Medal Of Honor's "It's Just A Game" Argument A Missed Opportunity

The ability to play as the Taliban forces in Medal of Honor could have been a defining moment in the history of video games. Sadly, it won't be.

Last year, a promising war title from Atomic Games that was set in the current conflict in Iraq ended up in development limbo, as publishers Konami backed down from releasing the game following a political debate over the morality of releasing a game set in a war that's still ongoing. There were also concerns about the involvement of insurgents in the development process.

This year, EA is publishing Medal of Honor. It's a war title, one set in a conflict that's still ongoing, only this time it's Afghanistan, not Iraq. Far from being in development limbo, it's shaping up to be one of the biggest games of the year, despite the fact that its multiplayer modes allow you to play as the Taliban.

Surely that's a point of contention, right? A game that allows you to play as a member of one of the most dangerous and despised (at least in the West) organisations in the world, one responsible directly for the deaths of thousands of Western soldiers and Afghani civilians and one of the most repressive regimes in recent history?

It is. And as we nudge closer to the game's October release date, you can bet questions will be raised over the morality and suitability of allowing young Western kids to play a game as the Taliban, where your objectives in a multiplayer game will be to kill digital American soldiers. Digital soldiers based on actual living, breathing American troops.

When those questions are asked, it would have been great to see the game's developers and publishers steel themselves, and be able to justify on creative and artistic grounds their decision to include a game mode where you could play as terrorists. And not fictional terrorists like those in Counter-Strike. Real ones, who are attacking and wounding and killing Western troops as you read this.

Magazine PSM3 asked recently. And got this response, from DICE's Patrick Liu.

"We can't get away from what the setting is and who the factions are but, in the end, it's a game, so we're not pushing or provoking too hard."

It's OK. It's just a game.

No! An established brand from a big-name publisher would have been a great moment for a games developer to make a statement. Do something that, beyond the crass, juvenile inclusion of things like ultra-violence, drugs and boobs, was genuinely controversial for a video game. Something political, something that took balls.

I don't mean this in terms of "making games art". That's not what this is about. This is about making games - or, at least, big-budget blockbuster games - something a little more impactful than the one-dimensional fodder we're mostly presented with.

I've seen plenty of movies where you see things from the "bad guy's" perspective. Read books, read comics, too. Stories where bad things are done to good people by Nazis, or Crusaders, or any number of other unsavoury types. They can be uncomfortable, but often that's what can make a work truly memorable, as they cause you to really consider the nature of a struggle, or one group's determination to wage war on another.

But no! Not in this game. You're not really playing as the Taliban. They're just multiplayer skins, EA aren't pushing it, it's just a game. Relax. It's just a game. Something trivial, something frivolous. Well, as long that's the defence for something as contentious as this, that's sadly all it will ever be.

[via Connected Consoles]


    Look at the controversy MW2 received because you could play as a terrorist and go on a shooting spree.

    Although, personally I dont care, I can see that playing as the Taliban is stirring the pot and will piss some people off.
    It could even be considered Taliban training by some of those anti-game nuts out there.

    The developers could have taken the 'Americas Army' path where you would always play as an American soldier regardless of what side you were on.
    Youre an American solider and from your eyes the other team are the terrorists. Vice versa for the other team. They see you running around with the terrorist skin on.

    So this isn't ok but playing as German soldiers and Nazis is? A little hypocritical methinks.

      Where did Luke say it wasn't ok?

      You're missing the point. Luke absolutely wants games to confront topics like this. But he wants them to do so in a mature way that might actually show that games can have something meaningful to say, like the best films and literature. Instead, we just get moronic statements from DICE saying, "It's just a game."

      It's incredibly disappointing. And so are the comments in the thread.

        Well, to be honest, at the end of the day it is just a game. It shouldn't matter if it is set in the present day or WW2 or anytime for that matter.

        The Japanese have to put up with killing their grandfathers in all those WW2 games, but when you play as the Taliban all of the sudden its controversial and what not.

        Look, I get where both you and Luke are coming from David. My question is what message do you think DICE could have possibly conveyed?

        This is just the multiplayer section of the game. There isn't really a story to tell, unless you count a glorification of the battle between the US and the Taliban a story.

        Were this a part of single-player in which a meaningful story was told from the of view of the Taliban (or a soldier in the Taliban), then I would totally agree. I'd love nothing more for DICE to come out and embrace the creative potential of the medium rather than dismiss it, but it would seem like single-player would be the place to do so.

        So what would you rather they had said? Keeping in mind this is a particular section of the game in which there is no story, just a very unrealistic portrayal of a war.

        I also get what you're saying David. I just think we interpret it differently.

        I think this is being drummed up into something it doesn't need to be. It's being given far too much attention just because it's terrorists.

