Rendition: Guantanamo (lost build of cancelled PC and Xbox 360 action game; 2009)
This article has been tagged as NSFL due to its discussion of torture at the Bagram Theater Internment Facility and the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
Rendition: Guantanamo is a cancelled Xbox 360 and PC 3D action game. Developed by T-Enterprise, the game would be set in January 2010, with the player controlling a prisoner seeking to escape the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The game was slated for a release in October 2009 but was ultimately cancelled due to overwhelming controversy surrounding the game's premise and mainstream media accusations that its development was somehow linked to Al Qaeda.
Rendition: Guantanamo was first announced in March 2009 for the Xbox 360 and Game for Windows. By May 2009, Scottish developers T-Enterprise had already spent a year and two months producing the game. The first mainstream game T-Enterprise was creating, development began upon receiving permission from then-Strathclyde Police chief Stephen House, House having found no concerns with the game's premise. According to T-Enterprise director Zarrar Chishti, the game would be created as form of statement, insisting "We express ourselves through our games. The firm is run by Muslims and we were disgusted by Guantanamo so we decided to come up with an Xbox 360 game." This is referring to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, which was opened in January 2002 as part of the United States' War on Terror campaign following the 9/11 attacks. It has been primarily utilised as a prison for individuals suspected of being terrorists, including those captured by US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Overtime, Guantanamo Bay has been condemned by humanitarian organisations like Amnesty International for severe human rights violations. Among these included allegedly placing hundreds of prisoners within the camp indefinitely without charge, and for harnessing numerous torture methods during interrogations like beatings, waterboardings, and sexual abuse. The game was being developed in a time period when then-US President Barrack Obama was considering closing the camp. Ultimately, Guantanamo Bay remains active to this day, following US Congress opposition that prevented the inmates from being transferred to the US. The game would be set in January 2010, the date T-Enterprise assumed the camp would be officially closed. The premise involved the player controlling a Yemeni prisoner suspected of being affiliated with terrorist groups, Guantanamo Bay being controlled not by the US, but mercenaries that are members of the Freedom Corp. The mercenaries not only tortured the prisoners, but would also subject them to scientific experiments. Accordingly, the inmates featured would have torture wounds reflective of methods allegedly used at the camp. The player's objective would be to shoot their way out of the camp, take down their captors, and rescue their son who is been held hostage. This all suggests the game may have been intended as a first-person or third-person shooter.
The game was subject to mainstream news when T-Enterprise announced former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Moazzam Begg was brought in as a consultant. Begg, a father of three and a British citizen, had travelled to Afghanistan in 2001 to enhance water supplies and contribute towards the construction of new schools. Following an attack on the country, he had retreated to Pakistan, only to be arrested by CIA officers and transferred to the Bagram Theater Internment Facility from February 2002 to February 2003. Begg claims he was repeatedly subject to physical, sexual, and verbal abuse, and saw two prisoners beaten to death by the guards. He was then transferred to Guantanamo Bay, where despite not being charged, was allegedly subject to solitary confinement, denied legal aid, and had no access to the outside world. He was released back to the UK in January 2005 without charge, with him and seven other former prisoners suing the British government for conspiring with overseas torture of inmates. Since then, Begg has been a major commentator and critic of anti-terror measures, and is the outreach director of CAGE, an organisation campaigning seeking to support groups and detainees affected by the War on Terror.
Begg's involvement in Rendition: Guantanamo's development was not politically motivated according to T-Enterprise, but would allow them to design the game's prison based on Begg's knowledge of its layout. Further, Begg would provide "three days of sound" for T-Enterprise, with a 3D render of him being incorporated into the game. Despite claims alleging otherwise, the game's main protagonist was not Begg, but an inmate referred to as Adam. Adam would receive guidance from Begg on escaping the prison. Begg himself would state that "The only thing I am concerned about is making sure the game does not misrepresent the prisoners. This will not demean the reality of Guantanamo but it could bring those issues to people who would not usually think about it. If anything happens that might trivialise the experience I would pull out. I'm involved to make sure it is as true to life as possible." According to Chishti, Begg was initially sceptical regarding the game, but would later change his mind and would even agree to work on a planned trilogy. This was after Begg requested complete creative control, which was granted.
The game had a £250,000 budget; T-Enterprise hoped to generate £3 million from sales, predicting a strong commercial reception in the Middle East. Rendition: Guantanamo was intended for release in October 2009, with T-Enterprise searching for a publisher. Had it been unable to, the organisation was aiming to release it on Xbox Live Arcade, with the ambition that sequels would receive interest from publishers. A Windows release was deemphasised over time but was still seemingly in development based on various reports. Begg himself would receive a share of the revenue but intended to donate it to CAGE.
Controversy and Cancellation
Even before Begg's involvement became public knowledge, Rendition: Guantanamo received backlash from some concerned the game would showcase the player killing US and British soldiers. T-Enterprise director Zarrar Chishti expected this as such, stating his company faced numerous hate mail, mostly from America, about this issue. He insisted that not only would no soldiers would be killed, and that the enemies would instead be an mercenary group called "Freedom Corp", but also the game would not be "too extreme" following meetings with politicians. But following news of Begg's appointment and the release of the game's teaser trailer, negative mainstream attention arose surrounding both the game and its developers. Among vocal critics included Fox News, Weekly Standard's Tom Joscelyn, and radio host Rush Limbaugh, the latter believing Bill Gates was involved in the game's development. Further, some, such as then-Birmingham City councillor Salma Yaqoob, were concerned the game's premise could potentially exploit the current inmates at the prison, Yaqoob nevertheless insisting she would support the game providing it "helps to bring attention to the situation."
