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Rendition: Guantanamo – The Controversy Everyone’s Missing

By on June 7, 2009
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rendition

This one leaves me somewhat speechless – although I suppose I really shouldn’t be surprised.

Rendition: Guantanamo – from Scottish developer, T-Enterprise – isn’t a new announcement, but it made the news (general and specialist) recently for involving genuine G-Bay survivor Moazzam Begg as an expert consultant.

I suppose my initial reaction – that this was an exciting opportunity to demonstrate the flexibility of interactive entertainment to explore important and hard hitting topics like Guantanamo – was a bit naive.

The reality is so much more… shit.

Teaser

From the official trailer: “Captured behind enemy lines and sold to Guantanamo for illegal scientific experiments… Imprisoned for five years with nothing to live for… until now… It is time to fight back… It is time to rescue your son.”

So Rendition is (or ‘was’) a stunningly stupid take on Guantanamo that typifies precisely the sort of shit the Boris Johnsons of this world think video games entirely consist of. At first it was easy to point fingers, and they were pointing towards Glasgow. With a bit of hindsight, though, when we look at the fallout suffered by Six Days in Fallujah it’s not hard to see why T-Enterprise chose to move away from the real, and toward mad scientists and mercenaries. I could even give them the benefit of the doubt that they genuinely wanted to produce a serious memorial to the controversial soon-to-be-closed facility.

What’s really annoyed me in the days since the fallout is not the game’s childish waste of the opportunity, or the inevitable media backlash – it’s the nature of that backlash, and that’s the real story here.

Logging onto the game’s website in recent days, you’ll be greeted by a press release simply announcing the title’s cancellation. Seeing that for the first time, I wasn’t surprised. The backlash amongst the gaming community had been extreme – we want games that we can champion as grownup and important, not games that reduce important subjects to ridiculous genre tropes – so it was a fair guess the developer might reassess their audience.

The Real Issue

And yet, that wasn’t the reason. The press release begins,

“Based on a simple teaser trailer that actually revealed little of the game, many conclusions were reached that have absolutely no foundation whatsoever.”

Fair enough, I thought. They’re defending an old build of their game.

“It was never designed to be “propaganda” or “a recruiting tool for terrorism”. Neither was it designed to glamorise terrorism as has been reported.”

Hold on… what’s going on here? Why are they talking about propaganda? I thought the issue was the game’s childish treatment of G-Bay?

“Furthermore, Guantanamo was to be a mercenary run institution and so there would have been NO American military personnel killed within the game.”

As ever, Fox News to the rescue. So… let me get this straight… This is a game where the horrors and grey moral space of America’s most famous concentration camp are reduced to tales of mad scientists and rescuing kidnapped sons, and the problem the media has is that it’s too real a representation? I’m pretty damn sure the problem here is that it IN NO WAY threatens to tackle any real issues. Maybe I’ve missed something. They’re complaining you get to shoot American soldiers – the fact that you don’t was the real problem here.

Ultimately, despite the fantasy on display in Rendition: Guantanamo, I think we all understand why the place itself has had a bad press. Looking at the media response – who not only get the wrong end of the stick, but probably wouldn’t recognise the stick if it were shoved up their sanctimonious arseholes – it’s easy to see why games are often treated like the bigger devil.

About Tom Jubert

Tom Jubert is a freelance games writer / narrative designer, best known for his work on the Penumbra series, for which he was nominated for a Writers' Guild Award. His upcoming releases include Lost Horizon and Driver: San Francisco. He was previously the Managing Editor at GameShadow.com, and has also spent time in production.
  • P.S.

    Most gamers are woefully ignorant and, like the described above CoD 4, worship their games and will label anyone a heretic who questions otherwise.

  • “Captured behind enemy lines and sold to Guantanamo for illegal scientific experiments”

    Really nothing too inaccurate there:

    Guantanamo inmates say they were ‘sold’
    Warlords, others ‘trumped up charges’ for U.S. cash rewards
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8049868/

    Psychologists involved in torture: The Guantanamo Experiment
    http://quixotism.wordpress.com/2007/01/13/psychologists-involved-in-torture-the-guantanamo-experiment/

  • Kevin Hassall

    The extent to which the games industry simplifies – and so distorts – important issues is, surely, not a new revelation?

    CoD4 was blatantly the invasion of Iraq – recreated the way middle America wanted it to have gone (genuine WoMD threat, country over-run swiftly, dictator conveniently executed amidst gunfight without repercussions, no sign of complex local situation). It was pure myth. Much like the first Mercenaries game (teaching the important moral lesson that the North Korea problem would be easily solved if only a morally bankrupt mercenary force could intervene, do deals with any criminals they wanted, ignore the UN, and blow lots of stuff up). And much like a thousand games before, right back to the old 2d shooters on the Amiga.

    Games are not unique in this. Many of us grew up when Hollywood was myth-making for the Cold War – John Wayne through to Red Dawn and Rambo – and it’s hard to watch Fox News without suspecting that they are more interested in pandering to than informing their audience. What’s unique about games is that they only exist at this myth-making end of the spectrum. Hollywood still creates trash, but also more thoughtful movies. Many news programmes barely deserve the name, but there remains some outstanding TV journalism, too. But games? Games only simplify, they almost never illuminate.

    Hopefully this is just because we’re such a young medium, and if you want a silver lining you could look hopefully to the move away from the industry’s dependence on adolescent males.

  • I knew T-Enterprise as a purveyor of absolutely rubbish Flash games. Their modus operandi has seemed to be “churn out a game that picks up the current topical issue as quickly as possible – even if it’s crap – to get publicity”. I guess that they must be following the idea that all publicity is good publicity.

    I’ve highlighted them before (Dodge the Shoe – George W gets a flash game), but this is the first time that I have seen them develop a 360 title.

    I can’t find any evidence that they have ever completed a 360 game, and their page on building a game for the Xbox is peculiar to say the least.

    So I wonder if this whole thing is, in fact, a publicity stunt that has gone horribly wrong.

  • When I first read this story, I was speechless at how horrible a game this sounded. I’m actually somewhat shocked that the media has turned out to be the bigger villain in all this.

    What’s your view on games like Fallujah and Rendition? Is it possible to be tactful and insightful, or are they incompatible with a war-like setting and having fun?