American or Taliban? In Multiplayer It Doesn’t Matter
Reading Michael Thomsen’s “Games With The Power to Offend” brought me right back to the whole Medal of Honor controversy I wrote about last week. Now I have no plans to buy MoH but not because of the controversy. As I wrote before, the idea of playing a Taliban fighter doesn’t really mean anything to me but I’ve been thinking about it for the last week so I thought I would add to my last post.
Let me use MoH developer EA’s current game as an example. In Battlefield Bad Company 2 you can either play as an American or a Russian soldier in the multi-player suite. Of course the relationship between Russia and the United States is better now than it was during the Cold War, but the fact is as a Russian soldier, I have plenty of opportunities to kill Americans with knives, bullets, tank rounds, and mortar fire. However when I play as a Russian, I don’t see Americans in front of me. Nor do I see Russian soldiers when I am on the American side. Why is that? Because both sides are exactly the same. The only differences are the uniforms and the weapons you enter the match with. I know that on some MP maps US forces have access to Apache attach helicopters while on others the Russians can fly the Hind attack chopper. Americans use this type of assault rifle while the Russians use that type. I remember that the two sides have tanks with slightly different capabilities. However the soldiers on both sides are interchangeable.
I’m betting that when MoH releases in October, gamers will find the same MP concepts as in Battlefield and other games in the genre. As far as the game play and objectives of the match go, there is no difference between the two sides. Yes, the weapons are different but that will not give one side an advantage over the other. Balance is important in MP.
This notion of identifying with the different MP factions borders on the absurd. If the tactics of one side differed from the other than perhaps it would make more sense to vilify EA for including the Taliban. Maybe if part of the game were to hurry up and construct an improvised explosive device (IED) and bury it in the road all the while reminding each other why we hate Americans, then perhaps gamers could experience why that role is abhorrent. But gamers don’t have time for such things in MP. Everyone is in a rush to get to the killing. In the real world, we know there are differences in ideology, tactics, and objectives when comparing US forces to Taliban fighters, but those differences don’t make it into MP. In MP gamers are not forced to listen to Taliban propaganda, ideology or religious doctrine. There is no talk of American oppression or the righteousness of their cause. We don’t see what happens to American prisoners nor do we witness how IEDs are constructed and planted. Images of Taliban fighters celebrating the deaths of Americans never becomes game content. And so we don’t see those differences highlighted in the game. How can we attach any type of meaning, and therefore hatred to those “Taliban” in the game? As a gamer striving to kill all the enemy players or grab territory, I have a hard time doing anything else.
In order for me to have that type of hatred, I need to see that these characters are real Taliban. I need to be able to demonize them for their heinous acts and their anti-American fervor. On the other side, I need to be reminded that the Americans fight to protect their homes and families from terrorists and those who harbor them. Without that I feel nothing when I gun down an “American” or a “Taliban” except that, for a moment, I was better than the other guy. I need that connection so that when I kill the Taliban I know that now there is one less person who can attack America. Without that I feel no shame when the match starts and I see that for the next five minutes I will play as Taliban. This is part of what’s missing from all the news coverage of the Medal of Honor controversy, but it certainly need to be part of the conversation.