I don't think any of us quite knew what to expect when Peter Tamte, the president of Atomic Games, took the stage for the Triangle Game Conference's second day keynote speech. He was introduced by David Jones, CEO of Peak 10, who opened with an interesting anecdote involving his unpleasant experience of seeing the Deer Hunter when it came out as a Vietnam War veteran and wondered if a similar issue of timing hadn't been in part responsible for the controversy that eventually resulted in Konami dropping Atomic Games' Six Days in Fallujah. The 800 pound gorilla in the room addressed, we were all eager to hear what Tamte would say.
As Tamte started to talk about Six Days in Fallujah he made it clear that the impetus behind this game was in part due to a deep desire to see games address current events in a meaningful way. At one point Tamte even asked the audience if our industry was comprised of toy makers or creators of significant media. Certainly Six Days in Fallujah aimed for the latter.
Six Days in Fallujah, as Tamte explained, was a project that came out of the work Atomic Games does designing training systems for the US military and intelligence communities. In the process of creating these simulators, Atomic Games started talking with Marines who had recently returned from Fallujah. The Marines were interested in a game that would tell their story through the medium that played the deepest role in their lives, videogames. Tamte would go on to say, "Our motivation for making this game was based on the stories Marines told us about their escape in Fallujah that changed my perceptions of the world."
Surely other videogames have attempted to tell soldiers stories in a significant way, but none to date, from the details Tamte provided of the game, would have done so as accurately or with as much seriousness of intent as Six Days in Fallujah. To achieve the necessary verisimilitude, the game utilized actual maps and photos and operation plans provided by the Marines involved. The AI also incorporated the same tactics that were used in the operation. This was a heavily researched game and at one point in the presentation, affecting video testimonials from the soldiers who had been involved in the conflict were played for us.
Judging from the statements made by both Jones and an employee from Lockheed Martin, Six Days in Fallujah is a game ahead of its time. Jones and the employee both implied that, whether the public was right or not, this was a game that was clearly going to make emotional demands of its audience - a frightening thought for a public afraid to admit games can responsibly address difficult issues.
Tamte stressed his belief that videogames are the most powerful media in the world right now. And went on to say "I think we need to be aware that we are now culture creators." It was clear that Tamte and Atomic Games' intent with Six Days in Fallujah wasn't to create a cool experience, sell millions of copies or even take advantage of a contract with the US military. Tamte implied that with Six Days in Fallujah, videogames might finally engage in a meaningful dialogue with current events. By the end of the keynote it was clear to me that, regardless of the inherent bias the game may or may not have carried, Six Days in Fallujah was nothing less than a conscious attempt to raise the stakes for what videogames could mean to all of us.