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Play the news: kill Al Qaeda's al-Zarqawi

Ludwig Kietzmann
Ludwig Kietzmann|June 26, 2006 9:55 PM
If you've recently witnessed the news on TV or your disagreeable neighbor's house getting blown to smithereens, you'd likely be aware that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, was killed in a decisive US air strike earlier this month.  If this is the first time you're learning of it, the news is reaching you in a way quite dissimilar to the way in which the people behind Kuma Reality Games want it to. Reaching you is just the beginning for them -- they want it to grab you by the arm and yank you into a Source-powered, 3D recreation.

The goal of Kuma\War is elaborate and intriguing, though much like a minefield, it's also laced with topical traps that require careful movements to navigate successfully. For every major battle or newsworthy event that takes place in the ongoing war on terror, Kuma\War offers a free, downloadable counterpart, plunging you right into the war-torn boots of an American soldier and tasking you with carrying out the very same mission. Just a scant few weeks after al-Zarqawi's death, Kuma\War will be offering "players" the opportunity to call in the airstrike that killed him or, alternatively, rush his house with a group of comrades in tow.

Keith Halper, CEO of Kuma Reality Games, doesn't view this strictly as basing a game on real-life events. The word he would prefer is "reporting," a word that would indicate playing through the al-Zarqawi situation is a way of learning and experiencing the news firsthand ... or should that be first-person? "Our job is to set up these variables exactly as they were at the beginning of one of these events and then allow the player to go through and do what they will," says Halper. "Anybody who's played a game like 'Grand Theft Auto' understands that the free-form nature is what makes this a wonderful experience. I can go in and interact with the environment and see what would happen otherwise."

And therein lies the dilemma. The idea of reliving major world events in a game is fascinating and certainly holds some merit as an interactive form of conveying news, but when considering the actual content of the presentation, it seems somewhat sensationalistic and insensitive. If games are primarily meant to entertain, what happens when the subject matter comes directly from a real war with real people? Is it a "wonderful experience" to derive pleasure from reliving and replaying these events?

Then again, we've all had a blast playing through Call of Duty 2, a game praised for its intense recreation of one of history's greatest wars. Is it because nazis, much like giant insects and aliens, are disposable and decidedly inhuman villains? Is al-Zarqawi and the war on terror just a little too real for comfort? Perhaps for us to fully enjoy a more realistic game then, we need it to soften the edges of reality just a bit. Pad it out with nazis, hazy history and nameless bodies. Just to soften the edge.

Read - MTV news article
Read - Kuma\War official site
Read - Kuma\War al-Zarqawi video