It's amazing, even years after getting out of the Army, how much it colors your everyday life.
As a former Army Medic, now working as an entertainment journalist covering comic books, video games, movies, and TV, my soldier past comes up far more often than I would have ever expected.
The news about Medal of Honor including multiplayer modes where players will control the Taliban, naturally, has become a topic that friends who know of my two backgrounds now ask about on a regular basis. With Thursday's further news that Gamestop has chosen not to sell the game at US Military bases, I was quite simply incensed.
To give minimal history, I served in the United States Army as a Combat Medic for six years. I had two deployments in that time: one to Iraq at the start of the war, and one to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. I saw combat, I saw injury, and I saw death.
However, I also saw solace in games. While in Iraq, we networked together a couple of tents and played games like NCAA Football, Halo, and yes, even games like Desert Storm. Video games were a great respite for us during our day to day lives. We were able, for a few minutes at a time at least, to have some sense of normalcy and escape to another time and place, even if it did wind up being something similar to what we were living.
Electronic Arts has been marketing Medal of Honor from the start as a game seeking to honor the military through authenticity. Now, the things I could pick apart there could easily fill another column, but one fact remains: the opponent there, in Afghanistan, is the Taliban. In WWII games you fight against, or AS in multiplayer, Nazis or Japanese forces. In a game set in the modern era on a modern battlefield, it then follows that the opposing force would be the modern enemy. This makes sense, and this is far from the first time that you can play as the bad guys, realistic or no, in a game, let alone in a shooter.
So now Gamestop, at the request of the Army and Air Force Exchange Services, is pulling the game from pre-order and will not carry it at any of the BX/PX (Base or Post Exchange) located shops they run. It was done, to quote the statement given to Kotaku, "out of respect for our past and present men and women in uniform."
OK. There's nothing inherently bad about that. AAFES made a request, Gamestop followed through politely and apparently with no fight. My problem, however, lies with AAFES making the request in the first place. The idea that a gameplay mode in a game people choose to or not to play could be so inherently damaging is simply silly. Giving things this kind of weight and power is the problem, not that they exist in and of themselves. It's something I had to learn myself. For about 3 years after I returned from Iraq, I found it impossible to play any realistic shooters, or to enjoy fireworks. There were little things within those experiences that set off powerful sense memories. Eventually, it took sitting down and trying to remember what was enjoyable about these things to me in the past to make them enjoyable again. Releasing that self-imposed power made me remember, hey, this is a video game, and I like video games.
That's the point here that the officials at AAFES are overlooking in favor of being cautious. This isn't a tool to convert American Soldiers into Taliban. It is a game, and in the game you play one of two roles. In the Army, you sometimes have field exercises in which you are placed on the side of "Opposing Forces." In that, you are role-playing as modern enemies in order to improve your knowledge and your fellow soldiers' knowledge of how to combat them. Games don't come with an inherent evil, an inherent power, or even, most of the time, any specific political message. In the campaign of Medal of Honor, it will be no doubt clear that the Taliban are the enemies. In multiplayer, sometimes, people will be "Opposing Forces." That's not offensive to me as a soldier. The offensive thing to me as a soldier is AAFES thinking I can't protect myself from a product I deem harmful. If it feels potentially damaging to an individual, then the individual doesn't play it and that's all that needs to happen.
It's a video game, and I like video games. It's a shame that soldiers who like video games and want to play this one won't be able to simply pick it up at their local shop.
Lucas Siegel is a Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Site Editor of leading comic book and pop culture site Newsarama.com. He has been an avid gamer since the age of two. For more from Lucas and Newsarama, follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/LucasSiegel.
Ed's note: Please take a moment to read another take on the issue from an active duty Airman.