9/11 - The video game.
July 26, 2003 2:10 PM   Subscribe

Words fail me.
posted by erebora (63 comments total)
 
I normally try to avoid knee-jerk responses, but the thought of someone laboring at a computer for months to create this (or this) turned my stomach.

From the developers: "9-11 Survivor is a game project that examines the role of media in our culture, and the influence that continuous, hyper exposure has on our overall perception of the distinctions between reality and media mediation. This project raises questions regarding how and why popular media forms, such as games and movies, deal with tragedy, conflict and violence."

Is this valid? Should this be something people can buy? How does this relate to other realistic war games?
posted by erebora at 2:13 PM on July 26, 2003


So when does the game come out? I want to play.
posted by punishinglemur at 2:14 PM on July 26, 2003


This must be one of those cases where artistic expression stretches beyond the bounds of good taste and polite society. I do wonder if this will be distributed as freeware or sold with proceeds going to charity.
posted by billsaysthis at 2:18 PM on July 26, 2003


Isn't there an Omaha Beach scenario for Medal of Honor or something that raises similar issues, that is, you die a lot? I wouldn't know firsthand because I suck at FPS games so much that all of them turn into Omaha Beach for me.

I'm surprised to see something like this so soon but it seems inevitable.
posted by furiousthought at 2:23 PM on July 26, 2003


shock value: zero.
worry level about this making money: nada
consideration of getting this once it's in the super-discount bin: slightly above none
posted by Busithoth at 2:27 PM on July 26, 2003


Beyond the pale.

But not surprising, considering so many people reacted totally callously to 9/11, even here in NYC. There are probably all kinds of repugnant games out there in a similar category.

However, I guarantee you that my reaction will not be pleasant or free from bodily side-effects if I were to be in the presence of someone buying a copy of this.
posted by reality at 2:31 PM on July 26, 2003


It doesn't even sound like it's that interesting gameplay. Try to escape, when you do....try again. Sometimes you respawn in and you can be stuck from the start? Sounds like it would get old pretty quick.
posted by stifford at 2:47 PM on July 26, 2003


I wouldn't get too worked up about it. It's a small-scale, high-concept project, and it's not like they're going to be trying to sell it in stores. It does not seem to be about shock value, either.

I think they are sincere when they say "Our goal is to be able to enter into a dialog about gaming and its cultural implications as well as experiment with ideas that will move gaming into the next generation". I only wish more people in the industry had that attitude!

If this was a big, commercial project, I could understand some amount of outrage. It really seems to be more of a hobby project, though, a group of people exploring the boundaries of game design, trying to see to what extent the medium (or this engine, at least) is even capable of portraying the experience of 9-11.
posted by jeffj at 2:48 PM on July 26, 2003


CMU's Entertainment Technology Center students are working on a much more tasteful and morally responsible use of the Unreal Engine, creating Biohazard2, a simulator to help train first-responders to chemical and biological attacks.
posted by kfury at 2:50 PM on July 26, 2003


It's easy to say that you want to engage in a dialog about games/culture/violence, etc., but what are they actually doing to sustain such a dialog? I think they need to do more than be provocative, in order to convince people that their artistic justification is not merely a pretext for a grossly insensitive and opportunistic enterprise. Are they going to hold a conference with experts in related fields? Are they going to engage with members of the communities/families most directly affected by 9/11? Are the creators going to publish papers about their rationale and the reactions the game provoked? Do they plan to hold a gallery 'showing' along with other provocative pieces of interactive art, accompanied by interpretive texts?

I'm deeply impressed by challenging art, and I defend it at every opportunity. But the more open a work is to being viewed as exploitative and emotionally abusive, the greater the onus on the artist to place it into meaningful context.
posted by stonerose at 3:07 PM on July 26, 2003


Seems like a hoax to me, it just seems so over-the-top.
posted by mathowie at 3:15 PM on July 26, 2003


Words fail me as to the reaction of the crowd - narrowly avoiding expletives along the lines of 'idiots' here - I thought we were against censorship? I guess not.

