Friday, December 22, 2006

Another Gaming Controversy

On September 8th of this year I wrote an essay on games dealing with controversial subject matter. In trying to define what games might be considered objectionable I wrote:

…it would be in bad taste for an American game company to make a game about any war in which our soldiers are currently fighting and dying. If I was the parent of a soldier fighting in Iraq, I wouldn’t like to see anyone playing a game called Insurgency in which one player gains points by blowing up American units with suicide meeples.

Imagine my surprise when I looked at the latest Strategy and Tactics magazine (number 240) and read their list of proposed games. Among the list of proposed modern era games was this item:

Insurgency. Covers the first two years in Iraq following the ground campaign as the American-led Coalition attempts to rebuild infrastructure in the face of armed Iraqi resistance.

There is also a proposal for a game called Iraq that deals with more than just the first two years of the Iraq war.

In my previous essay, I tried to strike a balance in my approach to the subject of political correctness in games. But on the subject of Iraq games, I don’t think that approach is necessary. I believe it is a bad idea for Decision Games, the parent company of Strategy & Tactics, to be proposing games about a war in which our soldiers are still engaged.

This is not about censorship. Decision Games has the legal right to publish games about any subject they please. I am not suggesting that anyone diminish that right in any way.

This is not about a permanent ban on Iraq and terrorism as the subject matter for games. I think both Insurgency and Iraq sound like interesting game proposals, and I might very well buy a copy of the games when they are published. As long as they are published after the war is over.

This is not about support for the war or criticism of it. It doesn’t matter if you think the war is a necessary one that we must win, or if you think the war was pure folly from its conception: you still probably believe that our soldiers deserve our utmost respect.

My objection to the game proposals is based on this respect for our men and women in uniform. American soldiers make heroic sacrifices in any war, but this war has been especially hard on our all-volunteer army. Because the Bush administration has not been willing to ask the American people as a whole to make sacrifices, and because few politicians in either party are willing to discuss a draft—let alone vote for one, many of our soldiers have not been able to leave the military when their normal terms of enlistments are up. Many soldiers have been required to do multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. And some have paid the ultimate price.

I know that many games have long development cycles, and that by the time these Iraq games are ready for publication American soldiers may no longer be in Iraq. But I see no indication in the magazine that the good folks at Decision Games intend to delay publication if American soldiers are still fighting in Iraq when the games are finished.

Maybe I am making a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe there are American soldiers in Iraq who would enjoy seeing their experience become a game. But the idea of rolling for cardboard American casualties while real Americans are suffering real wounds and worse just seems callous to me.

I urge gamers who agree with me to contact Joseph Miranda at Decision Games and respectfully suggest to him that consideration of these games should be delayed until after American troops have left Iraq.

Those of us who have not been required to sacrifice for our country should not be playing games about the lives and deaths of those who are still in the thick of battle.

9 comments:

Ryan Walberg said...

Since when did Gone Gaming become a political opinion blog?

Jon said...

Why would be playing a game based on the conflict be disrespectful of the people currently fighting in the conflict? Would reading a book about it also be disrespectful? What about watching a movie?

Frankly, I think it shows respect as playing the game involves you in the conflict and helps you to understand a bit of what is going on over there.

Gerald McD said...

I understand your point of view, and I do not disagree with it. However, a somewhat related point would be to recall the many war movies produced and shown during WWII. Granted that many of them were pure patriotic propaganda, but many were simply good movies based on the ongoing war, or included significant references to the war (and its effects on the home scene) within the movie. It is not necessary to avoid the subject of an ongoing war in fields of entertainment (movies, games, etc.), but I can certainly see that many people would be put off by it, depending on how it is presented. I appreciated your well-written thoughts on the subject.

Chris Farrell said...

Let me echo Ryan's comment. I recommend sticking to games, and preferably ones that actually exist.

You may protest that it's not censorship, but ultimately you're saying people shouldn't publish games on topics about which you are personally uncomfortable. Who cares? Maybe other people can learn from those games. Are you saying they shouldn't be given that opportunity?

Subjects can be handled well or not. If an Iraq war game were an intelligent treatment of a difficult topic that managed to get at a little bit of truth about the conflict, would you really find such a thing to be in bad taste? If you had to make the call, would you kill such a game rather than publish it?

