Monday, 16 August 2010

Electronic Arts Criticized for Taliban Multiplayer Decision

Electronic Arts saw some kickback when they decided to put the next game in their Medal of Honor series, a series that had never been set outside of World War II, in the Afghanistan war which is still ongoing. They're starting to see more now that it's been made clear that the game's multiplayer lets you play as the Taliban themselves. On Fox News Network, a far-right leaning network in the United States, Karen Meredith, a mother of a soldier who died in Afghanistan, called the game "disrespectful", adding:

"We've just come off of the worst month of casualties in the whole war, and this game is going to be released in October - so families who are burying their children are going to be seeing this, and playing this game... I just don't see that a videogame based on a current war makes any sense at all, it's disrespectful."

For their part, EA has brushed off the criticism:
"Medal of Honor is set in today's war putting players in the boots of today's soldier... we give gamers the opportunity to play both sides. Most of us having (sic) been doing this since we were seven - if someone's the cop, someone's gotta be the robber, someone's gotta be the pirate and someone's gotta be the alien... in Medal of Honor multi-player, someone's gotta be the Taliban."

I'll try to keep my thoughts on this concise: as a veteran of the Iraq War, I have no intention of going back in time. That part of my life is done, I'm glad I don't have to go back, and my idea of fantasy and escapism is absolutely not to fight in a war I participated in as a member of the United States Navy. I don't even have reminders of it around my house; my medals and ribbons from my days in the service are locked away somewhere, I don't have any uniforms around the house, and the only reminder that I was even in the service is a picture I took of the area that would become Ground Zero from the deck of my last ship during 9/11.

That said, while the sailor in me has no desire to go fight the war again, whether in reality or fantasy, the gamer in me - the one that feels games are art, despite what Roger Ebert says - realizes that there is an artistic statement to be made about this war. There are two sides to most wars - I'll qualify "most" in a minute - and it's jingoistic to deny that, no matter what side you're on. To deny this is to be a propagandist. That "art" is lost once you go into multiplayer, where the only goal is shoot anyone that doesn't look like you, congrats, you win a trophy. At this point, you're no longer even paying attention to the whos and whats of the situation; you're only playing for points. Unfortunately, some 16 year old kid with his hand down his knickers isn't going to think about just who he's playing as as he's on the Taliban team, much like he wasn't thinking about it when he played the Source mod Insurgency. He doesn't think about how the Taliban implements Sharia Law - does he even know what Sharia Law is? - or the visceral results of that. And therein lies the problem: he's desensitized to something that has killed my friends and servicemates, continues to affect our lives daily, and is not being exploited for profit.

I saw EA's cavalier approach to this when I went to an event in NYC in July. One of the games they were showing off was the new Medal of Honor game, and there wasn't much to say about it as the engine was still in alpha stages. But I had to stand there as this guy went on about the consultants they brought in, and the things they couldn't tell us because they were secret, and how bullets make the dust kick up, and how amazingly "realistic" it was. It was all I could do not to scream "what the **** do you know about war, you ******". At the end, they gave out "pride patches", which were meant to simulate the patches soldiers, marines and sailors wear on their uniforms to denote who they serve with. I was speechless. And as I sit here, looking at these sharply-designed patches and comparing them to my own - just a little shoulder badge with "CVN-73 USS George Washington" on it - it's hard to even get mad at the guy. It'd be like getting angry at a dog for licking himself in front of company; neither one knows better. But don't think for a minute EA cares about anyone's opinion. They're going to make money off of the game, and are likely banking on negative reaction being a good thing.

Simply put, I don't "have" to play as the Taliban, because I won't be buying the game. I didn't even redeem the beta codes I got. I gave them away.

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