If you haven't heard, the United States began the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq in March, 2003. In late 2004 there was a joint offensive in the city of Fallujah, an insurgent stronghold. What followed was some of the bloodiest and most intense battles of the Iraqi occupation.
Controversy and games share a long, sordid history. We are no stranger to the sensational, unscrupulous and the ill-informed. Most of the time, the incessant bleating of fools fades into the background rather quickly; lost in the collective short-term memory of modern society. It is unfortunate then, that the one time a project was cancelled to legitimate and reasonable fear, an opportunity to do real good was lost.
Six Days in Fallujah was the first project of Atomic Games. They had been asked by returning soldiers to make the game, because they wanted to tell their story. Sadly, when the press heard that a video game based on one of the worst battles in recent U.S. military history was in the works, there was an incredible backlash. In many ways, their anxiety was completely warranted; it was a recent, very sensitive topic and I'll be the first to admit that games don't have the best track record of handling these sorts of issues with anything that resembles tact or finesse.
I had a chance to talk to a family friend, Reed Omohundro. I had no idea he had worked on the project until I watched an older Fox News interview shown in an episode of Extra Credits. After seeing that, I thought he deserved another, better chance to tell his side of things.
Destructoid: Why did you join the military?
Reed Omohundro: Ever since I was a young boy, I wanted to join the military. I was fascinated with legends and lore of knights, samurai, and Roman Legionnaires. Most of my family had spent time in the military, and I was enamored with the stories they told. I was drawn to fulfilling that sense of "duty" to my country.
How would you say public perception of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan differs from your own experience?
Most of the public is limited to viewing the stories and recollections of U.S. media. In our culture, we relish in "sensationalism." Every reporter wants to make a name for him/herself. Every media outlet wants higher ratings. As a result, a majority of Americans see the negative aspects of war. Stories that reflect positive images of what America and NATO Forces are doing are more often than not given little notice. My most remembered comment by reporters is "This event has been the bloodiest day in the war." I heard that saying so many times I just renamed it as the "bloodiest day since the last bloodiest day."
You served in Iraq for several years, could you briefly describe your tour of duty -- where you were, who you were with, time served, etc.?
The first time I deployed to Iraq was in 1990 as part of Desert Shield. Later, the operation changed names to Desert Storm. My portion of the war was brief and I saw little to no combat operations. As part of Brigade Service Support Group (BSSG) 5, we made our way to Kuwait by ship. The majority of our operations were from Kuwait.
In June 2004, I deployed to Iraq for combat operations as an Infantry Officer. I was the company commander for Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. Initially, we established a Company Outpost in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq to secure an Ammunition Supply Point (ASP) that was continuously being looted for IED-making supplies. In October 2004, we relocated to Fallujah, Iraq. In November 2004, we participated in Operation Al Fajr formerly known as Operation Phantom Fury. I led a company of almost 200 Marines into combat operations to secure the city of Fallujah. We returned to the states in January 2005.
Later, I redeployed to Iraq in February 2007 as a member of an eleven man Military Transition Team (MiTT) to advise an Iraqi Army Battalion. During this tour, we operated in Al Anbar Province between the city of Haditha and the city of Al Quaim. Our primary accomplishment was being able to progress this battalion to a point where they were capable of sustaining operations within our sector with no American support. We mentored them in all aspects of military operations, logistics, and civil military actions.
Do you play video games often?
Yes, but not that often. I find it difficult to allow myself to believe the construct of the game. More challenging for me is getting the controller or keyboard to perform the actions required. For this reason, I almost never play military combat scenario-based games that involve modern military weapons. Trying to believe that a hand grenade can destroy a house, or that a rifle can continue to fire indefinitely is difficult. When I do play, I stick to Fantasy Role Play primarily. Swords and spells are not things I can associate with on an everyday occurrence. So my ability to "participate" in the construct of the game is easier than allowing myself to become annoyed with the unrealistic action of modern military weapons. Perhaps a better example of this is my frustration with driving games. When you can’t feel the action of the car, it's difficult to judge when you're about to lose control. The feeling of being knocked back in your seat from a hard acceleration has yet to be developed for in-home gaming.
