The October 12 release of Electronic Arts' latest version of its “Medal of Honor” game generated impressive buzz and brisk pre-orders, despite a firestorm of controversy that resulted in military authorities' decision not to sell the game on its bases.
The game's creators came under fire in the months before the release after it was discovered that in the multi-player mode, there would be an option for players to assume the role of the Taliban and kill virtual American Soldiers.
According to PC Magazine and VentureBeat.com, EA didn't fully remove the option to play as the Taliban, but merely renamed the Taliban as “Opposition Forces.” The gaming crowd is no group of fools: in a post September 11th world and an
The Culture and Media Institute noted back in September that military authorities were not happy with the option to play as
British officials were not so diplomatic in their comments about the game. British Defense Secretary Liam Fox was “disgusted and angry” over the “shocking” and “tasteless” option.
Army Specialist Justin Holnbeck, currently stationed at
“… In fact I'm probably not going to play it,” he said. “I have no interest in playing the game or seeing that side of it … What does bother me about it is that it can be detrimental to the overall idea of what exactly is going on. It's war, and by portraying soldiers as cheap, respawnable, and essentially lifeless characters, it's pretty much destroying an already fractured outlook on the military and what really happens in war.”
But Holnbeck also sees the value in video games that focus on the strength of the U.S. Military. “I suppose just as it can cheapen the value of what the game is portraying, it could also reinforce it,” he said. “It could even motivate some kids to join the service, because I would lying if I said I haven't met soldiers in my career that had reasons for joining that were too far off from something like that … Overall I'd say it's indifference for your average soldier. A lot of us have come to terms with the fact that the general public, including video games, really doesn't understand anything about the military. All they know is stuff they see in the movies.”
Holnbeck wasn't so pleased with Electronic Arts' decision to change the name from “Taliban” to “Opposition Forces.”
“As for the name change, I'd say they should have kept it,” Holnbeck said. “Own up to what they tried to create, any defense they might have offered as to why they made being a Taliban insurgent a possibility, definitely had its integrity attacked when they switched the name. It's not like people don't understand what it is, or what exactly is going on. They probably did it to appease people, but it's still the same principle. I will say though that they're not the first game to do something like this by far, they are however the first game to outright and openly call one side the Taliban, while other games have gotten away with stuff like "Middle Eastern coalition.”
According to the same LA Times article, this isn't the first time a gaming company has attempted to put a controversial game out on the market. “Last year, another game company, Konami Digital Entertainment, bowed to public pressure and canceled an ambitious game that re-enacted a pivotal battle in the
But the broader point is that if it is offensive to American families with loved ones serving overseas, is it at all respectful to produce a game in which players can pretend to shoot currently embattled US troops in an ongoing war.