9/11 Invaders Installation Pulled From Leipzig Games Convention

By: Derek Yu

On: August 25th, 2008


Don’t ask me why, but I’m kind of fascinated by controversial games right now. The games, the ensuing discussion, and their ultimate “place” in gaming history. If you’re not, however, then apologies in advance.

Artist Douglas Stanley has asked the Leipzig Games Convention to pull his installation, citing “a steady downward spiral in public discussion of the piece” as the reason. Stanley’s work, which lets players fight a futile battle against classic Space Invaders as they attack the Twin Towers, has drawn fire across the board – from Taito, who is considering a lawsuit against Stanley and/or the organizers of the event, to families of 9/11 victims. The controversy was also fueled over speculation that Stanley is French (in actuality he is an American living in France).

It should be noted that, unlike Sigvatr (Muslim Massacre), Stanley has publicly expressed that the game is partly a criticism of America’s war in the Middle East. And Kotaku’s Michael McWhertor, who played the game, reveals that a video loop plays next to the game, featuring “scenes from the films Taxi Driver, Independence Day, Air Force One and Die Hard — all of which are American made films with a xenophobic streak — interspersed with stills of George W. Bush in his flight suit and John Wayne pointing a gun at the screen.” (This makes the controversy over Stanley’s nationality somewhat ironical, I feel.) Also, on the “Game Over” screen the game displays “SUPPORT OUR TROOPS,” for whatever that’s worth.

I understand that depicting the 9/11 terrorist attacks in anything other than complete seriousness is still considered taboo for many Americans, but I’m still surprised that this drew so much outrage. Call me naive.

(Image Source: Kotaku)

  • *_

    You’re naive.

  • http://www.cymonsgames.com Guesst

    No, I agree. Americans are far too sensitive and willing to take anything as an excuse for codling. I’ve got a story about Columbine students and me doing animal balloons that would illustrate the point well, but I think I can just say that in general Americans need to stop being such babies about everything.

  • Hohoho

    Yup, and I’m sure a game where Hitler is the good guy will do just fine in Europe…

  • trav

    wow, I didn’t know ironical was even a word!

  • Pyrrhon

    You don’t hear the Japanese cry over Nagasaki and Hiroshima, right? And i think we can all agree that 9/11 pales compared to that.

    Get over it.

  • Cobalt

    Where the heck are all of the other writers? It’s just you, Derek Yu.

  • jdeuel

    why the hell are all of these pretentious ‘game artists’ so terrible at making games.

  • pnutz

    It would have been much more offensive if it was a missile command knockoff with the missiles as planes. Can someone get to work on that?

  • Lyx

    most people – especially many (not all) americans – are trained to be moral-robots. They don’t judge for themselves, but just execute the moral commands which were given to them. It doesn’t matter if such a game makes a valid point – not even if it is actually “against what is considered holy” – all which matters is that it does something which does not fit existing morals. There is no thinking involved.

  • jimmykane

    Pyrrhon: There’s a video game where you try and bomb Nagasaki/Hiroshima?

  • Duh

    Oh please. Forget about the controversy — this “art” is just dumb. I don’t see how it conveys anything. It’s like looking at a pair of cow’s testicles in a jar and saying, “This is the artist commenting on the existential dilemma of transsexual, dual-spirited Native American prostitutes in California.”

    That anyone takes this shit seriously is a sign of cultural decline IMO. It makes me sad.

  • SEH

    I don’t think you’re naive. It does seem odd that there were actually lawsuit considerations against this person, since people make pretentious political-shock art all the time, even about 9/11. This one doesn’t seem any more testicle-grabbing than the rest.

    @Pyrrhon –
    Speak for yourself. You and I may be over it, but most of the families of those who were in the planes or buildings probably won’t ever be over it. And if you think a Hiroshima survivor is “over it”, go ahead and ask him/her.

  • Oddball

    To me this smacks of trying to be controversial for the sake of it. What message exactly is the artist supposed to be sending? If it is a straight analogy then Space Invaders must represent the hopeless struggle against terrorism. It must also be suggesting that whilst futile it is also noble as that one ship (America) stands alone against the endless onslaught of aliens (terrorists) who, without provocation, are attacking the free world. Instead of condemning it America should be embracing it as a symbolism of their just fight against evil.

  • SEH

    @Oddball – Agreed. The symbolism is faint. Maybe he’s an unemployed artist who needed some press?

  • rndll

    Fourteen times more people die in car accidents each year in the US than died in the 9/11 bombings. Don’t see them moaning about every game where you can run over people or crash into other cars.

