suggested a game about the US military activating death squads in the middle of a viral outbreak was not making any political statements. In The Division, choosing to position the player as a government enforcer and not a survivor trying to cope in an apocalyptic scenario is a political choice. You are being made to side with authority and justify lethal force against people trying to survive in a ravaged city.

Moving back to Six Days in Fallujah, the choice to be apolitical is again a political choice. If you insist on being uncritical, all you are doing is whitewashing history and, deliberately or not, you are serving the agenda of those who benefit from the truth being buried. In this case, that would be the US military, whose public image can only improve with spit-polished depictions in media.

Tamte told Polygon that he wants people to "understand the human cost of war" but ignores that the cost of war is not just in matters of life and death, it is in moral choice. No matter how well-intended your goals are; to avoid the truth, to ignore the moral failings of war, is to ultimately endorse it as justified.

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