Analysis: Is Medal of Honor Tasteless?

By Jordan Douglas on August 25, 2010, 11:14PM EDT

Games have become an easy target for politicians and the mainstream media. The latest controversy comes as Britain's Defense Secretary Liam Fox calls for a retail ban of the "disgusting" and "tasteless" Medal of Honor reboot coming this fall, set in present day Afghanistan. Fox's complaints lie in the portrayal of the Taliban in Medal of Honor, which allows players to take control of the terrorist group versus other player-controlled US soldiers in online, competitive multiplayer. Statements such as these often come from those looking to score cheap points or get attention by attacking a medium they do not understand - the Defense Secretary seems to fit the mold rather well.

During his tirade against Medal of Honor, Fox stated how "shocking" it is "that someone would think it acceptable to recreate the acts of the Taliban against British soldiers." He told the BBC, "I am disgusted and angry. It's hard to believe any citizen of our country would wish to buy such a thoroughly un-British game. I would urge retailers to show their support for our armed forces and ban this tasteless product."

Here we see the first of many signs that Mr. Fox is speaking from a position of ignorance, as British soldiers are not featured in the game. Even after being corrected on that, Fox refused to detract from his earlier remarks. There's also the question as to how the minister is able to make such sweeping comments about a game that has not been released, one where relatively little information has been shared with the public.

Is the very presence of the enemy in an ongoing armed conflict enough to label something disgusting and tasteless? That seems hard to justify. The fact is more established creative mediums - such as film and literature - feature the depiction of enemies in war, often in a much more graphic fashion. Is Oliver Hirschbiegel's Downfall tasteless simply because it's told from a German perspective during the Second World War? Most people wouldn't make that assumption. Therefore, looking at other forms of entertainment, the only conclusion is that Fox singled out Medal of Honor because it's a game.

In terms of game precedents, EA's Frank Gibeau, president of the games label, was quick to out point the countless other games that have put players in the shoes of opposing forces. In a separate interview with the BBC, Gibeau said, "Many popular video games allow players to assume the identity of enemies, including Nazis and terrorists. In the multi-player levels of Medal of Honor, teams will assume the identity of both US forces and the Taliban."

The argument that Medal of Honor actively seeks to promote the Taliban in a positive light, or does so indirectly, because of its multiplayer component or setting doesn't carry much weight. The idea likely would've been quickly dismissed if it were another entertainment medium in the spotlight. Hopefully we'll soon reach a point in society where games aren't so easily marginalized.

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