  • rndll

    P.S. ‘Them’ not refering to the people who died in those accidents. The dead can’t really moan (unless they’re zombies or something)

  • jimmythechang

    How do you give a subject the game treatment without trivializing it? It seems to me that controversial games – or at the very least, games with serious subject matter – struggle with this criticism the most. On some level you have to make a game engaging and offer a certain degree of challenge; otherwise, you end up with something as interactive as a Powerpoint. That requirement doesn’t preclude games from dealing with serious issues, necessarily, but I think some genres lend themselves better to that end. Strategy and simulation games like Peacemaker, for instance, as opposed to RPGs or platformers, where you’re invariably going to take some creative liberties. That’s why people get angry – when you recreate the worst day in their lives as something you can score in.

  • Don Andy

    Everyone is too sensitive about everything. In Germany, you are either sorry about WW2, or don’t mention it. Anything else is controversial. And if someone makes a joke about 9/11 the US gets their panties in a bunch about it.

    And that goes for pretty much everything that ever happened to anybody in history.

    Sure, you can argue that if we take everything lightly, then it’s bound to happen again. But it’s certainly not bound to happen again when somebody dares to criticize it or makes a *gasp* video game about it.

  • Dusty Spur

    What the hell happened to making games with the intention of them being fun instead of having a really stupid “message”? These dumb controversy games are getting ridiculous.

    In any case, I don’t mind 9/11 jokes or anything like that personally, but this seems like a pretty dumb idea because it’s basically just getting a TV and putting “9/11 HAPPENED HERE ARE EXPLOSIONS” on it.

  • PHeMoX

    *Yup, and I’m sure a game where Hitler is the good guy will do just fine in Europe…*

    I’m sure it would not be a problem by definition. If it’s a clear parody, I don’t think people would not understand.

    In fact, there have been many many parodies on Hitler through time. I think Hitler as good guy probably was done also.

    Anyways, recently there has been a movie in cinemas here that depict Hitler as ‘more human’. Sure, some people here will always get offended by such things, even just a random nazi flag in Saving Private Ryan is too much for some people… but ultimately the Hitler movie was quite interesting actually. It tried to explain, at least to some extent, what made Hitler into what he had become.. a monster obviously.

  • Kobel

    It would be interesting if someone made a version where it starts off with just one ship but if you blow that one up then two more spawn, and etc.

  • PHeMoX

    *Fourteen times more people die in car accidents each year in the US than died in the 9/11 bombings. Don’t see them moaning about every game where you can run over people or crash into other cars.*

    QFT! Not to mention the people that get killed. Isn’t it like every 35 minutes someone gets murdered? You don’t here people about that. In fact, bearing arms and the sale of it never has been a more successful business.

  • Moosader

    I’m not really offended by the game, I just think it’s silly.

    Also, I hate modern art, so I really hope modern art…ists don’t start getting into our little niche.
    Sure, artistic games = yes. Modern art games = disaster.

  • falsion

    My games go unnoticed too much. Maybe if I made fun of people dying too, I would become this uber infamous type of guy too. It seems so easy, but is it right?

  • falsion

    It’s kind of like trolling. Except instead of deciding to piss people off on a forum instead of writing something original or constructive, you’re well pretty much pissing people off in the form of a video game instead of coming up with anything original.

  • falsion

    But then again, original ideas are hard to come up with.

    It’s MUCH MUCH easier just to piss people off by making a game about a controversial topic.

    Oh, and then try to say that it has some deep meaning behind it while you’re at it. I almost forgot that.

    (Sorry for the triple post, btw)

  • BeamSplashX

    You know, it’s really disheartening to hear all these really harsh stereotypes about Americans from people I respect. I’m American and also NOTHING like what people are saying, and I know I’m miles away from being the only one.

    Though I’m unsure as to whether or not this is an artistic statement, I’m certainly not offended. Certainly not worth an outrage!

  • XenOtai

    Somebody should make a Mario ripoff with Hitler in role of a bonehead saving Leni Riefenstahl from Diablo. In the end, Hitler becomes Diablo.

  • LostSocks

    falsion has it. While some people are indeed moral robots, there are there counterparts like Lyx, who are desensitised and accept anything as okay, with no line being drawn. I personally don’t believe in a line either, but degration of real art like this for the sake of press pisses me off more than the actual game (my opinion on the game itself is mostly uncaring). Think about it. This guy’s name is known well now. That’s bullshit.

    If you don’t read any of that, consider this at least–he said it’s partially a critisism of the Iraq war, yet he made it the day of the attack.

    And Pyrrhon, of course the Japanese don’t get too pissy about that. There country was at war, it’s hardly comparable to 2000 people being killed because of what amounts to racism.

