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Is It Okay to Play as the Taliban in Medal of Honor?

When it was first revealed that EA’s modern day reboot of Medal of Honor would take place in Afghanistan rather than some fictional Middle Eastern country like Activision’s Modern Warfare, it got me more interested in the game. The fact that they weren’t hiding behind a made up name so they could get away with controversial subject matter struck me as brave. But when I found out this would extend to the online multiplayer, with one side as American soldiers and the other playing as members of the Taliban, I knew it was only a matter of time before this became a public controversy.

Sure enough, it started this week. Fox News ran a segment interviewing the mother of a soldier who died in the war, arguing that the game is inappropriate and should not be sold. Her rationale being that games about World War II are different because it ended 65 years ago, unlike Iraq and Afghanistan where young soldiers are still dying today. To Fox’s credit they tried to present both sides of the story, including reading a quote by EA defending the game. But the story continued to spread, leading to more comments, like one from a current soldier likening the game to war profiteering.

Being a strong defender of freedom of speech, I don’t have a problem with the multiplayer in Medal of Honor. I can separate the game from reality in my mind, and could easily play as a Taliban soldier without feeling that I was betraying the memory of our fallen troops or anything. I can also understand why someone would not want to play the game, and find it abhorrent. I don’t have a close connection to anyone who was lost in the war. But plenty of people do, and they’re within their rights to ignore a game they find offensive, or even tell people what they don’t like about it. I draw the line at trying to get it banned, but I understand the emotion.

That being said, I almost have as much of a problem with the common defense of the game’s multiplayer as I do with any possible attempt to prevent its release. The basic argument is that it’s just a game, that when you play cops and robbers someone has to be the robber; that it doesn’t really matter. But this is coming from some of the same people who are defending video games as an intelligent medium for entertainment, and even an art form. How can we get angry at Roger Ebert for believing a video game cannot be art, while at the same time saying Medal of Honor’s multiplayer isn’t a big deal because it’s just a game? While I hesitate to use the phrase “have your cake and eat it too” (why would anyone want to have cake and not eat it?), that’s what some people are trying to do here.

I don’t agree with the proposition that EA is trying to profit from real people’s pain and loss with the game, because while I admitted to being more interested in the game because of its real setting, the fact that they’re being honest about it rather than hiding behind a fiction suggests that they ultimately believe in artistic integrity and are willing to deal with the inevitable controversy that the game would cause. That the issue did arise makes me think that the stance could hurt sales just as easily as it could help. But they should be willing to stand behind the product and defend its merits without resorting to pulling the “It’s just a game” card, and so should the people who want to play it.


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