super mario bros. (NES)

do you remember video games from the 80’s?  that’s when i played my first games – the super mario brothers / duck hunt double cartridge on a nintendo my parents bought me as a birthday present my for my 7th in 1988.  needless to say, back then games were completely different, where 8 bit color was high graphics and the A and B buttons on th NES controller were a total enhancement over previous systems.  720 and 1080p flatscreens?  nope, sorry, we had 256 colors in brilliant phosphor on our big screen 25″ tv’s.  and it was wonderful.

it’s been more than 20 years since then.  i’m almost 30.  seeing games explode over the years into complex stories set in visually stunning landscapes, and expanding into the online realm, i am just as into games now as i was then, if not more.  which means that i and people like me view them somewhat differently – not just as distractions, but increasingly powerful multimedia engines that are capable of capturing an audience and conveying thoughts and ideas.  sometimes even more effectively than television or movies.  which means they’re going to increasingly cause some controversy.  in that way gaming has become a very broad and easy target for politicians to assault from their soapboxes with constant media coverage.

medal of honor (2010)

the reason i bring this up is recent controversy and almost rage surrounding EA’s most recent reboot of their medal of honor game.  for those not familiar with the medal of honor franchise, it’s a series of first-person shooter style games that’s been highly successful for a little over a decade.  the main backdrop for all of these games has so far been world war II, and puts players in the shoes of allied soldiers, in various scenarios and theaters of conflict.  the upcoming reboot of the series shifts the focus of the franchise to the war in afghanistan, namely operation anaconda, which took place in 2001.  where the controversy arises is that in MOH multiplayer mode, one side plays as the allies while the other side plays as the taliban.  that last part is what people have problems with.  this started from the UK’s minister of defence liam fox, who called the game “tasteless” and “shocking that someone would think it acceptable to recreate the acts of the taliban against british soldiers.”

the game doesn’t actually doesn’t have any british soldiers in it.  but i’ll let him slide on that for now, since his sentiment is really what was important here.

a report on fox news was a little more local.  this report featured gold star mom karen merideth with the sentiment that “war is not a game,” who had this to say:  “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 going to be burying their children are going to be seeing this and playing this game. i just don’t see that a video game based on a current war makes any sense at all. it’s disrespectful.”

you can see the whole fox news clip on ars technica.

medal of honor (2010)

again, this game only allows players to play as the taliban during multiplayer mode, not during the campaign missions.  the reason for this is the same as it’s always been.  you need two teams – if one team is playing as the good guys, then the other team has to be the bad guys.  it’s been a constant theme in gaming over the last many years.  counter strike multiplayer was counter-terrorists vs terrorists.  MOH: allied assault multiplayer was allies vs axis.  command and conquer’s global liberation army was a terrorist faction.  and i don’t remember such outbursts during those releases, even for WWII based games featuring nazi factions in multiplayer settings.

hell, you’ve probably even played cops and robbers as kids.  or maybe cowboys and indians?

point being, there always has to be a bad guy.  and no one at EA is trying to make an argument that the taliban aren’t bad guys.  it is extremely clear that the taliban are the bad guys.  and the campaign missions don’t go through taliban storylines or have the player plot the demise of american forces.  they focus on tier one operators operating under the command of the national command authority, elite ops and army rangers.  you know, the good guys.

that aside, i can understand where those who share the minister’s point of view are coming from.  and i’m not insensitive to ms merideth and other like-minded people.  the wounds of war are very deep, and perhaps too fresh in the minds of people.  but i think that this game is about exploring the experience of the american soldier, not being a terrorist.  EA’s team is still proud of the work they’re doing, and in response to criticism, EA president frank gibeau had the following:

“at EA we passionately believe games are an artform, and i don’t know why films and books set in afghanistan don’t get flack, yet [games] do. whether it’s red badge of courage or the hurt locker, the media of its time can be a platform for the people who wish to tell their stories. games are becoming that platform.”

“games have been set in afghanistan before. we anticipated this [controversy] when we decided on the concept of the game – this is about being a special forces solider. what’s really important for us is that we partnered with the US military, and the medal of honor society as well. we’ve gone out of our way to produce the best story for the game.”  videos of interviews with the people that consulted from these organizations can be found on the official medal of honor site.

i’m not really a huge fan of the medal of honor series, mainly because i lost interest in the whole military FPS genre years ago, but i still feel that had to put in my two cents in on the criticisms against it.  it’s very easy speak out against something without really taking a deep look at it.  in this case, the phrase “play as taliban” is causing red flags without a real look at the context.  EA isn’t forcing people to purchase or play this game, so not purchasing it is a completely valid option.  it’s true, war is not a game.  but we also have to remember the reverse, that a game is not war.

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Author and creator of Technical Fowl. IT/Tech hero. Jiu Jitsu purple belt. Enjoying the venn diagram intersection of tech, gaming, business, and politics.

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Anonymous August 26, 2010 at 8:34 pm

In the point of one team must be good and the other bad is incorrect. Take America's Army, which ever team you are on, attacking or defending, you see yourself and your teamates rendered as the army and the opposing team is rendered as insurgents. So which ever side you are on you are always shooting "the enemy".

tushar August 26, 2010 at 10:33 pm

hi anonymous, thanks for your comment! always love discussion on these. you know, when it happens.

in multiplayer i completely agree with you – the objective is simply to neutralize the other team, be it attacking or defending. same with the whole "cowboys and indians" thing – players only care about who won.

but based on the arguments of those who are speaking out against the game, my interpretation is more that they can't differentiate the multiplayer mode from the campaign missions, which is really why i wrote this.

to people with familiarity in the FPS genre this isn't an issue but there are others who are very easily influenced by the key words like "taliban" – even in a game rated for players 17 and up in the states.

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About Tushar

Author and creator of Technical Fowl. IT/Tech hero. Jiu Jitsu purple belt. Enjoying the venn diagram intersection of tech, gaming, business, and politics.


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