The Iraq prison simulation game Camp Bucca has received a lot of coverage recently. Frankly, not much is known about the game—there is no demo, no trailer, very few stills, and no release date announced—but the premise alone is causing conversation. “A game where players can torture prisoners” is headline-grabbing to say the least.
It should be noted that Camp Bucca isn’t just torture for the sake of torture. It isn’t a darker cousin to GTA or even a straightforward blood-and-guts horror game. Its intent is apparently to ask players to consider what the real cost of torture (or so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” as CIA officials classified it) is.
It’s in some ways a moralism device: players act as American service members who must control and monitor their prisoners, and weigh the effectiveness of torture and punishment against the reality that torture engenders hatred of America that can lead to groups like ISIS. Players can interrogate prisoners with a morbid laundry list of methods to choose from, from waterboarding to rectal rehydration, and can even kill the prisoner in the course of interrogation. For successful completion of objectives, players receive points—but the points are meaningless. They can’t be traded or spent or used to unlock anything.
As such, the game is unwinnable. The only reward a player might receive from completing the game is their own satisfaction.
The game’s setting is a real detention center that was in use during the Iraq War. Real people were held there. The game’s setting brushes up against controversial military actions by the US. Abu Ghraib (and many former prisoners housed there were transferred to Camp Bucca after its torture scandal in 2004) and Guantanamo are seen by many as stains America will never be able to wash away. Whatever went on in Camp Bucca had a hand in radicalizing anti-American terrorists.
So what’s the goal here? Some players will gleefully roll around in the torture porn; some will be unmoved; and others will be deeply troubled by the morality of choices they made and the real-life correlation. People who are pro-torture are not likely to be swayed by a video game of all things, and I certainly don’t need a game to reaffirm my own anti-torture stance. Is this game for the apathetic middle? How many of those people will it reach? I can’t see Camp Bucca getting by with less than an M or A rating, which narrows its demographic by default.
Will Camp Bucca sway a small percentage of players to decide they’re anti-torture? Maybe. I hope it does. But more than likely, it will be an upsetting experience for many and a maybe a way to kill time for others—or for them to engage in some dark wish fulfillment.
Video games will always engage with cultural perception and presenting players with hard choices. I’m in favor of that as a gamer and as someone who believes in questioning the status quo. What becomes grayer for me is the cost of making a game like Camp Bucca. This isn’t a fictional place or a fictional scenario. I’m not saying the game shouldn’t be made, but I do have to question who it’s being made for, and whether the potential to change a small percentage of hearts and minds is worth exploiting real and terrible circumstances.
The question of the game’s effectiveness and its intended audience may well be answered after its release. But there’s no question that Camp Bucca‘s level of stark, intimate violence and its basis in reality will be a hard pill for many gamers to swallow. For me, I know I won’t be swallowing that pill at all.