In any case, it's a UT2k3 mod- the EULA of said game EXPRESSLY PROHIBITS selling modifications to the game. You have to pay for a $300,000 engine license. Perhaps some of you should have waited until you knew a bit about the realities of what this team (not part of them, wouldn't be caught dead being a part of them, but would die to defend their right to let them continue their project) were actually doing before commenting?

Wait, metafilter - nevermind. In addition to going back to expressing your horror at this 'morrally [ir]responsible use of the Unreal engine', you can now safely dance in the streets secure in the knowledge that these citizens will now never confront your poor sensibilities inside your mall-shaped consumerism feeding trough of choice.
posted by Ryvar at 3:21 PM on July 26, 2003


Might sell well in Saudi Arabia.
posted by Postroad at 3:22 PM on July 26, 2003


Thanks jeffj. I suppose an artist of any medium is free to explore the event in whatever way they wish.

I wonder about the competitive aspect, though. If it were just a way to explore the sequence of events and the surrounding area... but the necessity of dying and starting over is confusing. by forcing it to fit the template of a game, I think they may be shortchanging the project somehow.

I searched elsewhere on the web, but only turned up outraged arguments on gaming message boards.
posted by erebora at 3:25 PM on July 26, 2003


Why is anyone even surprised? What surprises me is that it took this many years to come out. Not that I think its in good taste, but I'm not exactly shocked. This is one of the ways american's deal with trauma.
posted by Grod at 3:26 PM on July 26, 2003


Ryvar, would you actually willingly DIE for someone else's right to produce a videogame? Really?
posted by jonson at 3:32 PM on July 26, 2003


I do not find this the least bit offensive.
posted by bargle at 3:34 PM on July 26, 2003


Ryvar, what sort of game would you consider too horrifying and exploitive to develop?

Perhaps some of you should have waited until you knew a bit about the realities of what this team ... were actually doing before commenting?

Do you know what they are doing?
posted by erebora at 3:35 PM on July 26, 2003


I doubt it's a hoax. And to be honest, this really doesn't bother me that much. That is, if there were an option to play a terrorist, or to attack the towers, then I would have a problem with it. As it is, however, the question of whether this is an appropriate or effective way to

1. Deal with the events of September 11th
2. Remember the events

remains to be seen. Strikes me that the same folks who are raising hell over videogames' influence on children (see Grand Theft Auto debates, et al) should laud this game. Yes, the subject matter is distasteful when taken out of the intended context. Maybe it glorifies being in that building that day, in that you "win" by escaping (I am conjecturing). I can't help but think that glorification, in this limited contextual regard, might not be such a bad thing. An interesting, backwards honoring of the deceased, in some way.

Maybe I'm just a commie, though.

/McCarthy
posted by lazaruslong at 3:41 PM on July 26, 2003


Might sell well in Saudi Arabia.
posted by Postroad at 6:22 PM EST on July 26



Why? Is your trollish, one-line comment inteded to marginalize this complex issue by saying that Saudis (and I am guessing here you are implying terrorists) would enjoy reliving the events? Did you read the page? Notice how you only get to play the "good guys"?
posted by lazaruslong at 3:42 PM on July 26, 2003


I don't think this particular issue is 'complex'. A video game that looks as interesting as clipping your nails is marginal, in my opinion. I agreed with postroad in thinking that it might sell well in the Saudi republic, except for the fact that despite royalty's propagating as best as it can, it is only the very rich who could afford it over there.
And playing the 'good guys' is the point. You can already play Microsoft flight simulator 2002, like the real terrorists, if you want to play the bad ones.
posted by Busithoth at 4:01 PM on July 26, 2003


The website says it's built on the Unreal Tournament 2003 engine.
posted by angry modem at 4:19 PM on July 26, 2003


Ryvar, what sort of game would you consider too horrifying and exploitive to develop?

