Video Games Let You Kill, Abuse Osama

Sunday night a team of two dozen Navy SEALs killed Osama Bin Laden. If all goes as planned, you will soon be able to re-enact that head shot in a video game.

Kuma Games, the people behind turning John Kerry’s Silver Star mission and the capture of Saddam Hussein into a playable video game, tells Kotaku that they are discussing internally whether this latest modern military event should also receive its own video game treatment.

In Kuma Games’ Kuma War missions, players take control of the real soldiers who fought through some of modern history’s most publicised engagements. The game plays a bit like most modern day shooters, such as Call of Duty or Battlefield, with players controlling the movements of a soldier and where and when they fire.

Kuma Games vice president Joe Kressaty, confirmed to Kotaku that the company was discussing the possibility of a kill Bin Laden mission based on the weekend’s events, but couldn’t provide further details.

Founded in 2003, Kuma Games turned the notion of fighting reality into a blossoming business. The company creates games that allow players to take on the role of animal predators, World War II dogfighters and relive the lives of infamous mobster like John Dillinger and John Gotti. But perhaps the company’s most known, most relevant marriage of reality and gaming comes with Kuma War.

The free tactical shooter puts players in the boots of different international military forces as they replay famous, often current battles in Afghanistan, Iraq, South Korea, Vietnam, Mexico and Sierra Leone. Past missions have included recreations of John Kerry’s Silver Star mission, a battle between Mexican soldiers and drug cartels and the capture of Saddam Hussein.

The game has even created a past “episode” about Osama Bin Laden, examining the Battle of Tora Bora in Dec. 2001. Currently Kuma War features more than 120 of these episodes, each based on information pulled from news accounts, military experts and sometimes Department of Defense records. The missions often include briefings by military experts, soldiers and people who participated in the events.

Keith Halper, CEO of New York-based Kuma Games, has likened what his company is doing to the work of news organizations.

While Kuma Games appears to be the only developer that may be turning the weekend killing of Bin Laden into a game, it’s not the only game that includes a Bin Laden appearance.

Newsgrounds, popular home to a stream of free-to-play, ever-changing Flash games, often features games created by budding developers looking to make a name for themselves. Coincidentally, one of the top games on the site hours after news of Bin Laden’s death hit, was one starring the founder of Al Qaeda.

In Mujahedin players take control of a suicide bomber who is targeting a US Army base. The work of playable satire features a cartoon Bin Laden who offers to become a drinking buddy with the player if they succeed.

On Monday morning, iPhone game developer Dedalord Games released an update to their Falling Fred, that allows players to control a perpetually plummeting “Ogama Ben Ladder” as you try to avoid dangerous objects… or hit them. The rag doll Bin Laden likeness bruises, loses limbs and bleeds as he hits objects during the fall, until he finally succumbs to his injuries.

My attempt at guiding Ben Ladder through the dangers of his perpetual fall ended suddenly on a tiled outcropping. Then a newspaper headline popped up on the screen that read “Terrorist Terrorized by Terrible Tiling”. The newspaper article underneath accounted my virtual Ben Ladder’s many injuries, including the number of fractures, amputations and blood loss. I was also given the option to replay the video of his plummet.

Ian Bogost, professor of digital media at Georgia Tech and co-author of Newsgames: Journalism at Play, calls these quick-to-hit reactionary bits of play “tabloid games”.

“They are ‘tabloid games’ more than anything,” he said. “Quickly created release valves that capitalise on this event for traffic or attention.

“That said, perhaps some of them may give us a sense of how the operation took place.”

Kuma, he notes, tries to do that with their attempt at accurate recreations.

Bosost says that these tabloid games also give people a way to come to terms with a surprising event. For instance, a game popped up after soccer player Zinedine Zidane’s head butt during the 2006 World Cup finals.

“That was so strange, ‘Did that really happen?’ was the question everyone was asking,” Bogost said. “And the [Zidane]game, crude as it was, offered a way to ponder that question.”

These Bin Laden games could also give some people a “welcome sense of false closure,” Bogost added.

“See, Osama is dead. The ‘war on terror’ is over. See, I killed him myself on my computer.’ Whether that’s true or not, it doesn’t matter,” Bogost said.

Well Played is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Feel free to join in the discussion.

The above picture shows Osama Bin Laden as depicted in Kuma War’s take on the Battle of Tora Bora.

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