EA had to know that someone, somewhere was going to be mad that you could play as the Taliban. After all, it has been awhile since a solid video game controversy presented itself to a politician or person in power to decry and rally against. But whether or not this is simply another politician grabbing headlines, or a government official legitimately concerned with the content of the game may become a moot point, as EA’s President, Frank Gibeau, has confirmed that it will not kowtow to the criticism, and the Taliban will remain as playable characters in Medal of Honor‘s multiplayer.
For those unfamiliar with the latest controversy, the multiplayer mode in the upcoming Medal of Honor will give gamers the option to choose if they want to be the Taliban. There will be no story mode associated, and the Taliban characters in the multiplayer are little more than a name and character skins, but again, you play as the Taliban. Many people reacted- well- poorly would be a generous word to describe it.
Not surprisingly, almost as soon as the news of the Taliban as playable characters broke, protests began. Unlike many video game protests in the past, the protestors were not complaining that the game would somehow rot the brains of children and turn them into pint sized maniacs who would only be satiated by the blood of innocents (see Manhunt, Grand Theft Auto, Doom, etc.), but instead claimed that the inclusion of the Taliban was disrespectful to the memory of the soldiers that have lost their lives in Afghanistan.
Of those aligned against the game, the biggest name has been the British Minister of Defence, the Right Honourable Dr. Liam Fox. Fox immediately called for the ban of the game in the UK, and said that he was “disgusted” by the idea of players recreating real life attacks on Coalition Forces that include British soldiers. The game does not specifically feature British soldiers, but a clip on Youtube showed one of the multiplayer maps to be in the southern Hemland province, a dangerous area where UK soldiers are based.
“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.” Fox told reporters.
“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.”
In response, a spokesperson for EA told the Sunday Times that it was simply the nature of the game. Medal of Honor has hyped its close association with the military community in order to bring a realistic portrayal of the conflict in Afghanistan, and to exclude the Taliban would be disingenuous, according to EA.
“The format of the new Medal of Honor game merely reflects the fact that every conflict has two sides. We give gamers the opportunity to play both sides. Most of us have been doing this since we were seven: someone plays the cop, someone must be robber.” The spokeswoman said. “In Medal of Honor multiplayer, someone’s got to be the Taliban.”
In response to Fox, EA President Frank Gibeau has spoken out in an interview with the website Develop.
“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.
“The fact that it’s set in Afghanistan is the context, but the game is about you and your team going through a number of missions and feeling what it was like to be in a soldier’s position. That’s always been a Medal of Honor concept – we put you in the boots of a soldier, whether it’s in the Pacific, Europe, Afghanistan; it’s always been the story of the solider.”
This isn’t the first outcrying against the role gamers take in video games. Modern Warfare 2 faced heavy criticism last year when it was leaked that you would take the role of a terrorist involved in the brutal murder of dozens of innocent bystanders in a Russian airport, in a now infamous level called “No Russian“. The controversy didn’t seem to affect the sales, as Modern Warfare 2 went on to net over $1 billion dollars in two months, and set launch day sales records.
Medal of Honor will be released in the US for PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 on October 12, then (presumably) in Europe on October 15. Expect to hear more about this in the coming weeks.