The bloodiest battle of the Iraq War is the subject of a new video game set to be released later this year.
The Second Battle of Fallujah, which took place in 2004, was a joint American, Iraqi and British military campaign in a city located in the Iraqi province of Al Anbar. It was, and remains to this day, controversial, as thousands of soldiers and civilians were injured or killed as a result, and it has been widely alleged that white phosphorus was used by US troops.
The new game, called Six Days in Fallujah, is a first-person tactical military shooter, which looks similar to Call of Duty, and has recreated true stories of marines, soldiers and Iraqi civilians who were there.
Each mission is played through the eyes of a real person who narrates what happened.
'Shame on you'
On Tuesday, IGN shared a first look at its gameplay. On Twitter, the video received thousands of comments, with a mixed response.
"I don't really see why people are making a big deal of this, if this was just the new Call of Duty campaign, people would just look the other way," wrote one user.
In reply, "Syrian Girl" wrote: "They murdered civilians and poisoned generations. It's one of the most disgusting war crimes in recent history."
The user added: "I'm disgusted to my core. Unless this game includes shooting at ambulances, raiding hospitals, separating 15-year-old boys from their families and shooting civilians attempting to escape in the head, then it's unrealistic."
Twitter user "Nabaa" also joined in the discussion. "I wonder how would Americans feel if someone made a game about 9 / 11 and basically flew the planes into the building. Or a game about bombing a marathon ... [The] US committed crimes in my country and now they are mocking us with games. Shame on you."
Is this the same game from 2009?
In 2009, a game with the same name was announced by Atomic Games, under Konami. At first, the makers insisted it was "just a game" and they simply wanted to "bring a compelling entertainment experience" to players.
A few weeks later, however, Konami pulled the plug on the project, as a response to the public's negative reaction.
A PR representative from the Japanese video game company said: "We had intended to convey the reality of the battles to players so that they could feel what it was like to be there."
The concept was widely criticised for turning the battle into entertainment.
"There is nothing to celebrate in the death of people resisting an unjust and bloody occupation," Stop The War Coalition spokesperson Tansy E Hoskins told TechRadar at the time.
"To make a game out of a war crime and to capitalise on the death and injury of thousands is sick. There will never be a time when it is appropriate for people to 'play' at committing atrocities. The massacre in Fallujah should be remembered with shame and horror not glamorised and glossed over for entertainment."
Why is this different?
Peter Tamte's company, Atomic Games, collapsed after Konami withdrew its support. "After things exploded in 2009, I effectively left the industry in 2011 ... [But] I felt an obligation to those [marines] who shared those stories with me. These are stories that a lot of people could benefit from hearing," he told Gamesindustry.biz.
But Tamte is back with his new company Victura, the producer and publisher of the 2021 version of Six Days in Fallujah, alongside Highwire Games, a company led by Halo and Destiny veterans, which is developing it.
The game's website states more than 100 marines, soldiers and Iraqi civilians "have provided thousands of photographs, hundreds of videos and countless hours of their time to recreate these events with authenticity and respect".
Gamers play through the eyes of real people. It seems most of this will be portrayed from the point of view of the military, while at least one mission follows an unarmed Iraqi civilian.
It uses "procedural architecture", a technology that reshapes the battlefield, every room and building players enter, so that each time they play is completely different.
"So, just like actual combat, you'll never know what to expect," reads the website.
Tamte has said that they're "not trying to make a political commentary" and that the recollections he heard from survivors are of "remarkable courage and sacrifice" and that he felt "compelled to tell their stories".
However, he has also acknowledged they can't do this without context.
"Players need that context to understand why they're in the city fighting those Al Qaeda people," he told Gamesindustry.biz. "We are going to provide that context, but keep in mind that we can provide that context without making a political statement, or without in any way disparaging the service of those who are actually there to fight."
'Where are the stories about Arabs living their lives?'
Not everyone is convinced the game will hit the right mark.
One Muslim game developer, who remained anonymous, spoke to IGN Middle East about the release. "There is an entire possibility that they did their due diligence ... However, given the comments of Tamte, as in, if their opening gambit is, 'We're not making a political game', that doesn't exactly inspire me with confidence in their ability to do something nuanced."
Anita Sarkeesian, media critic and executive director of Feminist Frequency, also spoke to IGN. "It is extremely well documented at this point that Arabs in American media have overwhelmingly been portrayed as unhinged terrorists who hate 'freedom' and 'democracy'," she said.
"Where are the stories about Arabs living their lives, loving sports, mastering a musical instrument, falling in love, finding comfort in their religious or spiritual faith, rebelling against their parents, cooking with their grandparents? Where are the stories that show the very wide array of cultures and countries that we lump into the word Arab?"