Last week a story broke that floated around on a few video game news blogs as well as a couple mainstream media sites — the Army and Air Force Exchange Service banned the on-base sale of the upcoming video game Medal of Honor that is currently being developed my EA. The reason supplied as to why it was banned is that in the game you may play as Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. When questioned by the video game news blog Kotaku, the commanding general of the AAFES said “Out of respect to those we serve, we will not be stocking this game.” He went on to mention that his customer base (the US Army) will most likely experience combat in real life and that this is a major factor in banning the sale of the game.
While video game violence has always been a touchy subject in the media, this specific incident of banning a video game depicting violence is interesting one. This isn’t about banning the sale of certain games to minors — it is about banning a shooter from those who likely will engage in such violence in real life. It is that very thing that I find very silly, and if I was a soldier I’d imagine I would be quite irritated by the decision.
The main problem doesn’t seem to be the violence, though — it seems to be that it is the ability to play as a member of the Taliban. Someone higher up apparently thinks that this experience would be damaging or offensive to troops. Here I have to ask a very simple question: Why?
The knee-jerk response is that playing as the Taliban makes the game “sensitive” or traumatic, but dissecting that very statement proves to be troublesome. After all, what is the traumatic part? Playing as the “bad” guys? In video games when people compete versus one another there always has to be two groups. Good guys vs. bad guys, cops vs. robbers, Americans vs, Russians, counter-terrorists vs. terrorists — such things have always existed and honestly, they are usually forgotten. Whenever playing any sort of shooting game who I am playing as doesn’t matter so much as the competitive nature behind it.
The argument, of course, is that the Taliban is a current enemy that we are engaged with and that this somehow makes it a faux pas because soldiers might be playing against (or as) the very enemy they are fighting in reality. The army holds that seeing Americans playing (and killing others) as Taliban might be shocking and offensive to some. Keep in mind though, that it is just a game and that in reality the “enemy” is still your buddy who is sitting next to you. It is still a video game and nothing more. This isn’t footage of the Taliban killing soldiers, it is a couple of people playing against each other in a virtual world. So what’s the fear?
Besides, isn’t it a little ridiculous to ban a military shooter when the military develops its own shooter and actively uses to recruit soldiers? America’s Army is set in a current, modern setting — and troops can fight and “die” in that game as well. Originally it was meant to simulate actual conflicts, even going so far as to make you go through boot camp.
More so, isn’t it a little questionable to ban something citing its violence or content, claiming to be “caring about those we serve” when these same soldiers are, well… soldiers? Shouldn’t those who fight for our country be allowed to enjoy whatever legal entertainment they please in their downtime?
Whenever you start to stretch your fingers out into the grounds of censorship under the guise of “protecting people” questions are always raised. This case isn’t any different and while it only impacts a very small percentage of the population, it still is something that we should keep an eye on as it possibly has implications for all of us.