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?