  • Hmmm…

    I think there is quite a bit that needs to be taken into consideration here. First of all, Americans tend to generalize others and themselves. That’s the first mistake and one made on a broad range. Unfortunately that statement in itself is a generalization so I really should narrow it down and state what I really mean behind it. There is no other nation (aside from North Korea – but then, make sure you look at exactly what forms of media they actually have) that is controlled by their own media as much as America and Americans. They eat, sleep, and breath it and it is a strong source of their happiness but also their pain, sadness, fear, and anger. They are bombarded so much by their own media with “do’s and dont’s, what’s hot, what’s not, and fed large doses of fear and chaos each day through the media (where as poorer countries actually live it), it’s not hard to understand from an outside view why Americans are so “fucked up”. This isn’t a knock against Americans, but I think that clearly the criticism has to come from within first and not from any of the outsiders. The reason being, much like a friend or relative who is struggling through life, try as you or we might, there is no real way to help them, it comes down to those beings to help themselves.

    With that said, I think we need to be sensitive and tactful when dealing with people who may fall under a certain category and be offended by certain subject matter but at the same time, does that mean that because I’ve created something in electronic entertainment (and media) and it has controversial subject matter, that I’m intentionally trying to shove this creation down peoples throats? Or is this a development of my own personal reflections and feelings? If so then obviously it wasn’t created to offend or hurt anyone, but perhaps as a developer I should state my feelings behind the game so people understand why I made it, or perhaps I shouldn’t have to justify it at all.

    I think the subject is open for a lot of debate and whether we’ll find an answer (through discussion) in the near future is anybody’s guess. I do, however, suspect that this sort of trivialized controversy will only continue to grow, especially if there are attempts to stifle it and peoples creativity – whether we agree with it or whether we believe sensitivity or tactfulness should or could be involved or not.

    It’s a very interesting subject though and one that should be discussed and thought about. Hopefully in the end we can find the answers and solutions that will make us comfortable enough to live with even when we don’t agree with the controversy or subject matter but simply because we’ve found that which is common in all of us as human beings, not just as nations of people. Since, in the end, that is only a smaller part of what we are if we really looked at it from a point of view that wasn’t focused on ourselves or self-centered.

  • Psychotronic

    Who cares if Stanley is famous now? People get famous for trivial reasons all the time. Maybe next week, Miley Cyrus will chip her tooth on a Wiimote, and everyone can take rabid, frothing sides about that.

    Seriously, come on. So Douglas Stanley made a piece of art. So what? I haven’t actually seen it, so I can’t pass any kind of judgment on it, but from the description I read, it sounds like a pretty straightforward analogy between our attitude towards hostile foreigners and our attitude towards the Space Invaders. Is that a valid connection to make? I don’t know, but that’s what the conversation should be about – not whether he should have made the work at all.

    Making a political installation piece doesn’t threaten “art”, and it doesn’t threaten “games”. People who want to make fun games will continue to do so, and people who make a living painting landscapes will keep doing it until they run out of food.

    Art like Stanley’s is no threat to anyone. The ideas that he is exploring by making the piece are a threat, though. A big one. People died today because of those ideas, and they will die tomorrow. Eventually, people are going to have to start talking about the raw emotions that 911 (and, apparently, Space Invaders) bring up, and it should be sooner rather than later. Stanley probably missed the mark with his approach this time. Offended too many people at the same time, for too many different reasons. Maybe he’ll learn from the fallout and make a cleaner incision next time, or somebody else will.

    In the mean time, if you don’t like political art, then ignore it. The only time art generates this kind of controversy is when it’s dealing with a topic that needs to be dealt with.

  • chutup

    I don’t think people should be complaining about this game on a moral ground. Stanley has a right to free speech like anyone else, and nobody could argue that this game qualifies as ‘obscenity’, although it may be copyright infringement.

    The reason people should be complaining about this game is because it’s dumb, and lazy. Dumb because it shoves a bleeding-obvious message (“AMAMRICA IS EVILLL”) down our throats in an extremely shallow and uninteresting style. And lazy because the actual gameplay is ripped straight from Space Invaders.

    So, in summary, this guy sounds like a total wanker but he should still be allowed to peddle his stupid game to anyone dumb enough to like it.

  • Psychotronic

    In what way is he saying that America is evil?

  • arrogancy

    For someone who claims to be doing something artistic, I find it odd that he doesn’t “get” a film as obvious as Taxi driver. Hopefully that was a misquote or something, and he seriosuly didn’t think that xenophobia had anything to do with that film. Of course if it did, that would help to explain why the best commentary he could come up with is what is essentially a weak troll as opposed to maybe a real game that actually explored the nature of what he was claiming to expouse.

  • Yellow

    “And Pyrrhon, of course the Japanese don’t get too pissy about that. There country was at war, it’s hardly comparable to 2000 people being killed because of what amounts to racism.”

