Playing Taliban

Video gamers can play at being Taliban fighters killing U.S. soldiers in an Electronic Arts game , “Medal of Honor,” scheduled for release in October. Someone has to play the bad guy, EA says. Turning an ongoing war into a game is wrong, Karen Meredith tells the San Jose Mercury News. Her son, Army Lt. Ken Ballard was killed in Iraq in 2004.

 “How can they say it’s OK for someone to play the Taliban? You’ll have people sitting at home, drinking beer, shooting at American soldiers, maybe missing, then starting over. Well, Ken didn’t have a chance to start over.”

There’s a waiting list for the game, which is said to feature “realistic” effects.  The controversy is good publicity, analysts say.

With an Afghanistan backdrop and the option to play good guy or bad, gamers like Fernando Angeles can’t wait to get their hands on the game. “It’s fun killing people,” said the itchy-fingered 13-year-old standing outside a San Jose GameStop store. “I get to roam around and feel like soldiers feel. I’ve played the bad guys before, but this will be even better because it’s based on the real thing. You don’t want to hurt other Americans, but you’ve got to win the game.”

Other multiplayer games let players take the role of a Nazi or some other bad guy trying to kill the good guys. (Are there video games based on the Vietnam War?) But the Taliban aren’t history or fantasy. They’re doing their best to kill real Americans. 

Celeste Zappala, a Philadelphia woman who lost her son in Baghdad in 2004, said, “One of the saddest things about this is the terrible disconnect between the horrible reality of these wars and the Americans back home in their bedrooms playing games like this. Morally and ethically, the game’s maker should do the right thing and pull it.”

In a letter to Electronic Arts, Meredith “stopped short of asking EA to pull the game, saying she recognizes the First Amendment right of its creators to create whatever they like,” the Mercury News reports. Meredith wrote:  

“Anyone who has gone to war will tell you that WAR IS NOT A GAME,” she wrote. “If you still believe that, I invite you to join me at my son’s headstone at Arlington National Cemetery in Section 60 where more than 800 of our country’s finest who were killed in Iraq & Afghanistan are laid for eternity.”

And, she wrote, “eternity is a long time, no restarts, no do-overs.”

Will Medal of Honor desensitize young players to the realities of war? Or just let them express their natural agression?

It reminds me of the controversy over the Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero in New York City. Clearly, EA has a right to turn the war in Afghanistan into a game.  But should they?

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  1. .

    When the military runs war games, some of our boys play ‘the enemy’. It’s a great way to learn where the weaknesses are in your assumptions. In business, strategic planning usually involves gaming the competition’s behavior.

    So, it’s a good thing to have people play ‘Taliban’.


  2. What I want to know is, who is letting 13-year-olds play this game? I’m pretty sure it’s rated M. Where are Fernando’s guardians, and why is it OK for him to buy and/or play this game? That’s what’s bothering me the most. I’m an adult and can make my own stupid decisions based on my life experience. The fact that kids like Fernando are playing these games with very little life experience to put it in context is what’s disturbing.

    Game developers, or any manufacturer for that matter, will make products that sell regardless of how tasteless or offensive they are. They are in it to make money. It’s a business and creative decision to make games like this, much like movies are for the film industry. I doubt very much that it’s a values issue for EA.

    I think there’s plenty of research to indicate that violent games desensitize players, so that’s not even really a question.

  3. Patti’s right about the age issue. A lot of the games, movies, and music that ‘corrupts’ kids usually is rated for adults only…so the only way that kids will get the media is if the store fails to check the age of the buyer or it is bought for them by an adult.
    I used to work at Circuit City and cannot tell you how many times I saw parents buying rated R movies or rated M games for their children right next to them, who looked to still be in late elementary school. A couple times I tried to let parents know about the rating during the purchase (in a very non-confrontational way) and was met with indifference or even slight anger because I was “questioning their parenting skills.”
    Ditto for the web and TV. Parents fail to monitor their children, so 12 year olds are able to watch porn online or reality TV shows that turn drunk and misguided fools into cultural heroes.
    Why? Because parenting is too much for these individuals.

  4. Eric Jablow says:

    Since the mid-50s, there have been hobbyist wargames on nearly every war in history. One player may represent the forces of Nazi Germany, or Imperial Japan, or the Confederate States, or the Vietcong. It is understood in the paper and cardboard counter world that trying to get one’s WW2 Germans to beat the Russians does not imply that the player would have wanted that situation to occur. Videogames may be more immersive, however.

  5. Walter_E_Wallis says:

    Cowboys and Indians didn’t “Engage in meaningful negotiations”. I believe a popular game is Grand Theft Auto, and I suspect some of he games my grandson, a computer programming major, have some harsh moments.