        Terrorists have been a playable side in many videogames for over a decade, it's only controversial now because they've been given the name 'Taliban'.

        Part of the thing to think about, is that to help take away the threat of someone, to take away the fear, you breed familiarity. The Taliban at the current time, hardly anything is known by the general western society about them, they're the boogeyman, the posterchild for the demon in the closet. They're the modern day 'red under the bed' as such.

        So you take the power away from them somehow. This can also be seen as a small, minute way of doing that. I mean it's only a tiny way like I said, but enough pinholes in a giant ship and eventually it'll sink right?

        Personally I'd be sickened if they made a single player game where you got to play as a Taliban member. I remember when I first played NO RUSSIAN in MW2. I got a giggle about it the first time, I didn't put any thought into it.

        Then I was reading up some stuff on the net about some school shooting in Russia a few years back, putting things into context, it made things a little more 'real' I suppose. After reading that, and playing through NO RUSSIAN once more, I guess it lost its appeal to me. Now, it feels like a cheap, gimmicky level that I quite often skip, because quite frankly I don't think it adds anything to the storyline. I believe NO RUSSIAN in a way, could've potentially been shown entirely, and more effectively, in a cutscene.

        I think that had more to do with the single player immersion side of things though, the narrative of the scenario. Giving the player the choice to commit horrendous crimes against innocents with no repercussion. Die? RESPAWN! Go kill more innocents! But hey, that's my opinion. I know plenty of others who are cool with the level. I've never had that reaction with a game before, I guess since becoming a dad 6 years ago, my viewpoints changed a little with games.

        In this case with MOH, like others have said, it's the multiplayer side of things, a non-narrative driven scenario with armed military combatant vs armed military combatant, where two sides will duke it out on equal ground and that's it. You can bet your bottom dollar this will make FOX news and people will arc up about it for sure.

        I'm doubting there's going to be the option to set a carbomb and blow up 500 people in a market square... but I'm sure FOX News will tell us there is anyhow. I'll put money on that.

        But then, at the end of the day, you can argue the validity of their comment, or the ineptitude of it, the ins and outs of it... but the fact of the matter is, it is just a game. Inception is just a movie. The Mona Lisa is just a painting. Stairway to Heaven is just a song.

        It's what we learn from them that counts.

        Personally I give EA some credit for having the balls to point out the Elephant in the room, being one of the first games to openly name a real terrorist faction.

        But also, through this I learnt that sometimes we overreact to things and give more attention to them than they deserve?

        perhaps the next MOH should focus then on the GAZA strip to realy push some buttons. alternating stories between a young isreali conscripted into war at the prime time of his youth, and a palastinian ambulance worker who saw his co workers killed attempting to save a child from overzealous isreali troops, and decieds to start aiding Hamas. if your going to justify violence in the game, there needs to be a morality tale behind it, most first person shooters lack any attachment at least story wise to the protagonist. i think this is what seperates the genre of games to that of movies and novels whilst we play the protagonist we are somewhat detached from thier purpose, what is also lacking i think is any sense of the loss of humanity i would expect to see from fighting in a war, where is our full metal jacket moments, war is full of people sitting on the edge of sanity yet all i ever see is kind of action hero archetypes. i want to see a game where the hero comes home somewhat broken by what he as seen and done that he won the war at a cost of his mental stability and perhaps a limb.

      I know right? It is just a game. Live with it.

    Not a big deal. Stop making issues out of nothing.

    I think exposure to 'reality' is important especially for young people. There's a whole heap of mass ignorance amongst a certain middle class western demographic. It's important that people can 'see' to some extent what people of a similar age or generation are actually fighting for/against in a distant foreign land. TV shows like that '7pm Project' and 'just a game' games are a great medium for otherwise clueless people to get at least some sort of grasp on what's happening in our world. Perhaps even generating an opinion (which is our right in the west) and making decisions and stances on how and who to vote for etc.

    The issue here is with the 'just a game' comment, which almost entirely wipes out a sense of awareness that DICE could very well have been trying to convey.

    That being said, labelling it as 'just a game' should be enough to let it through to the public instead of it becoming a martyr for political enlightenment through gaming, which I don't think most of the younger generation of gamers are ready for yet, or understand.

    I just hope DICE have added cross-team chat in TDM matches, so I can yell "JIHAD! JIHAD!" for 5 minutes straight..... .

    It's not "just a game," as is misquoted multiple times. It's "a game," as Patrick said.

    It's a shooting game. How can you try to drive emotional depth into a game that involves you blowing the heads off your enemies? If you felt sympathy for anyone in the game, you wouldn't shoot them. What would you be doing then? Nothing. Watching. That's exactly what I did in the "No Russian" mission in MW2: nothing.

