13-Year Olds Learn How to Murder Like Mercenaries, Thanks to Blackwater Video Game
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Do you think you have what it takes to be a Blackwater operative? You can soon find out, thanks to the video game Blackwater, the latest addition to Xbox 360’s virtual warfare collection, set for an October 25 release.
For just $50, Blackwater will provide gamers ages 13 and up the opportunity to join one of the world’s most reviled private mercenary forces, with the first-ever first-person-shooter experience designed exclusively for Xbox 360’s motion-sensing Kinect technology.
According to a press release from the video game’s publisher, 505 Games, the player adopts the role of a Blackwater mercenary, leading a team of operatives on a mission to rescue UN officials taken hostage in a fictional North African town overrun by warlords and rival militias. The interactive Kinect feature allows the player to navigate the game with body motions that mimic throwing a grenade, aiming and shooting the enemy, and taking cover.
Blackwater is based on the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, founded in 1997 by former Navy Seal Erik Prince. It has received over $1 billion in U.S. government contracts since 2001—accounting for 90 percent of its revenue—for supplying private forces to assist in the occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan, and for a brief period of time, post-Katrina New Orleans.
Along the way, a string of controversies involving bribery, weapons smuggling and murder prompted Prince to change the company's name to Xe in a futile effort to rebrand Blackwater's tarnished image. The most notorious incident took place in 2007, when Blackwater operatives gunned down unarmed Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, killing 17 civilians.
Still, the company’s dirty secrets continued to spill out, leading to congressional investigations, criminal indictments and civil lawsuits against Blackwater personnel. Although Prince was never formally prosecuted, Blackwater employees have come forward alleging that Prince had people murdered to prevent them from alerting authorities to the company's criminal behavior and that Prince believes himself to be a "Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe." Perhaps that’s why Prince left the United States in 2010, but not before putting his company up for sale.
Meanwhile, Prince has been exporting the private mercenary business to the Middle East where, according to the New York Times, he's been hired by the autocratic ruler of Abu Dhabi to form a secret army of foreign mercenaries to "defend oil pipelines" and quash potential "internal revolt," among other things.
Yet somehow, in the midst of training mercenaries, Prince managed to enter the gaming market. According to the press release, Blackwater was developed by Zombie Studios in close collaboration with former Blackwater agents and under the direction of the company’s founder Erik Prince “to ensure accuracy of moves, gestures and gameplay.”
In stark contrast to the company’s real-world record, Prince told CNN that the Blackwater video game incorporates “timeless themes of courage, good vs. evil and war.”
The good news is that the game is nowhere near a genuine representation of the Blackwater experience; meaning 13-year-old gamers won’t be massacring civilians in Baghdad on a Christian crusade to rid the world of Islam.
On the gaming site Kotaku, blogger Drew Cohen gave his take on Blackwater after testing out a demo version. Cohen writes:
The shooting was satisfying, fun and challenging. And – what we’ve all been wondering – at no point was I required to fire at any innocent civilians, or commit any other atrocities. It was Blackwater Worldwide scrubbed clean of all negativity, and – frankly – of specificity. It was the Blackwater brand attached to a game that might as well have borne any other.