Remember a couple years ago, when the, at the time, new Medal of Honor game was looking to shock the world by setting a video game in the modern age, and where the multiplayer would put players on both the American side and the Taliban side? And how the whole thing didn’t sit well with some gamers and non-gamers alike?
Since it’s July 4th, let’s talk about this. Let me start with an anecdote. I was in high school at the time when participating in a young congress thing. They flew me out to Washington D.C. and I spent roughly 4 days going to museums and having political discussions with other teens. There was one discussion centered around a student’s right to refuse to say the pledge of allegiance during class. We all remember that right? In the morning, everyone stood up and placed their right hand over the hear and repeated the same oath every weekday.
Well, the discussion got heated up, with both sides of the argument kind of making sense but otherwise not seeing the big picture. A young woman stood up and said: “This is America, a country who grants you the freedom that a lot of people take for granite. If you do anything, you show respect for the flag and the country it symbolizes.” This was the only thing in my head that put the other people’s arguments into perspective and prompted me to do something I rarely did at that age, speak up in public.
I was timid at first, started with a lame joke because I was a dork but eventually got to my point. “For this country, a lot of people fought and lost their lives, some even still today. They fight to preserve our basic liberties, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech among them. They fought, so that we wouldn’t have to swear our allegiance to a government we did not believe in, they fought so that no one would have to say or not say what they needed to. The freedom of speech does more than just give us the right to speak our mind, it grants up the right to not say anything at all”. It was probably the first time anyone has ever clapped for me and later someone even came up to me and said that what I said was beautiful and to me that was proof that I wasn’t alone in my stance that America is a truly wonderful country to live in, not because it’s where we live, but because it’s place where we have the freedom to think and speak for ourselves.
Flash forward several years, and i encounter a similar yet different problem. Medal of Honor was finally going to reboot itself, following the trend of most World War II franchises and move into the modern day. The difference was that instead of setting up some fictions events like Modern Warfare, or something futuristic like Battlefield 2142, they were going to be set in the real world, using the real conflict in the Middle East as a backdrop. It was a pretty bold move in my opinion, but I respected it none-the-less. Then a woman spoke out, claiming that the new Medal of Honor game was offensive to the men and women who are overseas right now, and that she was more offended because she had lost her son in the conflict.
At the time, I was really beginning to try out this game blogger thing and volunteered to write a once a week editorial at another site. When I saw this, my heart went out to the woman, but something was off. She was more than just offended, she was calling for an outright ban of the game because the multiplayer allowed players to kill Americans. In fact, when I first heard of the story, several military base stores would not be selling the game on the grounds that it was disrespecting the soldiers. The woman claimed that she didn’t want to see it banned, “free speech and all”, but she was determined to see it pulled from shelves, effectively banning it.
Now, I never got around to play that new Medal of Honor, but what bothered me at the time, and was my primary motivation throughout writing that article, was how callously the woman tossed the phrase “free speech and all”, and basically saying: “Yes, I understand that they have the right to make this game, but I don’t give a shit, I’m offended and that’s all that matters”. My thesis was pretty much, hey, I’m offended that she’s offended, so why doesn’t anyone take my offense into consideration? I argued that televisions, movies, and books have fictional events using the Taliban or other terrorist organization as part of the plot, so why were they apparently exempt? I also argued that the multiplayer portion of the game, was more than likely going to be a laser tag like experience. When people played as the Americans or the Taliban (which was later renamed to Opposing Forces as a compromise), it was the same thing as Red Team and Blue Team and so not the same thing. I said that it was the same as being the Nazis in World at War multiplayer. No matter what, no one believed that they were filling the boots of the Nazi soldiers, or killing Americans, it was simply tagging someone on the other team and then hoping they don’t tag you back when they respawn. It basically wasn’t anywhere near as intense as the single player, which for Medal of Honor, I stated that it would probably do a good job at making the Taliban be the bad guys since every military game that I’ve played has had the upmost respect for the American soldier.
What really got me was when this woman said this about EA:
“A bunch of wanna be members of the military, who see war as a very profitable game for them and one to be “played” from the comfort and safety of someone’s home. Faced with real military service, I’m not sure how many of them have the fortitude or courage to serve, let alone survive a combat situation.”
This upset me because I honestly saw no difference in the other mediums that used war as a setting but were apparently okay. She also probably didn’t know that since a lot of these companies strive for an authentic experience, they deal with real life military weaponry, learn movement, tactics, and lingo, and for some of them, get flash banged to see what it’s like. I agreed that to some, this could be seen as war profiteering, but why video games were being singled out was beyond me and something I found rather offensive.
The comments from that article actually raised quite a hellstorm as well, as one of my fellow writers on that site agreed with the woman and said that it was “too soon for video games to be using that subject matter” and that it was different than films like “The Hurt Locker” because that was a good movie. Many people, myself included, argued against him stating that “too soon” is a terrible argument to call for a ban of a piece of art. Medal of Honor clearly had reasons for people not to buy it, but that’s different that saying they shouldn’t make it. It doesn’t even make any sense for why it could just become acceptable later and one comment asked “if we went to war again with Germany, would all the World War II games suddenly be unacceptable?”
Later I saw this article, that goes to show further proof that the people who were most angry at the game, were also the least qualified to talk about it. That article reports that a Boston College Student Newspaper called the Medal of Honor game disrespectful and said:
“Young Americans should not learn what it’s like to kill American soldiers. While it is beneficial for them to learn more about the Afghani culture, a video game is certainly not the right setting for that type of education. After all, video games are made for the pure entertainment of their audiences, not as informative documentaries.”
If you are well-versed in the video game culture, then the flaws of this argument should be apparent immediately. First off, “young” Americans, as in anyone below 16, should not be playing an M rated game. Everyone above 16 should be able to handle the material in a mature manner. Also, the “American soldier killing” was only going to take place in the multiplayer, so in a completely contextless, game situation. The last two parts are what really make me angry, saying that video games cannot teach Afghani culture, ever, because they are made for pure entertainment and not as documentaries.
Another little side story: The first time I ever experienced a shocking awe in a video game was in Medal of Honor: Rising Sun’s first two missions called “Day of Infamy” and “Pearl Harbor”. They depicted the actual surprise attack and in it you saw the sinking of the Arizona and the safety of the Nevada. Fun fact, those ships existed and following the levels was some black and white footage as well as a bunch of facts about the event and the aftermath. So, yeah, it seems like even though that game entertained me, it still taught me some stuff. Also, as for not respecting the soldiers and marines, after seeing the Nevada to safety your character and another crew member celebrate only to be told by another to look out at the destruction, that this wasn’t a victory and no one could ever imagine the horrors that they saw except for the ones who saw it, and that they should pray for the ones who didn’t make it out to see that carnage. It still moves me, to today.
So what I’m basically getting at is that back then and today, video games face the challenge of not being seen as a legitimate medium by our society, which has caused people to throw away the liberties in which this country was founded on to deal with their own uncomfortableness. Personally, I think they day we stop having faith in liberty is the day liberty dies, and over the years I have seen liberty struggle to survive in it’s own name. Whether big or small, whether it be people demanding that everyone pledges allegiance to this country or that art should be banned because it offends certain people’s patriotic views, they are elements of liberty being challenged on the homefront and they are the worst enemy that America could ever face, because unlike an enemy overseas, which is something every American can rally together to fight, these are the small things, the fracture in the foundation, that may cause the crumble of the democracy and liberty that United States stands for and it’s both ignorance and indifference that lets it grow bigger and bigger.