    I think EA is doing something brave. They're trying to represent real-life, modern military engagement from a neutral standpoint to a demographic that wants to observe modern warfare. Any terrorist-sympathetic politics would not only be despised by Americans and affiliated anti-game groups, but as I mentioned earlier - sympathy in a military shooter removes the motivation to continue playing the game. Bad idea, no?

    If you want a game with emotional depth, play Heavy Rain. At least you have the -option- of killing.

      I think you are right Sage. A straight war FPS is maybe not the right medium for the bold statement that Luke was looking for. Particularly if you are only able to play in multiplayer as the taliban.

      If there was a narrative for them like a campaign/story mode then they should stand up and say this story is real and needs to be told too.

      I think we are still a few years away from big budget games tackling big issues head on. But with games like Heavy rain doing well maybe we won't have to wait too long.

      Could have a fallout style game where you choose to help the insurgents or the military, and then get to see that neither outcome is good for the locals unless you go down the non violent path.

      better put some more points into speech.

    This article reminds me of the whole "people MAY find Resident Evil 5 racist because it's set in Africa" debacle without actually saying anything.

    Actually start a discussion on something instead of just leaving "you can bet questions will be raised over the morality and suitability of allowing young Western kids to play a game as the Taliban" hanging in the air.

    Modern journalism *holds nose*

    Knowing members of the ADF, I can see how it is a little insensitive regardless how many times "it's just a game" is mentioned, especially as it is still a heavily involved conflict.
    Had it been in a fictional country, with fictional enemies wouldn't have changed peoples interest. If they Handle the subject respectfully (not their current "now you can be an uber leet tier one operator" marketing angle) then it shouldn't receive too much grief.

    Luke, David, you can question DICE's decision to make a game about an ongoing conflict, but it's a non-issue as far as playing as the Taliban in multiplayer is concerned. It's not controversial, and so there's no topic to confront.

    Multiplayer, regardless of setting, is devoid of any context other than competition. Yes, they're just skins; that's simply the nature of the online arena. Developers and publishers know this: that's why every World War 2 shooter under the sun lets you play as the Germans or Japanese in multiplayer, but never in singleplayer where there IS context and narrative.

    If playing as the enemy in multiplayer is as controversial as some are making it out to be, where was the uproar when Allied Assault was released? Did you question "the morality and suitability of allowing young Western kids to play a game as [Nazis], where your objectives in a multiplayer game will be to kill digital American[/British] soldiers." If not, then either:

    1. you're advocating that it's okay to play as the bad guys if it was a long time ago; or

    2. you're being a hypocritical sensationalist.

      Addendum: yes, I think developers should begin to confront the challenge and inevitable controversy of portraying conflicts from the other side, just as other mediums of entertainment have done, instead of restricting the narrative to the heroes and good guys.

      It's an issue well worth discussing, but the fact that you're only doing it now, and specifically in relation to a game that breaks no new ground as far as 'see[ing] things from the “bad guy’s” perspective' is concerned, suggests to me that you really haven't thought the issue through.

    This is one of those cases where the devs (DICE) want the controversy but also a safe out. And they probably should keep the out because they aren't doing anything 'deep' with giving players access to Taliban skins - there's no explanation, no context, just "here are some bad guys you may have seen on the news - pick this side if you want to show your anti-social / anti-American side".

    There's no room to make a statement here. Narratives that tell the story from the "bad guy's" point of view can be well done, but there is no narrative here for the Taliban.

    Bravery and balls in this case would have been trying to make the Taliban sympathetic, or at least contextualise their actions. Nope, this is just MP gunplay, so no chance of that kind of thing happening.

    You seem to have forgotten that in almost EVERY WWII FPS game ever made you get to play as NAZIS.

    Well, Germans at least, not every German soldier was a Nazi. But it's still something that is often forgotten.

    Then again, think of the controversy if you made a WWII FPS where one of the levels has you playing an SS trooper defending a train taking a consignment of Jews to the death camps from an attack by commandos trying to resce them? That'd make 'No Russian' seem rather mild, wouldn't it? (Mind you, I still think it'd be a horrible idea.)

    you know what i hate all this realism in games and fps shooters in perticular i play games to escape the mundainity and the problems of the real world not to be consumed by them. im not saying that storytelling and convaying messages is bad im just saying why not do it in a context that my mirror events in real life with a fictional setting then you get to say what you wanted to say and make a entertaining fun experience.

    I think the author doesn't explain very well why he wants to see the game make a "statement" or be "impactful", other than "cause you to really consider the nature of a struggle, or one group’s determination to wage war on another" - does he really think that if DICE had tried to make this argument they wouldn't be laughed out of the room?

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