How did you get started on this project Six Days in Fallujah?
I got started in 6DF when the producer Juan Benito sent me an email and later called regarding the project. He had been in contact with Gary Livingston, the author of Fallujah with Honor. Livingston had recommended that Juan Benito contact me. Juan Benito and James Cowgill met with me and showed me a demonstration of the game. For the first time, I saw a concept of how Atomic Games planned to incorporate a documentary into a video game format. I felt obligated to participate and get the story as correct and accurate as possible.
What was your goal with your involvement in this project?
My goal with this project was to assist in getting the audience to understand what occurred during the Second Battle of Fallujah. As a military advisor to Atomic Games, I acted as a consultant. I would work with the designers in ensuring the characters demonstrated correct military actions. We tried to ensure that the demolition aspects of explosive devices resembled the results of actual military ordnance. More importantly, I wanted to ensure that the story those Marines experienced was told in a format that would reach a greater audience.
Having commanded and fought in the Second Battle of Fallujah, do you think the game, from what you saw, tastefully and effectively handled the subject matter?
Yes. Atomic Games went above and beyond any effort I have ever seen to ensure accuracy and legitimacy for this product. Several times we had conversations regarding what stories could or should be reenacted or told. At one point, we had a dilemma as to whether or not to reenact a scene in which a Marine was shot. The company consulted with the parents of the Marine in order to get their approval. Atomic's Director of Development, John Farnsworth, even sent out letters to the family members of fallen Marines to explain the process of the game and how it would be developed as a documentary. Additionally, Atomic exerted an enormous amount of effort in getting the graphics and characters actions to resemble real life as much as possible.
Do you personally think it is appropriate to use videogames to tell these kinds of stories?
Tough question. But, yes, I think it is appropriate to use a videogame to tell this kind of story when it is incorporated into the documentary construct that 6DF used. Medal of Honor , formerly Medal of Honor: Operation Anaconda, was able to tell the story of those special operatives, but had to change the construct to a fictitious environment. EA Games saw the public opposition to Six Days in Fallujah and diverted the attention by portraying the storyline in a fictitious environment. 6DF planned on allowing its audience to view real interviews of Marines. By seeing these interviews, the player would gain insight to the objectives and decisions the Marines had to accomplish in order to achieve mission success for the scenarios a player would participate.
Are movies or books or other media better equipped to handle the emotional weight of modern warfare?
I think that books and movies do an outstanding job in allowing an audience to see "a" perspective of a single story. Movies and books relay the perspective of the author. The audience gains little understanding into the decision-making aspects that each soldier or Marine faces when involved in a combat situation. 6DF planned on breaking this barrier by allowing the audience to gain insight before the scenario, and allowing the audience to feel the emotions of making a decision that directly relates to the action of others. The understanding is that a game will never allow a player to experience the actual effects and emotions of such a decision making process, but at least they would have a better insight.
Do you have any hope of seeing this game revived?
I do have hope that the game will be revived. Just not in the near future; perhaps in a decade. The public seems too attached right now. As with the outcries of war photos from WWI and WWII, and movies about emotional events in combat, the public will eventually agree to allow a documentary in videogame format. Perhaps it will work out better to wait for this type of documentary. As technology increases, so does the gaming format. In years to come, this type of documentary may be better suited for a platform not currently developed.
Is there anything else that you would like our audience to know?
This game was being developed strictly to break the barriers of today's modern way of gaming, in both technical design and story format. By retelling the actions of Marines in combat through a documentary/videogame format, a wider audience would be reached. Not only would the audience be able to achieve a greater appreciation for what combat operations involve, they would gain an insight that no movie or book can provide.
In no way shape form or fashion did the development of Six Days in Fallujah seek to dishonor or detract from the sacrifices of the participants of that battle. Instead, it sought to honor those that served and allow their story to be told in a medium that would provide greater insight to those that were not there.