None. If someone wants to do a rape-the-911-jumpers-corpses-and-their-children videogame, let them. Freedom of speech means freedom of speech means freedom of speech. I don't believe in censorship ever, at all, for any reason.
posted by Ryvar at 4:35 PM on July 26, 2003


What jeffj and Ryvar said. I saw this a couple of weeks ago and thought about posting it here, but I didn't want to deal with all the outrage. From what I understand, it's not going to be sold, and that makes all the difference. It's not even a game, really. It's an attempt at putting people into the victim's shoes. It makes me uncomfortable as hell, too, but since when is that necessarily a bad thing? If you want to be outraged, there's plenty of stuff going on that's worth being outraged over (e.g., the 9/11 report released this week). This isn't. It'll be worth discussing, though, once it's done.

Games that are horrifying and exploitive? How about Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six, America's Army, or Medal of Honor?
posted by muckster at 4:41 PM on July 26, 2003


erebora wrote:Do you know what they are doing?
angry modem wrote: The website says it's built on the Unreal Tournament 2003 engine.

AM correct me if I'm wrong but I think you're backing me up here, yes? Anyways:

Actual text from the 'about' page: 9-11 Survivor is a game mod based on the Unreal Game engine. The retail version of Unreal Tournament 2003 will be required to play this mod.

further down: 9-11 Survivor is a Mod based on the Unreal Game Engine


Game mods by definition are usually freely developed and freely distributed over the Internet. The fact that they are using UT2k3 *guarantees* their mod is freely distributed. I'm looking at using the UT2k3 engine for a different mod project and went over the license - unlike most licenses the one for UT2k3 was written in plain English with a bon-homie attitude to it (strange to see, but presumably just as binding).

The small team size of this project (most retail games are developed by teams ranging from 20 to 100 people over the course of 1.5-4 years, not four or so people with the exception of the retail 'hacker' game Uplink) should have been a further clue. Or maybe their stating on the about page 'You have to buy a retail copy of UT2k3' should have been one.
posted by Ryvar at 4:49 PM on July 26, 2003


seems to go to the root of what is wrong with america/capitalism its and make a buck - anyone and everyone be damned thinking.
posted by specialk420 at 4:54 PM on July 26, 2003


Basically the reason I mentioned that was because I believe that making money off of something that could be considered extremely tasteless might be a bad idea, the fact that it's a mod makes it somewhat more ok to me.

I mean, really though, some of the same gut reactions are taking place here (obviously to different degrees) that occurred when, say, Wolfenstein 3D arrived on the scene, or maybe Doom.

I remember my first reaction. "What the fuck, Nazis? They can put that many swastikas in a video game?"

I can't say the game sounds all that fun, but it's definitely interesting, and like what Ryvar said, welcome to the United States. It's call freedom of speech, and that includes art. Video games, whether you agree with it or not, are considered by some as art, and that's the thing about art--it's subjective. Some of the work being put into those games rivals that of some painters'. It's just different is all.

And hey, maybe I'm wrong. But that's the fun part.
posted by angry modem at 4:56 PM on July 26, 2003


Thank for clarifying Ryvar. I'm not a gamer, so sometimes the terminology escapes me. You're saying it's not a stand-alone product to be boxed on a shelf, it's just one of thousands of free, downloadable environments available for the Unreal platform, correct?

on preview: specialk420 - huh?
posted by erebora at 4:56 PM on July 26, 2003


because ^while I.

You get the drift.
posted by angry modem at 4:57 PM on July 26, 2003


speech. I don't believe in censorship ever, at all, for any reason.

