Wars throughout the ages have inspired great literature and film. The one in Iraq even has generated rap songs. But now there's going to be a video game based on the November 2004 battle in the Iraqi city of Fallouja that features some of the Marines who fought there.
The idea for the game, called Six Days in Fallujah, came from troops who returned with video, photos and diaries of their experiences. The battle resulted in the deaths of 38 U.S. troops and an estimated 1,200 insurgents.
Today's warriors are more likely to pick up a game controller than a paperback, so it was no surprise that the Marines turned to Atomic Games, a company in Raleigh, N.C., that makes combat simulation software for the military.
"Video games can communicate the intensity and the gravity of war to an audience who wouldn't necessarily be watching the History Channel or reading about this in the classroom," said Mike Ergo, who was in a Marine infantry battalion during the battle in Fallouja and is a consultant on the game.
Six Days in Fallujah, scheduled for release next year by El Segundo-based publisher Konami Digital Entertainment, is grounded in the harrowing experiences of three dozen Marines from Camp Pendleton's 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. As far as video game idioms go, it's a traditional third-person shooter that puts players in the combat boots of U.S. soldiers.
At first blush, the game looks like others in its genre, including Medal of Honor and Call of Duty. What separates Six Days in Fallujah, however, is the game's primary objective.
"Our goal is to give people that insight, of what it's like to be a Marine during that event, what it's like to be a civilian in the city and what it's like to be an insurgent," said Atomic Games President Peter Tamte. "For us, the challenge was how do you present the horrors of war in a game that is also entertaining."
A game about war that is both fun and realistic is an oxymoron, "because war is not fun," said Celia Pearce, professor of digital media and director of the Experimental Game Lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology. "That's why many shooters have cartoon hyper-violence that's just physically impossible. It's exaggerated for the sake of entertainment."
Tamte and Juan Benito, the game's creative director, say they're trying to broaden the scope of what's considered entertaining in a shooting game.
The title offers narratives from more than a dozen Marines, many of whom are featured in documentary-style video interviews interspersed with the game's action.
Players also will find the game fun for the same reason boys love to play with miniature soldiers, Benito said.
"It's about having a challenge, then formulating a plan to overcome that challenge," said Benito.
This is where games and movies part ways as entertainment media, Tamte said. "The basic difference between a movie and a game is that the player can make choices in a game," he said.
One of the most difficult choices facing soldiers in Iraq today is telling civilians from insurgents. These choices are often made under fire, in a split-second.
"Our opportunity for giving people insight goes up dramatically when we can present people with the dilemmas and the choices that faced these soldiers," Tamte said.