However, the biggest critics were Vets for Freedom, a political advocacy organisation consisting of US veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Under then-chairman Pete Hegseth Vets for Freedom promoted significant pressure to prevent the game's release. In a statement, Hegseth strongly criticised Rendition: Guantanamo's concept, believing it to be "a blatant attempt to twist reality and change the perception of the American soldier." Vets for Freedom were also against having the protagonist be the detainee, and the supposed American soldiers being the enemy, claiming that by selling it in the Middle East, it may well promote the stereotype that US troops are the enemies and prisoners the heroes. Their main gripe, however, was with Begg's involvement, Hegseth accusing Begg of training in a Al Qaeda facility and making several torture claims at Guantanamo Bay without providing tangible evidence. Other media sites spread accusations claiming that T-Enterprise's hiring of Begg meant they were working with someone allegedly connected to terrorist organisation Al Qaeda. The Weekly Standard even went as far as labelling the game a "piece of Al Qaeda propaganda in the making."
Following further alleged hate mail and media articles accusing the game of promoting propaganda or recruiting for terrorism, T-Enterprise would announce the cancellation of Rendition: Guantanamo on 3rd June 2009. In a statement on the game's official website, Chishti denied the main character was Begg, stating the character was fictional and called Adam, with Begg acting as a guide. The source behind Begg allegedly being the main protagonist originated from a BBC News article reporting on his involvement. Chishti claimed Adam was also not a terrorist but would be imprisoned after being mistaken for one. Further, Chishti insisted T-Enterprise was completely against terrorism, and would never have had Al Qaeda connections. After also reiterating no American or British troops would have been killed in the game, Chishti summarised that "The game was simply designed to be an action video game that adults could enjoy" before the overwhelmingly negative response forced the developers to cancel the game. It has since been listed by ABC News as one of nine games that ultimately went too far, due to the public backlash it received for its premise.
Rendition: Guantanamo's development was estimated to have been around 25% complete according to its developers. However, likely stemming from the negative reaction to the game, no build has ever publicly leaked. Most of the game's materials are also inaccessible, the only released media connected to the game being a one-minute teaser trailer, showcasing the main character contemplating escaping the prison. The teaser trailer itself also became lost media for many years, as it was removed from the game's official website once the cancellation statement was published. It was reuploaded to YouTube by NeoGamer - The Video Game Archive on 26th July 2019.
- Archived Game Politics reporting on the announcement of the game. Retrieved 11th Jan '23
- Archived Sunday Mail reporting on Begg appointed for the game, which had been in development for a year and two months at that point. Retrieved 11th Jan '23
- Deadline Scotland reporting on the game's announcement, development having started upon received permission from police chiefs and politicians. Retrieved 11th Jan '23
- ABC News listing Rendition: Guantanamo as one of the games that went too far, also containing a quote from Chishti about T-Enterprise's transition from web games to mainstream. Retrieved 11th Jan '23
- Birmingham Mail reporting on the game's premise, Begg's involvement and motivations, and concerns regarding the game. Retrieved 11th Jan '23
- Council on Foreign Relations providing a detailed overview of Guantanamo Bay and the various controversies it has faced over the years. Retrieved 11th Jan '23
- Amnesty International's summary of its opposition of Guantanamo Bay. Retrieved 11th Jan '23
- MCV reporting on the game's development, T-Enterprise's aims of finding a publisher, and Begg requesting complete creative control. Retrieved 11th Jan '23
- Archived CBS News reporting on Begg being brought in as a consultant, sales expectations, and the game being developed for the Xbox 360 and PC. Retrieved 11th Jan '23
- Archived Channel 4 News where Begg discussed witnessing and being tortured at Bagram Theater Internment Facility and Guantanamo Bay. Retrieved 11th Jan '23
- Archived CBS News reporting on Begg and seven other former prisoners suing the British government concerning its complicity of detaining them. Retrieved 11th Jan '23
- The National News reporting on Begg and others suing the British government over its support of overseas torture. Retrieved 11th Jan '23
- The New York Times detailing Begg's becoming a public speaker and commentator following his release. Retrieved 11th Jan '23
- Columbia University Libraries summarising CAGE. Retrieved 11th Jan '23
- Archived statement on Rendition: Guantanamo's cancellation. Retrieved 11th Jan '23
- Birmingham Mail reporting on the game's cancellation and how Begg would be in the game as a guide. Retrieved 11th Jan '23
- Archived The Rush Limbaugh Show criticising the game and claiming Bill Gates was involved in its development. Retrieved 11th Jan '23
- Fox News reporting on and criticising the game, primarily for Begg's role as a consultant. Retrieved 11th Jan '23
- Escapist Magazine reporting on the game's cancellation and some of the claims made against it. Retrieved 11th Jan '23
- The Washington Times reporting on Vets for Freedom strongly opposing the game and Hegseth's comments. Retrieved 11th Jan '23
- Eurogamer reporting on the game's cancellation. Retrieved 11th Jan '23
- The Weekly Standard reporting on the game's cancellation and labelling it a "piece of al Qaeda propaganda in the making." Retrieved 11th Jan '23
- The Hill reporting on the game's cancellation and stating the Begg as main character claim originated from a BBC News article. Retrieved 11th Jan '23