Would you back off that position, ever, though? True freedom of speech would mean there'd be no penalty for lying under oath, harassment, et cetera. Possibly.
posted by Hildago at 5:03 PM on July 26, 2003


Epic would never license the engine to a bunch of jokers like this. Meaning that it'll never be sold. The website says that it's a mod, which means that it has to be free under the terms of the general license of the SDK.
posted by aphelion at 5:13 PM on July 26, 2003


erebora: precisely, though a mod expands beyond new 'environment' (aka level) and expands into creating new characters with a 3D modeling program (usually Maya or 3D Studio MAX, priced at $1500 and $3000 respectively last I checked though there are cruder free modeling programs), new object models with said program and textures for them (usu. Photoshop - $700 last I checked, though Gimp works for free)

Beyond this you also have to write a fair amount of code in the game engine's internal scripting/programming language for your modification. A high-quality mod is usually about 10 people working 8 months to a year using just about every minute of their time. Sometimes though (the now-retail Counter-Strike mod for Half Life has thousands of man-years in playtime logged every month while being played on 30,000 servers, reportedly) you strike it big and can go retail with the legal blessing and direct assistance of the development company for the engine/game (Epic Megagames, in this case).

It would not surprise me if the authors were targeting their release for the final phase of the $1,000,000 'Make Something Unreal' mod contest.

Hildago: I believe in freedom of speech - but I also believe in the use of polygraphs where appropriate (politicians in court rooms). There isn't a conflict there that I'm aware of.
posted by Ryvar at 5:13 PM on July 26, 2003


Ryvar - Polygraphs are a scam.
posted by Turd Ferguson at 5:23 PM on July 26, 2003


Sacred cows are the death of any culture.
posted by divrsional at 5:30 PM on July 26, 2003


If you've got an older version of Flight Simulator with the Twin Towers, you can fly the aeroplane of your choice into them.
posted by Joeforking at 5:45 PM on July 26, 2003


I feel weird knowing that there are people still hurt from their family/friends dying that will now see a Game based on the events. Not run..

Someone brought up wolfenstein - WWII Is slightly different in my mind.. It was for for one largely a choice to fight... And a fight that could be won. There is a certain "good vs Evil" to it.. subjective of course.. but still. But the WTF game seems more exploitive.. The line about "having to make the choice of jumping from a window, or being burned to death".. I don't know.. it doesn't sit well with me.

On the other hand, i'm also a free speech person... so i guess I'm left hoping that karma will take care of the assholes making this game.
posted by re_verse at 5:58 PM on July 26, 2003


Reminds me of an obscure boardgame I got somewhere: "Escape From Colditz". The player characters were English prisoners of war who had to cooperate to escape from a German prison camp. The German guards were rule-driven, ie would move, search people, and shoot them according to a schedule of rules. The game was cooperative, and as I recall (only played it a couple times), fairly hard to beat. I think it was devised in the 1960s.

Then there's Diplomacy, a game from the 1950's in which players re-create WW1 on a grand (armies, provinces) scale, like Chess. Which has been around for a while.

I think my grandad had a toy gun when he was a kid, too, and played Cowboys and Indians with his friends.

My point is this: games in general, and wargames in particular, are usually about death and horrible suffering, and always have been. Normally it's highly abstracted, though games like Quake and Unreal and Grand Theft Auto which show detailed gore don't seem to have harmed human society much. Detailed gore has been around in literature for a long time. Shakespeare made his reputation on, among other things, goriness.

This game is less "objectionable", to me, than "Postal". Not that my objections were sufficient to stop me playing Postal; it's a fantasy, and for all but the least sane of people, there's a clear distinction between fantasy and reality. It's likely to be more disturbing, because you can't shoot back. Your goals, in this game, appear to be limited to getting out alive, if you can, and I expect that the designers--because this is what I would do were I designing it--have set the chances of that up to be approximately those of the genuine office workers trapped in the WTC on 11 September 2001. Some made it out. Most didn't. The game is asking: Could you?

I think a lot of you have entirely the wrong end of the stick here. Seems to me this game, which lacks a fair bit in terms of player "activity" (ie, options to react, pro-act, and control the outcome of the game), is not about making a mockery of genuine 9/11 survivors' experiences. It seems to me to be about letting non-participants get a glimpse of what the experience was like. Doing this in VR, as opposed to, say, a television interview or documentary, is what's novel about this game.

