Posted August 11th 2010 by Jordan Mammo.
Over at Kotaku, contributing editor Luke Plunkett decries the fact that Patrick Liu from the developer DICE, when questioned about playing as an American-killing Taliban soldier in Medal of Honor's multiplayer, chose to answer with, "in the end, it's a game, so we're not pushing or provoking too hard." This, Plunkett says, could have been the time that a developer stood up and made a statement. This could have been a time to do something "beyond the crass, juvenile inclusion of things like ultra-violence ... something that took balls."
But really, regardless of how bold or not Liu chose to be in his answer, we as videogame players are faced with other pressing questions. Example: for a product that does allow players to don the role of Taliban members, could it be any less ballsy?
Is there anything to suggest that Medal of Honor is not a crass, juvenile, and ultra-violent spectacle in the first place, fighting for attention amongst a sea of like-minded titles?
Nevermind that the "it's just a game" line of defense is the biggest cop-out in the industry. Liu didn't take a stand, and he probably couldn't even if he wanted to. Up to this point, Medal of Honor has shown no indication that there's been any thought put into how it portrays the Taliban or the overall effort in Afghanistan. If he "made a statement," people would've questioned what kind of statement is being made when the majority of the footage that's been released consists of the basic deathmatch slaughter that so many other videogames are home to. This game could've been torn apart like Six Days in Fallujah, still yet to see the light of day at retail. And supposedly that title did have something to say, ham-fisted and poorly-imagined as it may have looked. So Liu didn't make a statement, because what could he say? Medal of Honor is a blockbuster game whose consideration of the American vs Taliban conflict doesn't seem to extend past a palette swap. Do developers of World War II titles put any more thought into how it would feel to play as a Nazi who kills Americans during their respective games' multiplayer modes?
Still, both scenarios get to more important, underlying topics of discussion here. Why don't developers put any more thought into details such as these, especially when they choose to deal with conflicts that are currently raging? Maybe they don't think they need to. What's going to happen? A few disgruntled game journalists will write some articles on the internet and the moment passes. Maybe they think we don't care as long as everything blows up nicely in-game. By and large, maybe we don't, but maybe we should.
After all, these kinds of games don't just materialize out of the blue; they happen because we buy them. It's difficult for anyone to try and hold a company's feet to the fire if the public doesn't really care about what's happening, and even harder still if the public enjoys the end product. However, dressing up the conflict in Afghanistan as a blockbuster title, including the ability to play as the Taliban in multiplayer (single player still an unknown), then deflecting away any role or responsibility in the discussion by proclaiming "it's a game" just doesn't seem good enough when the war still affects the lives of so many.
This is an industry still striving to be taken seriously after all, and accepting that deflection isn't good enough on our parts as enthusiasts either. Expecting more from the creative forces behind our videogames wouldn't be a bad thing for us to do. Of course not every title needs to be a serious exploration of violence and terrorism, nor should they be, but when the majority of them are already unserious in that respect, wouldn't it be better for designers to put some more thought into how a present-day conflict will be portrayed to their audiences? Otherwise, what's the point? How does Medal of Honor benefit from its Afghan setting outside of novelty? It doesn't, and that's where it starts to get stuck. We don't necessarily need developers to make self-important "statements" about the medium. It would be nice, though, for their games and rationalizations to show that they cared a little.
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