Keeping It Too Real: EA Medal Of Honor Removes Taliban References

After months of controversy, Electronic Arts (ERTS) is removing all Taliban references from its upcoming first-person shooter Medal of Honor. The trouble brewed from being able to play as the Taliban during online deathmatch battles. The best-selling first-person shooters proclaim their harsh realism, but protests against the America vs. Taliban game Medal Of Honor show that gamers do not want products that hit close to home -- and yanking the Taliban from the "ripped from the headlines" war epic kills the whole selling point.

It is unsurprising that games have hit the point of seeming too real to consumers. Improvements in technology in both the gaming machines and the home theater allow audio and visuals comparable to real life. Console games have been on this track for a while.

The key difference between the upcoming Medal Of Honor and other war "simulators" is that it pushes away the element of fantasy. Medal Of Honor prides itself on using accurate weaponry, language and missions from the war in Afghanistan. Compare it to the average first-person shooter: One look at the bestselling Halo and Gears of War series from Microsoft (MSFT) and it's obvious they are set in futuristic alien environments. However, fantasy also relates to era. For instance, Activision's (ACTV) Vietnam-based Call of Duty: Black Ops hasn't had a hint of controversy, and id's classic World War II game (and Doom precursor) Wolfenstein 3D was a hot topic because of the violence, not because literally hundreds of Nazis were being mowed down.

Gaming hasn't matured enough to handle the reality of death. A year ago Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 raised a huge stink because an interlude made the player go undercover as a terrorist and potentially perform a terrorist act. As I argue in my book Porn & Pong: How Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider and Other Sexy Games Changed Our Culture, video games are held to different standards than other arts because you, the player, are in control (though that, of course, is an illusion since the game designer dictates your experience). Killing faceless aliens or destroying unfamiliar lives in a parallel universe is fine, but recognizing modern humanity is too much.

How will this affect sales? For Medal of Honor, it blows a fat hole in EA's realism claim. The Taliban is now the generic "Opposing Force", despite EA keeping every other detail the same. Worse, gamers can watch the news and see things that look very similar to Medal of Honor's in-game footage -- all being blamed on the Taliban. It is a strong reminder that, from death without consequences to seemingly invincible main characters, most video games haven't earned the right to use the word "realism". The jig is up: Game companies are going to have to find another angle to sell it to the public.

Photo courtesy of EA

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