I find it illogical to object to this game and not to, say, documentaries and newspaper stories about 9/11. All of these things, like all human communication, come down to vicarious experience.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:39 PM on July 26, 2003


Come now. I believe in the sanctity of freedom of speech. I also believe in my capacity for and right of moral outrage. The two are not mutually exclusive.

The developers of this mod can make whatever game they want. I do think that it is in poor taste.
posted by cobra libre at 6:45 PM on July 26, 2003


I'm with grod. I'm surprised it's taken this long for someone to do it.
posted by crunchland at 6:58 PM on July 26, 2003


Spawn points in different parts of building; some have possibility for survival, some don't...

Well, bless their little hearts, they're playing god.

Decadent fodder. Pornography for those who have no more than an abstract experience of humanity. I wish them a moving human experience, or the love of a pet.
posted by squirrel at 7:03 PM on July 26, 2003


What a great idea!
posted by corpse at 7:41 PM on July 26, 2003


Words fail me.

Apparently not.
posted by trharlan at 7:55 PM on July 26, 2003


Poor taste IS an artform. ;-P
posted by mischief at 8:37 PM on July 26, 2003


It'd be better if you got a paintball gun and there were big breasted naked 'bambis' running through the burning wreckage.
posted by HTuttle at 10:01 PM on July 26, 2003


40 something comments and i'm the first to say...

this could actually be used for some excellent and needed research. If the results of each users attempt to escape were returned for data analysis it would be possible to set many scenarios and have actual humans run through those scenarios. How many more would have been saved if the stairs had been 5 feet wider, how many more would have died if there had only been one exit. These are questions that cannot be easily modelled (the actual reaction of first hand humans is hard to model). IF this was used in a useful way it could have a serious effect of building code....but then again that's one hell of an IF.
posted by NGnerd at 10:14 PM on July 26, 2003


"The chief enemy of creativity is good taste."
-Pablo Picasso
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 10:28 PM on July 26, 2003


This is what art is about and a sim is the perfect medium for an event like this. I sure as hell don't want to see The Towering Inferno II: WTC. If done right this could be very interesting. If done wrong, it could be sad and exploitive gore fest.
posted by raaka at 11:18 PM on July 26, 2003


inside your mall-shaped consumerism feeding trough of choice

Yeah! people who buy things are suckers! You should all be for free speech and knit your own clothes, like Ryvar!
posted by anildash at 11:54 PM on July 26, 2003


what's the big deal here?

there's plenty of games that exhibit the same amount of violence, if not more.....so here the setting is different......albeit one that might have actually happened in the recent past.....

some might say that someone who's good with wiring might want to put their skills to better use other then making bombs....but seriously....who is this hurting?......the families.....as someone who saw first hand 911....the event itself can't get any more freightening than what actualy was witnessed with my eyes...no matter how much game developers (read: code writing) try to simulate what actually happened and the events there of....for real.
posted by oliver_crunk at 12:20 AM on July 27, 2003


sexy game.
posted by pemulis at 2:01 AM on July 27, 2003


im in ur base killin ur dudez

You should all be for free speech and knit your own clothes, like Ryvar!


And you should exercise your freedom of speech by being a snarky prick, like Anil! See, there's room for everybody in America!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:29 AM on July 27, 2003


This vaguely reminds me of "The Producers" - "Springtime, for Hitler, in Germany..."
posted by chrid at 4:11 AM on July 27, 2003


I can't see how this is an issue at all - they made a movie out of the Titanic sinking, and they made a game out of 9/11. What's the difference? Is there a specific number of years one must wait before using a catastrophe the subject matter of art? Or do you just have to wait until everyone involved and their relatives are dead? How about all those games based on WWII?

That aside, did anybody else notice this little gem in the "concept art" section:
"Concept sketch of female business man for 3d model creation."

