[Article first published as Documentary Mistakes Gameplay Video as Footage of Real Terrorism on Blogcritics.]
I write a lot about the evolution of videogames from the primitive game we know and love as PONG to their being nothing short of a form of art. Games now have the power to portray story, evoke emotion, and even have Grammy award eligible (and winning) soundtracks. Aside from all of that, the biggest jump has been in-game visuals, with today’s graphic engines able to pump out those textures so smooth that you’d swear for at least a second or two that it was a real scene. But for most of us who grew up watching the technology evolve, there’s an imaginary line hardcoded into our brains when it comes to stuff like this. That line is the boundary between games and reality. It’s how I know that the scourge isn’t actually coming down from Northrend to get us, and how I’m clear that Marcus Fenix and his COG forces won’t be rolling through my neighborhood anytime soon. I doubt that there’s any videogame sequence given current technology (even those in a realistic earth-like setting) that I could watch and actually believe was reality.
I say this specifically to convey that events in my life have never unfolded in such a way that I have seen video from a game, took it as reality, then broadcasted it as part of a documentary I was working on. You may be curious why I would bring up such a ridiculous premise, yes, this I know.
It’s because as ridiculous as it sounds, it’s something that really happened in the UK this week. British television channel ITV (one of their big ones) aired a documentary called Exposure: Gaddafi and the IRA, promising to show the world evidence of a link between the IRA and famed Libyan nut Colonel Muammar Gaddafi concerning weapons and other military hardware. At face value it’s pretty compelling stuff I’ll admit, but there were just a couple flaws with the footage. One particular clip that was shown is labeled as “IRA Clip 1988,” and showed a British helicopter being shot down. Not a lot in that clip really, well how do I put this... looks real. The people are all pixilated and stiff, the fire doesn’t look like fire, and some of the vegetation has colors that just aren’t available in nature. Go and watch it on YouTube while it’s still available. The YouTube link shows the part as it was used in the documentary followed by the original fan edit.
This “footage” is actually a fan-made video from a game called Arma II, a tactical shooter by Bohemia. Granted, Bohemia does pride itself on realistic military simulations, but the differences between the game and actual video footage are still pretty clear. After the documentary aired, Arma fans took to the Bohemia forums, spreading the word on what they had seen. On the topic, Bohemia’s CEO Mark Spanel told Gamasutra that his company was never contacted for permission to use the clip, and had no idea that it would be used in the documentary. "We have no idea how this footage made it to the documentary,” he said. “Our games are very open and allows users to freely do a lot of things, I see this is somehow a bizarre use of creative freedom."
But how did it even make its way into the documentary to begin with? That would mean that the game video would have had to be part of the media available to the editors after all of the interviews were taken and the piece was stitched together. This clip not only made it into that media pool, but got by ITV’s editing staff and was given the final OK to air on national television. Speaking to The Telegraph, an ITV spokesman said that that they actually did have footage of the authentic 1988 event but used the game material by mistake, as an “unfortunate case of human error” that was “mistakenly included in the film by producers.”
This just goes to show, in the age we live in, while things may slip by human editors and producers and other checks, the internet will catch everything.