On the Medal of Honor Controversy

We live in an age of artificial controversies and manufactured indignation.

How else to explain the kerfuffle over the new Medal of Honor video game? Medal of Honor has, for a decade now, been one of the top military first-person shooters, all set around World War II. The first game was loosely based on Saving Private Ryan (indeed, I believe it began as a Saving Private Ryan game, until EA realized they could have a franchise on their hands if they ditched the license). While the games always had a single-player mode where you had to play the campaign as part of the Allies, in the multiplayer deathmatch modes you could play on either the Allied or Axis side. There wasn’t a story in the multiplayer mode; like all first-person shooters, the goal in the deathmatch modes was pretty much “kill or be killed.”

The new Medal of Honor game updates the setting. Previous MoH games were World War II shooters, and let’s be honest — there’s only so many times you can retake Omaha Beach. (Personally, I’m waiting for the realistic World War I FPS, complete with trench rot. Or the Revolutionary War FPS with a realistic rate of fire — one bullet every three minutes.) The new Medal of Honor moves the setting into the present day, like Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and in the campaign mode the gamer is an American solider on a mission to rid the mountain passes of Afghanistan of Taliban insurgents. In the multiplayer mode players can take the role of Taliban fighters.

In the United Kingdom, Defence Secretary Liam Fox wants the game banned. It won’t be for sale at GameStop locations at American military bases, either. The reason?

Fox:

It’s shocking that someone would think it acceptable to recreate the acts of the Taliban. At the hands of the Taliban, children have lost fathers and wives have lost husbands. I am disgusted and angry. It’s hard to believe any citizen of our country would wish to buy such a thoroughly un-British game. I would urge retailers to show their support for our armed forces and ban this tasteless product.

Military spokesman Major General Bruce Casella:

We regret any inconvenience this may cause authorised shoppers, but are optimistic that they will understand the sensitivity to the life and death scenarios this product presents as entertainment.

Their issues seem to be 1) that you can kill American and British soldiers in the game and 2) in reality the Taliban are really really bad people who kill civilians.

However, I would point out that in the first Medal of Honor, where you could play as a Nazi soldier in the multiplayer modes, 1) you killed American and British soldiers in the game and 2) in reality the Nazis were really really bad people who killed civilians.

Why is it alright to play a video game as German World War II soldiers, but not play a video game as a Taliban fighter?

I would also point out that, insofar as the multiplayer modes are concerned, there is no storyline. The goal is to kill and to survive; the face that you’re wearing in the game, the face of the person you kill, is really quite arbitrary.

Just because I like crushing Napoleon in Age of Empires III, for instance, doesn’t mean I have some genocidal streak when it comes to the French. I have no animus towards old Boney; I just wish he’d man up and stop crying like a baby.

There is a point to be made that, perhaps, the use of a modern conflict is what makes the difference. But Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has already gone there, and Nick Cowen of The Telegraph puts it thusly: “There may be a sensible debate to had about the merits of using a current, ongoing conflict as the subject matter in any entertainment format. But a ban is not condusive to this. A ban stifles any chance of reasonable discussion and simply maintains the status quo.”

I think of this — concerns over playing as the Taliban in a video game — and the outcry over the building of a Islamic community center in downtown Manhattan, and I wonder if the two are related.

Back to Medal of Honor.

First, it’s just a game.

Second, the people who are old enough to buy the game are going to know it’s a game.

Third, it’s not a Taliban recruiting tool.

Fourth, it doesn’t encourage terrorism, not does it offer even tacit approval of the Taliban and their tactics.

Fifth, it’s just a game.

I’m not going to play Medal of Honor; I’m not a fan of the FPS style, and it doesn’t interest me. But that doesn’t mean that others can’t play it. Or that governments and their agents should tell others that they can’t.

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