The Infinite Murder Sim Propaganda Machine

Unraveling the terribly narrow-sighted work that is Tell Me How This Ends.

By: Jason Johnson

Filed Under: Adventure Editorial Strategy


If you paid any attention to the debate on Tuesday night, or even if you didn’t, you know there are some very good reasons to be concerned about Iran. For starters, their president Mahmud Ahmadinejad is an extremist anti-Semitic nut job, who thinks 9/11 is a joke, and his radical regime is eagerly pursuing technology that could give their wacko leader some nukes. It seems Iran will stop at nothing to keep their sweet, sweet uranium yellowcake.

Thanks to a straw man of a video game, now you can find that out… the hard way. Just try to get in Iran’s way and, as it turns out, they will supply the Taliban with missiles, fund Hezbollah, form an alliance with Hugo Chavez, shell Qatar, terrorize the States, kidnap your grandmother, cause a second global financial collapse, enact a holy war against Israel, bring about the Apocalypse, and poison my cat.

The propaganda in question is Tell Me How This Ends, a serious game about the political consequences of bombing Iran, made by a naysaying advocacy group known as Truman National Security Project. So how does it end? If you don’t mind being spoiled (and I doubt you will), I was getting to that: with hundreds of thousands dead, embassies bombed, jihad on US soil, and Tom Smith, the unconvincingly-named reporter, decrying $6.25 a gallon prices at the pump. That’s because the game has only two options. You can strike Tehran, or you can strike Tehran. Yep, it is a Fox News commentator’s wet dream.

You should be aware that I am using the term “game” loosely. While an unhelpful scorekeeper tallies the astronomical price tag of an all-out military invasion, there’s nil strategy to it, as the decisions you make inevitably snowball into a failure of epic proportions, easily outdoing the likes of the Korean Conflict and Vietnam. Tell Me How This Ends is more like an insidious choose-your-own-adventure book, with a catch-22 for every decision, and all forks in the road leading to the bad ending, while the country gets screwed over each time you turn the page.

This no-win situation is posited as fair warning on the consequences of a war with Iran, intended to make the seething warmonger in you think twice before jumping the gun. And mostly, I agree. I’m a humanitarian, and blowing a hole in Iranian nuclear reactors, especially when there are hundreds of thousands of innocent people nearby, doesn’t strike me as a good idea.

But I’m not totally convinced the folks behind Tell Me want to see Americans and Iranians holding hands and singing Kumbaya either. The whole thing comes across as a disingenuous, as if the idea was to use reverse psychology to get me riled up. If international isolation, economic sanctions, and cyber warfare really are viable alternatives to an air strike, as is claimed in the epilogue, then why does the rest of the game involve none of that? Instead, it spins its wheels in the mud, telling me what I already know: War is hell, and Iran is the cloven-hoofed master of lies.

Still, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and just say that this was poorly conceived. Trying to spook people out of a war, especially American people, who are adamant about not giving up things like semi-automatic rifles, is just not going to work. I assure you that if I showed this game to any one of the men I had lunch with today, who are all over sixty and faithful Republicans (one guy is campaigning for Romney in Florida this weekend), they would be ready to arm the militia.

Also I wonder, if the prospects really are so grim, why our presidential hopefuls do not know about it? During a snippy debate on foreign policy, both candidates were lucid in expressing the real possibility of military action against the Iranian state. It seems neither Mr. Obama nor Mr. Romney have played Tell Me How This Ends, or else they would have realized that course of action would inevitably lead to disaster. After some digging around, I now am certain they missed the ship. According to a press release I found on Truman National’s Doctrine Blog, the one and only commercial for Tell Me aired during the debates. Let’s hope these two men are informed about the game before it’s too late.

Okay, okay! So I admit that I know the game is a work of speculative fiction. But what if, like, Iran saw it and were convinced by it. The military tactics in it are actually pretty viable. What if Iranian forces really did decide to lock down the Strait of Hormuz, place missile launchers within range of the Persian Gulf, and attack US air bases? Tell Me How This Ends could be giving good advice to the bad guys.

At the very least, the Mullah regime should get a kick out of Tell Me. I can just picture the cabinet of Iran at the royal palace, gathered around a Lenovo, hooting and hollering at the part where the USS Winston S. Churchill is sunken by an Iraniian scud. In fact, I imagine Ahmadinejad would really appreciate the game. He’s one of the few that would.

[art credit]

[play the game]

Filed Under: Adventure Editorial Strategy

About the Author:
Jason Johnson is a freelance writer. His work has appeared in Kill Screen, Gamasutra, Unwinnable, GameSetWatch, FingerGaming, WSJ Speakeasy, and The Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures. He owns 27 Sun Ra albums.

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