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“Medal of Honor” Videogame Hits Too Close to Home, Yanked From U.S. Military Bases

Posted on September 9 2010 1:27 pm
Walter Hudson is a political commentator and co-founder of Minnesota's North Star Tea Party Patriots, a statewide educational organization. He runs a blog entitled Fightin Words. He also contributes to True North, a hub of Minnesotan conservative commentary. Follow his work via Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

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Creative people have always had more latitude tackling controversial issues when the characters, settings, and institutions they portray are plainly fictional. The science fiction and fantasy genres are particularly useful for political or social commentary, because the absurdity of circumstance acts as a mask for the objects of criticism.

The hundreds of hours of Star Trek, across several series and films, provide countless examples. It’s tough to get offended by the depiction of a Klingon, no matter the obvious allusions to Eastern cultures from once-Soviet Russia to ancient Mongolia or Imperial Japan. Take the real world, put a forehead ridge on it, and you’re free to disparage without controversy.

The unique art form of video games has also had to veil its depictions, no matter how thinly. The Grand Theft Auto franchise, perhaps the most prolifically maligned game series in history, has always utilized fictional names for very familiar looking places. In the latest iteration, Grand Theft Auto IV, the fictional Liberty City’s landmarks are practically identical to their New York City counterparts. The Statue of Liberty becomes the Statue of Happiness. The MetLife building becomes the GetaLife building.

This practice may provide some legal cover. However, there are also matters of taste to consider. War games have typically avoided controversy by setting their conflicts in the past, or basing modern ones in plainly fictional circumstances. For instance, this year’s outstanding Battlefield: Bad Company 2 pitted the player against Russian military forces and their proxies in South America. Even though the locations and institutions are real, the conflict itself is not, and therefore stirs little controversy.

With the release of its revamped Medal of Honor property on October 12th, developer Electronic Arts (EA) has crossed the undrawn line between tasteful fictional depiction and violence that hits too close to home.

The new game’s set in Afghanistan, during the military actions there shortly after 9/11. The flashpoint in the new “MOH” comes from the competitive multiplayer modes where players will control Taliban fighters.

While it’s been a staple of shooter games to have their respective bad guys be playable in faction-based combat, nothing’s rubbed up against contemporary political sore spots in quite the way that “MOH” does. The Taliban have proven to be a difficult enemy to engage, both ideologically and strategically and the war in Afghanistan is still a conflict that’s being fought, exacting a grim toll from the coalition forces. British Secretary of State for Defence Liam Fox called the game “tasteless,” alleging that players would be killing British soldiers. And, more recently, the controversy around its inclusion of playable Taliban forces had made “Medal of Honor” contraband on the [U.S.] military-run PX stores. These stores serve only military personnel, retired servicemen or the immediate family of both. In addition to the PX ban, the branches of the GameStop retail chain located on military bases will also refrain from selling “Medal of Honor.” From Kotaku:

“Out of respect to those we serve, we will not be stocking this game,” the Army & Air Force Exchange Service’s Commander Maj. Gen. Bruce Casella, told Kotaku. “We regret any inconvenience this may cause authorized shoppers, but are optimistic that they will understand the sensitivity to the life and death scenarios this product presents as entertainment. As a military command with a retail mission, we serve a very unique customer base that has, or possibly will, witness combat in real life.”

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