13-Year Olds Learn How to Murder Like Mercenaries, Thanks to Blackwater Video Game
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.â€¨
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.
Similar observations were made by blogger Chad Concelmo at the gaming site Destructoid:
Blackwater is a very generic first-person shooter starring a very generic group of soldiers fighting a very generic group of enemies. Outside of the name, I didn’t notice any connection to the Blackwater Worldwide mercenaries. (At least, in the demo I played.)
Regardless of how sanitized the game may seem, Blackwater’s real-life victims, along with its many critics, are outraged by what they believe is Prince’s attempt to glorify his criminal enterprise.
When word first got out about the video game, Susan Burke, an attorney representing several Iraqis whose family members were massacred in Nisour Square, told ABC News, "Innocent people have been killed by this company. Imagine yourself as a mother or father of someone who has been killed, and now it's a videogame?" Burke added, "It's terribly offensive...It's staggering that anyone would use their name for a game."
Rep Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, one of the leading congressional voices demanding accountability of private military contractors, told the Independent's Guy Adams that "Blackwater is a company of mercenaries who have operated in a way that compromises the safety, reputation, and lives of Americans and Iraqis, and whose employees have been guilty of killings. The notion of playing a game in which they are the hero is wrong on almost every level."
This wouldn't be the first time Blackwater has sought to capitalize on its stained brand. The company struggled to shed itself of the tainted Blackwater image, only to reverse course last year when it opened a chain of Blackwater Pro Shops selling everything from baby onesies to rifles emblazoned with the Blackwater name and logo. But the pro shops were short-lived; within three months of opening, they went out of business.
Nevertheless, Prince has refused to give up on the profitability of the Blackwater trademark, telling USA Today's Mike Snider that he "aims to license the Blackwater name for high-end travel equipment and other products,” which suggests that Blackwater the video game is just the first in a line of Blackwater merchandise coming soon to a store near you.