    Ummm, what? Since when is human life less valued when a country is at war? I hope you realise that as many as 220,000 people were killed in the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombings. Racist.

  • David Stoner

    I’m going to make a game about Pearl Harbor and no one will care.

  • Spiff

    To all of you wankers saying people who get angry over 9/11 are unthinking morality zombies who need to get over it because people die all the time, let me say this: I hope you all lose loved ones in brutal murders, and then have to watch others use those deaths for their own self-serving political and monetary ends most publicly in various media forms for years to come. Maybe then you will understand that just because free speech in the TV/internet media era is allowed, it doesn’t mean you should ignore the basic decency that mankind deserves.
    True, this is not the first, last, or hardly most egregious example of tragedy caused by hate and twisted belief (I can’t fathom how someone could compare car accidents to purposeful slaughter for the sake of whatever god they worship), but that doesn’t make the game maker any less of a douche. I swear, I am afraid to think of what some of you would say if someone came up with with something to parody Darfur or the Munich Massacre, or whatever politically and religiously charged killings in recent times, all for the sake of standing out as a ‘radical’.
    Also, I can guarantee you that a WW2 era game where the goal is to nuke as many Japanese cities as possible for mega pointz, including real-life scale cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is not going to go down well with quite a few people in Japan.

  • Towerofprostitutes

    Oh gee, another “artgame” made for the purpose of stirring up controversy, which, conveniently enough, also happens to further prove my theory that %77.1 of the gaming community is filled with complete retards! Just what I needed after a day of dealing with the same stupid shit that I deal with every day!

  • haowan

    Seems like an awesome installation. Why pull it if it’s doing exactly the job it was intended to do?

  • Oob

    It seems like a lot of the backlash from this comes from people who have only read about the game very briefly. From what I can tell the installation as a whole is neither offensive nor especially controversial (in fact the artist removed it because it was being taken this way). If anything it’s a repeat of a now common statement about modern American culture. Chill the fuck out.

  • Bajatar

    We need controversial art. It doesn’t matter how good or bad it is. If we force ourselves to stop making controversial statements, we fall in line with the patriotic, all-swallowing numbnuts that never question anything they get told. There are too many “moral authorities” that cry about everything out of the ordinary for political, religious or economic reasons.

    Non-perfect controversial art, go!


    All you fucking Americans who just go “OH NO! YOU CANT DO THIS IT WAS A TRAGEDY YOU HORRIBLE PERSON!!!” deserve to be shot!

    If you can’t say anything worthwhile, don’t say anything at all!

    Now, I don’t like America, I think it’s a fine country with shit leaders and citizens who (mostly, not all of you) have no brain and listen to the media for the sole purpose that the media knows all, but that’s not the influence behind this comment.

    I’m saying this because I’m sick of you bastards sitting in your chairs thinking “I’m so fucking righteous, this guy’s a scumbag for speaking his fucking mind, in a nevertheless ambiguous way.”

    If you can’t fucking hack it, go hang yourself.
    You, scum.

  • bateleur

    Controversial art is all very well, but the statement this piece seems to be making is ridiculously basic.

    Rhetorical question: is even one person going to look at this game and suddenly have their mind opened to alternate perspectives on US foreign policy?

    I wouldn’t have thought so.

    This being the case, I wonder what the point is supposed to be?

  • Towerofprostitutes

    Bajatar: So basically we should further clog the arteries of gaming by making shitty, boring “art” that only lard-ass sniggering Hideo Kojima worshiping losers like? Gee, that’s going to make people accept gaming as an art form.

  • http://www.seznamzbozi.cz/notebooky-c3100/ Notebook Jack

    Hey guys, take it easy, calm down :)

  • Towerofprostitutes


  • cuntface

    I’m with Towerofprostitutes. Let’s get back to concentrating on individuals attempting to make good videogames.

    That being said, Stanley’s entire approach to this installation appears somewhat amateurish to me, from not securing the rights from Taito to choosing a shallow but controverisal message all the way down to his premature retraction of it.

    What surprises me most is that the organisers of the convention went along with this installation in the first place. The very concept reeks of cheap sensationalism and a very, very shallow understanding of the historic events, the possible reactions AND video game culture.

    All in all, it reminds me a lot of the video art clip “Flesh” (http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=HRTCwBB4buc, NSFW), another attempt at combining 9/11 imagery with videogame – and porn – aesthetics, which generated similar reactions when it was released a few years back.

  • Sigvatr

    Offending Americans is illegal.

  • Duke Nukem


    It’s time to kick ass and chew bubblegum.
    And I’m all outta gum…

  • johnny

    wait, america isn’t the only country in the world?