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As the controversy surrounding EA's Medal of Honor gathers pace, TVG takes a wide view of the issues...
Somewhat predictably, the controversy surrounding EA's Medal of Honor game has made the jump into mainstream media over the weekend. A fitting analogy for this would be like a virus mutating and going airborne in the human population - previously it was an isolated disease passed by contact from one human to the next and now there's no telling how it might spread. This is the mainstream media piece in question from the 'Fox & Friends' show on US television:
To put all of this in context though, here's a brief recap of how the controversy has grown so far: two months ago, a UK-based website posted a preview of the Medal of Honor multiplayer beta. In it, the article's writer makes clear his concern that gamers can effectively play as the Taliban in EA DICE's multiplayer component of the game. The basic gist of the argument is that, with the War in Afghanistan still ongoing and the human losses so raw, making a game where players are able to shoot Coalition troops while playing as the Taliban touches on a painful nerve.
The site in question subsequently spoke with EA DICE on this issue and the multiplayer game's Producer, Patrick Liu told them, "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." His words are echoed by the statement EA offers in the Fox video above:
"Medal of Honor is set in today's War, putting players in the boots of today's soldier . . . We give gamers the opportunity to play both sides. Most of us have been doing this since we were seven. If someone's the cop, someone's got to be the robber, someone's got to be the pirate and someone's got to be the alien. In Medal of Honor multiplayer, someone's got to be the Taliban."
Those are the words of Amanda Taggart, an EA PR Manager in the US. The problem with both her quote and Patrick Liu's is that they appear to trivialise the issue. It's precisely the sort of thing that's going to outrage a Gold Star mother like Karen Meredith, who speaks in the 'Fox & Friends' piece. Remember that she might not know the first thing about how a videogame is put together - all she'll see is a form of entertainment that appears to cheapen what her son fought and died for. To get responses from EA that appear to trivialise the issue further can only make things worse, even though in actuality these EA reps are just trying to explain the game with punchy one-liners and simplistic analogies that are fit for media consumption (I'm sure trivialising an issue this serious is not their intention).
I've had the opportunity to see most of what EA's shown to the press on Medal of Honor so far. The first and by far most important thing to remember is that the single-player and multiplayer games are completely separate and different from one another. In fact, I'm hard pressed to think of any game which has had less continuity between both game components. The two different parts of the game were created by two different studios for a start (EALA's Danger Close studio on the single-player, and EA DICE on the multiplayer). By the admission of Danger Close's own Richard Farrelly, the game's Senior Creative Director, continuity between single and multiplayer is the last thing on both studios' minds.
What's sad about this media furore, though, is that what I've seen of Medal of Honor's single-player game so far (which doesn't position players as members of the Taliban) has done a very good job of portraying the individual stories of US soldiers in Afghanistan. Unlike so many other first- or third-person shooter games, which place gamers in a setting attached to a ridiculous plot that only appears to be there so that it can justify the shooting of everything and everyone in sight, Medal of Honor's single-player campaign actually manages to take itself seriously. One particular level I saw opened with a US Army Ranger riding on a Chinook as a message he'd left on his family's answer-phone played over the top. This message, which had the soldier downplaying the dangers he was facing to allay the fears of his wife and daughter, was actually genuinely touching in my opinion (and that's not something I say very often of first-person shooter gaming).
And it's not just that. Throughout everything I've seen of Danger Close's single-player story, the respect and dignity afforded to US soldiers has clearly been of utmost importance to the developer. Danger Close isn't necessarily making any larger moral points through all of this, however, but merely depicting how hard it is for our servicemen and -women over there. EA DICE's multiplayer, on the other hand, is a completely different kettle of fish. It is a game in the gamiest sense of the word. There is no story or plot to the whole thing; when a player kills an opponent, a '+10 Experience Points' bonus flies up from their body; it features no back story to the characters, no cross-over to the single-player, and no moral engagement in the experience beyond running around shooting other players with guns.
The various maps or settings in this multiplayer game are somewhat fictionalised locations based on Afghan terrain and, yes, the team-based modes portray players as either US Tier 1 Operators or members of the Taliban. This, it seems to me, is merely a by-product of the game's overall setting. If the multiplayer game were to have any link to the single-player game at all (and not be an entirely different game altogether), then this appears to be inevitable. After all, if EA DICE hadn't offered Taliban characters as opposing forces and had merely placed a team of US soldiers against another team of US soldiers, then this would have been an even more insensitive decision given the tragic history of so-called 'friendly fire' in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade.
Let us know what you think of this whole debacle in the comments section below...
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