Friday, October 8, 2010

Taliban pulled from 'Medal of Honor' multiplayer mode

Taliban pulled from 'Medal of Honor' multiplayer mode
Mike Snider, USA TODAY

Video game publisher Electronic Arts is pulling a controversial feature that would have let players join the Taliban from Medal of Honor, one of the most anticipated releases of the year.

A popular franchise launched by Steven Spielberg a decade ago, Medal of Honor until now had played out in World War II. But this new entry (Oct. 12; for PS3 3, Xbox 360 and Windows PCs, $60, ages 17-up) is set in modern-day Afghanistan, pitting U.S. forces against al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

As originally planned, players in virtual battle online could team up in squads, one side of insurgents designated as the Taliban, with U.S. troops as their target. After rising criticism — including a sales ban in Army and Air Force exchange outlets — EA decided to change the game.

To be sensitive to families and friends of fallen soldiers, the game will be changed so that the "Opposing Force" or "OpFor" — not "Taliban" — will be in the multiplayer mode, says the game's executive producer Greg Goodrich. "Medal of Honor is a big thank-you letter to the troops, and if this one word caused some troops to not be able to receive that ... let's change it and hopefully people will get that."

Combat and war have been video game staples since the beginning. Early Atari arcade game Tank from 1974 led to Combat, a collection of battle games for the Atari 2600 console system.

As the graphic realism in games has evolved, so have the faces of the enemy. While past shooting games have focused on Nazis and monsters, newer games have pitted players against the Viet Cong and terrorists. For the more recent Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games, the developers invented fictional Middle Eastern protagonists.

What Medal of Honor attempted to do, says David Stone, director of the Institute for Military History & 20th Century Studies at Kansas State University, "seems to me, really is something new and different."

Other recent attempts to enlist video games in current Middle Eastern conflicts have met with resistance. After the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, Sony trademarked the phrase "Shock and Awe" for possible game use — a move met with criticism; it has since been abandoned. Last year, Konami dropped plans for Six Days in Fallujah, a game to be created with the help of Marine veterans of the Iraq war, just a month after announcing the project.

As they have become entrenched as a popular form of entertainment, games bear a deeper responsibility — for better or worse. "If games are indeed an art form or something like a play that people participate in," Stone says, "then we can legitimately ask what the intended message of that art is and what the artists want to say to us."

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