Or do you just believe that games have no value beyond entertainment?

Are you also against books, movies, television shows, plays, music, and other forms of expression that in part entertain using the Iraq war in any way?

To me, what's scariest about the current Iraq war is just how detached people seem to be from it because of the all-volunteer military. If a game could bring home the reality of the war in a way which some people might not otherwise see, I'd be all for that. And I'd be against limiting discussion of it because some people might find some specific kind of expression in bad taste.

Kris Hall said...

I don’t believe my feelings about games on the Iraq war are political commentary. My essay is a statement about my feelings about certain appropriate or inappropriate subject matter for games. I’ve made no comments about the war itself except to note how hard it has been for our soldiers.

It is not censorship to ask Decision Games to postpone—not cancel—the publication of certain games. I said that the Iraq war was appropriate subject matter for games—at the appropriate time.

I think I made clear in my September essay that I believe games can and should have educational value. There is nothing in today’s essay that contradicts that viewpoint.

Some people will simply differ with me about what is in good taste. I don’t think anyone would give a game called Insurgency as a Christmas present to the brother of a soldier who was killed in Iraq. That extreme example illustrates that there are times when certain subject matter is inappropriate. We will simply disagree about where the boundaries of good taste and appropriateness are located.

Ricardo Madeira said...

Sorry, man, I'm a non-american outsider and all, but that just won't compute. When would it be appropriate to publish an wargame on Iraq? A couple of weeks after it was over? A couple of months? A couple of years? A couple of decades? Would it be alright if it was published by an European publisher? Is it alright for an American publisher to publish a enjoyful and fun game about a medieval battle where thousands of brave soldiers of other nations died, disrespecting their memories? Who decides? You?

A wargame is mostly an educational tool and (however one feels about it) there's no better time to educate than right now! When it's over, it will be too late to do something about it, won't it? That's just stupid.

As for good taste and appropriateness, let the people make their own choices, don't decide for them. You wouldn't give a Train boardgame to somebody who lost loved ones in a train wreck, or a game about hunting animals to an animal rights person, or a game about stock brokering to somebody who lost all his money doing that, or a DVD of Black Hawk Down to somebody who lost someone in Somalia no matter how many years ago that was. But that doesn't mean we should strive for decency and get all those "dangerous" products out of the market now or make them less available.

Good taste & appropriateness & good intentions & censorship & banning... well, they always go hand in hand, don't they? Let each person decide what's appropriate and in good taste for him or her.

Yehuda said...

Ricardo:

Saying that criticism goes hand in hand with censorship is exactly the sort of McCarthyism that is being, and perhaps always has been, leveled against disestablishmentarians.

Why is it "free speech" to produce a game about the Iraq war and not "free speech" to condemn it and call it offensive? Or request for it to be delayed, or even boycott or protest the company, assuming that you don't physically stop it from being produced?

People should be more afraid of being intimidated against protesting than they should against anything else.

And making and calling for discussion and a higher standard is not a problem with this society. Pandering and choosing valuelessness on the one hand, and enacting unnecessary legal restrictions on the other, are.

Note that I disagree with Kris regarding his blanket sentiment about the timing of the game. I think that it is a matter of how it is handled, not if it is handled. If done well, it could serve, as jon says, as a respectful thing, and, as Chris, says an engagement with reality.

Personally, I never play real bad guys in any game if they detailed beyond a certain abstraction.

Yehuda

Coldfoot said...

Would a video game depicting the war in Iraq, featuring IEDs and muslim terrorists be distasteful? How about a game about post-Katrina drug wars in New Orleans?

Of course they would be distasteful. It would be distasteful, not illegal or immoral. That wouldn't stop a major game company from releasing such a game if they thought there was money to be made.

Unfortunately any public outcry on the Iraq war theme would be due to the fact that muslims were depicted as a fanatical enemy, not because good American/British/etc. soldiers, and decent Iraqi civilians and police officers are currently losing life and limb by violence perpetrated by fanatical muslims.

Jon said...

Mr. Coldfoot,

I really don't get it. Why would it be distasteful?