The Medal of Honor taliban controversy deepens

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The Medal of Honor taliban controversy deepens
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Gaming, though, is different. It's long been the gaming industry's aim to be seen as an art or entertainment just as valid as cinema, but the interactive nature of gaming remains possibly the one last sticking point. Certainly, in Australia at least, we commonly see that distinction being made in terms of ratings and game censorship - the controversy surrounding titles like Fallout 3 and Left 4 Dead 2 being perfect cases in point.

Looked at in this way, it almost seems like GameSpot and the UK Government have a point. The timely content of Medal of Honor, combined with putting players behind a Taliban scope seem almost insurmountable issues.

We're not so sure.

Killing Nazis - a victimless crime?
It's an interesting thing, trying to define what "too soon" really means. It's a phrase often used to protect those who are may still feel too close to events - in this case, the war in Afghanistan and the global War on Terror. The Taliban, along with al Qaeda, are today's greatest boogie man, the modern equivalent of the stereotypically evil and monstrous German who 60 years ago graced propaganda posters from Washington to Brisbane.

Our question is, though - does timeliness really make an impact? Does the perspective of 60 years make the actions of the Wehrmacht or Nazi Party any less detestable? Most would answer a resounding no, and as students of military history ourselves, even we admit to moments of conscience when playing something like Day of Defeat or the original strains of Call of Duty and Medal of Honor.

Similarly, there are many still alive who bear the serial number tattoos of that most hateful passage of history, for whom such concepts of timeliness are simply meaningless. And yet, it is through the lens of the media that we can re-integrate such horror back into our collective experience, allowing us to stand at arm's distance and understand that these were not monsters, but simple misguided humans. Vastly evil, yes, but nonetheless us.

Yet if we remove that argument's relevance, what then is really behind government and senior military resistance to seeing the Taliban represented in a game as a playable force?

Making monsters
There was a recent news report on an Australian network that featured a story from within the Taliban. A reporter had effectively managed to embed himself with a senior member of the insurgency, and the story's tagline was very telling: "By night, a loving family man, by day, he murders US soldiers."

Great for piquing interest and ratings, no doubt, but it occurred to us that you could easily say much the same about any soldier, any time. Yet with the enemy, this disconnect between homelife and the front serves to make the Taliban something else, something monstrous. But that's something that militaries have been doing since before steel was first shaped into a sword.

One of the psychological truths of warfare is that it's hard to shoot someone when they're a real person. But put a tag on them (Jihadi, towelhead, VC, Kraut, Frog and so on) and they become a conveniently faceless mass that a soldier can fire into with, if not impunity, then at least with permission.

This, we think, is what's really the issue with Medal of Honor - it's far more convenient to government and command echelons for the Taliban to remain that faceless enemy. Make them someone with agency, someone you can step into the shoes of, and you put that kind of thinking at risk. It's less a case of 'too soon' and more about the possibility that EA's actions lend some form of validity to the Taliban's actions as a military force.

It remains to be seen if EA's going to bow to pressure, and replace the Taliban with some nameless 'terrorist' moniker when Medal of Honor releases next month. They seem adamant that its game is made with the feelings of soldiers in mind, and - to be honest - we'd rather not see them back down. Only time, however, will tell. 

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