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]