Iraq mercenaries boss triggers rage with Blackwater video game

  • @guyadams

You've heard about the scandals; now re-live them from the comfort of your sofa. That's the big idea behind Blackwater, a new video game named after the shadowy US security company accused of some of the worst rights violations of the Iraq war.

In a move that has outraged representatives of the trigger-happy firm's victims, a software developer called 505 Games will shortly launch the "first-person shoot-em-up" in which players adopt the persona of mercenaries protecting UN officials in what reviewers have called "a hostile north-African territory".

It was produced under licence from Erik Prince, the Blackwater founder and former Navy Seal who stepped down from day-to-day management of the firm two years ago, having gained more than $1 bn in contracts from the Bush administration.

"[Players] are going to be shooting, moving and communicating through very difficult, unknown, uncertain situations," Prince told USA Today's gaming correspondent. "And they are going to be active." The game's release marks the first effort by Mr Prince to leverage the Blackwater name. He wants to license the firm's brand for use on a variety of products, including high-end travel gear.

All of which prompts disbelief from critics of the company, which was renamed Xe Services following a string of controversies which culminated in the killing of 17 civilians in Nisoor Square, Baghdad, in 2007. They have long accused it of abuses, noting that employees were responsible for more than 200 shootings in Iraq.

Jan Schakowsky, a Democratic Congresswoman and prominent critic of Blackwater, told The Independent that the game was "appalling".

"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," she said.

"The notion of playing a game in which they are the hero is wrong on almost every level."

If Mr Prince had not emigrated to the United Arab Emirates, which does not have an extradition agreement with the US, he too would now be facing prosecution, the Congresswoman said. "His company has caused the death of innocent people without any accountability. It is inconceivable and appalling that a video game should celebrate his tough-guy image."

Susan Burke, a lawyer based in Washington who has represented the families of Blackwater's victims, said that the decision to release the game was "terribly offensive".

A UK-based spokesman for 505 Games said: "The video game is a fictional action first-person shooter, without any political agenda, and is being published to let gamers experience the challenging missions Blackwater operatives have experienced."