WTF?
posted by spazzm at 6:37 AM on July 27, 2003


Ryvar, what sort of game would you consider too horrifying and exploitive to develop?

None. If someone wants to do a rape-the-911-jumpers-corpses-and-their-children videogame, let them. Freedom of speech means freedom of speech means freedom of speech. I don't believe in censorship ever, at all, for any reason.


Okay here's the premise...
A super geek is transformed comic book style into a superhero of sorts with the ability to fly and read minds. At the moment of the first crash he starts getting a flood of urgent telepathic cries of "I don't want to die a virgin!". Our hero snaps into action and sets out to devirginize as many 911 victims as possible before both towers collapse. The high points being the daring devirginization of mid-air jumpers, and having to fight off the ones holding hands with co-workers to win the prize. And of course your evil arch enemy is also on the scene attempting to do the same thing resulting in a spectacular airborn swordfight. Children are not off limits but only worth half-points, while angst ridden teenage virgins earn triple points.

Is that depraved enough to offend everyone?
posted by Eyegore at 7:37 AM on July 27, 2003


It's all about how much the public thinks their opinion matters, spazzm.
posted by angry modem at 7:39 AM on July 27, 2003


How does this relate to other realistic war games?
I don't think it really compares to a war game. Mass carnage, yes; actual fighting, no. It's more like simulating Mai Lai or the Holocaust or something - from a surviving(?) victim's perspective.
posted by holycola at 9:05 AM on July 27, 2003


Actually I thought it was pretty darkly funny, Eyegore.
posted by Ryvar at 9:16 AM on July 27, 2003


Auschwitz Raider II
posted by squirrel at 10:08 AM on July 27, 2003


aeschenkarnos had it right: It seems to me to be about letting non-participants get a glimpse of what the experience was like. Doing this in VR, as opposed to, say, a television interview or documentary, is what's novel about this game.

Of course it's supposed to be disturbing to put yourself in the shoes of someone who's (probably) doomed in the towers. I'd even say it honors the struggle they went through to put yourself in their shoes, to understand to the best of your ability the true horror of what they endured.

I think this is a lot less disturbing than games where you blow people / animals / robots away with various highly destructive weapons. At least escaping (or not) from the towers doesn't involve the player commiting violence.
posted by beth at 12:52 PM on July 27, 2003


I think people are overestimating the potential of this project ever actually being available in any form. Single-player mods are often announced and rarely released in a playable form [usually they "release their source" in a year or two, which is the polite way of saying "this is getting boring and the game engine is obsolete, I give up"].

That said -- it sure seems like, for a game whose goal is ostensibly to escape alive through the bottom floor, they sure spent a lot of time on some righteous visuals of falling bodies.
posted by britain at 2:29 PM on July 27, 2003


It's more like simulating Mai Lai or the Holocaust or something - from a surviving(?) victim's perspective.

Don't for a moment think that some group of bored game developers haven't considered this semi-seriously. The only novel thing here is that they've actually taken the next step and spent a few hours producing some screen shots.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 2:34 PM on July 27, 2003


Of course it's supposed to be disturbing to put yourself in the shoes of someone who's (probably) doomed in the towers. I'd even say it honors the struggle they went through to put yourself in their shoes, to understand to the best of your ability the true horror of what they endured.

I think this is a lot less disturbing than games where you blow people / animals / robots away with various highly destructive weapons. At least escaping (or not) from the towers doesn't involve the player commiting violence.


Well said.

While this will never be exactly tasteful, I think many people would have a natural and healthy interest in playing it, as part of the healing process. I've wondered many times what the experience must have been like, much as I used to occasionally wonder what it was like to experience the concentration camps.

We shouldn't be distracted by the medium -- it is possible to address a very serious subject in a computer game without trivializing it.
posted by Epenthesis at 4:34 PM on July 27, 2003


Eyegore, that's brilliant.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:29 AM on July 28, 2003


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