This week, Electronic Arts will release Medal of Honor for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. The game is a remake of EA's hit World War II first person shooter franchise (think Duck Hunt with Nazis). The premise of this new Medal of Honor is identical: you lead a battalion of buddies through a historically inspired war, slaughtering the countless foes who obstruct America's freedom blazing path. There's just one change: the war is in Afghanistan.
The game's new location--new bits of code replacing European ruins with Arabian desert--has incensed protest among the Gold Star Mothers, a collective of mothers who lost their children in service to our country. Their concern derives from the game's multiplayer. In this mode, players square off against one another either as US Special Forces (the good guys), or The Taliban (the bad guys), in a virtual shooting gallery. Their objection is that playing as the Taliban in a video game desecrates the memory of their children. One Gold Star Mother appeared on Fox News calling for Medal of Honor to be banned while a montage of photos of her fallen son filled the television screen.
In response to a backlash from a very vocal minority, a minority that doesn't know the difference between a Mario Brother and a Memory Card, Electronic Arts caved! Electronics Arts conceded and changed the name of the enemies from 'The Taliban' to 'Opposing Force.' In Medal of Honor, you are now a soldier in 2010, deployed in Afghanistan, fighting the War on Terror, in a hunt for members of "Opposing Force." Apparently, for Gold Star Moms, that is more respectful to our troops.
As video games improve technologically, they gain a better ability to convey meaningful narratives such as the ethical motives for crime, the complexity of human sexual relationships or, I don't know, the moral ambiguity of war. Does these remind you of anything? If you answered literature, radio, television, film, or any form of entertainment, you're correct! And yet, the video game is the one medium in which the fringes of our society deem it necessary to constantly neuter its content. What if the soldiers from The Hurt Locker were suddenly required to battle the Opposing Force? Would it have resonated with you? Would it have won the Oscar for Best Picture thanks to its captivating, compelling account of American soldiers fighting an Opposing Force?
I cannot fathom the pain of losing a child in a war, nor will I ever trivialize the heartbreak these mothers must endure everyday. I will, however, make one request: stay the hell away from my Xbox. I'm utterly sick of the maternalistic attitude that still clings to the video game industry. These women do not decide what games I should or should not play. These women are not my mother. My mother is my mother, and even then, it's my basement! The only other person who told me to stop playing a video game was my girlfriend, and that was on our anniversary. I finished the level and saved.
We live in a beautiful (well, currently not so beautiful) economy known as capitalism. In capitalism, the Invisible Hands of a free-market naturally self-regulate products. This applies to cars, food, air conditioners, cell phones, and entertainment. In layman's terms, if a game's content is disrespectful to you, don't buy it. If a game's content is disrespectful to the many, the many won't buy it. Ergo, disrespectful or 'inappropriate' games will--by definition--sell poorly and disappear from the market. If you felt my analysis was disrespectful to Adam Smith, stop reading.
Even after enjoying twenty plus years of a thriving video game industry, some Americans insist that video games somehow influence the morality and behavior of its players. That's equivalent to thinking I'd want to kill my uncle after watching Hamlet, or throw lavish parties and stare at a green light after reading The Great Gatsby. I've never experienced these urges, nor have I expressed any desire to jump on reptiles after playing Super Mario Brothers nor kill corrupt Italian Renaissance noblemen after playing Assassin's Creed II.
I'll admit it: the majority of video games are violent; a healthy proportion of them can be mindless. That's the market. That's entertainment. When Electronic Arts finally releases Super Middle East Peace Process Adventure, I'll be the first to purchase it. Until then, I, along with millions of other American men and women will play games inspired by true events because they achieve the ultimate goal of entertainment: complete immersion. Humans just enjoy violence--the type where they don't get hurt. Analyzing why would require us to stare deep inside the abyss known as the human id. I'll be happy to do that...as soon as I'm finished blasting Osama Bin Laden with my Blackhawk helicopter.
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