The Game Boy: Why EA’s Taliban Censorship in Medal of Honor’s Multiplayer Misses the Point Entirely

I wish I could say this was unexpected, but, well, let’s be honest here: My reaction to EA’s last-minute act of self-censorship was less of a “WHAT” moment and more of a dejected sigh followed by the shocking realization that, holy moly, the sky is blue today. And the grass! It’s green! When did that happen? The pieces were in place, after all. There was a controversy, subsequent knee-jerk reactions on all sides, and an unfortunate precedent left festering on the shelf for years. Sad to say, it was only a matter of time before this happened:

“We have also received feedback from friends and families of fallen soldiers who have expressed concern over the inclusion of the Taliban in the multiplayer portion of our game,” said EA producer Greg Goodrich. “This is a very important voice to the Medal of Honor team. This is a voice that has earned the right to be listened to. It is a voice that we care deeply about. Because of this, and because the heartbeat of Medal of Honor has always resided in the reverence for American and Allied soldiers, we have decided to rename the opposing team in Medal of Honor multiplayer from Taliban to Opposing Force.”

GameStop’s military base locations – which formerly refused to sell the game — are now engaged in a “thorough review to fully understand the extent of the modifications.”

Which means everything’s peachy, right? Well, no. Not at all, actually. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: if the gaming industry wants to be taken seriously – for its depictions of war to become more meaningful than a kid playing with GI Joe figures in his sandbox – then we need to start acting like it. No more getting pushed around by vocal minorities. But that’s been discussed to death and will continue to be until something finally comes of it. Plus, the issue I’m attempting to dissect today makes that “big topic” seem like a guppy following in the wake of the Titanic. 

See, there’s a far more disturbing trend at work behind the scenes of all this, silently wringing its hands and muttering “Good, good” as its best-laid plans finally come to fruition. And what is that, you ask? In a nutshell, it’s that this censorship is completely pointless. And that’s no hyperbole. It literally accomplishes nothing.

How do I figure? Well, let’s break it down: People whipped themselves into a frothy mouthed frenzy over players’ ability to kill US soldiers while donning the guise of a Taliban terrorist, correct? So EA stepped in, gave all the terrorists new, less specific “Hello, my name is…” tags, and that was that. Problem solved. No more controversy, apparently.

Are you seeing the problem with that reasoning? Yes? You in the back? Uh, “C. Obvious” you said your name was? Why yes, you are correct: EA allegedly told realism to take a hike out of respect and consideration for the US troops and their families. But in Medal of Honor, US troops are still dying. Right and left. In every single multiplayer match. At the hands of terrorists. How does simply changing the name of those terrorists show respect for anyone? It’s censorship of the very worst variety; it aims for the heart of a problem, only to barely even graze its toenail. It solves nothing. It seeks only to placate and pander, and it assumes that everyone involved is stupid enough that they won’t notice.

Obviously, I’m not arguing in favor of turning Medal of Honor into a gritty, high-budget paintball game or something. But I am saying that nowadays, people’s priorities are way out of order.  It’s bad enough to censor something directly – to exercise precision in snipping some sharp edges off your product because you’re afraid they’ll rub too many people the wrong way – but it’s something else entirely when the issue’s so muddled that no one’s even sure what they’re actually upset about. Political correctness, cowardice, a general fear of ruffling feathers – call it whatever you want. Once again, the label doesn’t matter. What does matter is how it’s affecting us as a people – both in how we think and act. And if EA’s so-called “solution” to this Medal of Honor controversy is any indication, it most certainly has not been a change for the better. We honestly can’t make up our minds about who we’re more furious with right now: EA or their target audience. Either way, both sides are to blame.   

After all, if human lives — no matter how indirectly — are involved, and all it allegedly takes to make everyone forgive and forget is a simple freaking name change, then our society has a hell of a lot more to worry about than some dumb videogame.   

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