Editor's note: Some of the issues in Patricia's analysis illustrate why I'm about done with military shooters. I really wish developers would just focus on the quality of the game. This trend towards using controversy as a marketing tool is starting to get on my nerves. -Jay
I have nothing but harsh words for the people over at DICE/EA. But, before I start firing my guns, I should give you guys some context:
"I think it is a fair point," said producer Patrick Liu on the latest issue of PSM3 magazine, on whether or not playing as Taliban soldiers may be pushing it too far, "We do stir up some feelings, although it's not about the war, it's about the soldiers … We can't get away from what the setting is and who the factions are, but in the end, it's a game, so we're not pushing or provoking too hard."
I can't even count the number of things wrong with those statements. Let's tackle them one at a time, shall we?
We should expect some controversy around this subject, especially considering that Medal of Honor will portray present-day engagements. This conflict isn't something most of us have only read in history books; it's something that we're experiencing right now. We get to shoot real-life enemies with modern and realistic guns while simulating actual war tactics in our pursuit for killstreaks. Given these facts, it's not surprising that some people may have problems with the sensitive issues that the game depicts.
Still, I maintained hope that the direction the developers took with game was some sort of artistic choice — it had to be. Why did they pick the current war? Why did they pick the current "enemy?" They must have had some intent, some message, or a qualifier of some sort, right?
Hmm. Red flag #1: "[I]t's not about the war. It's about the soldiers."
And, that's a fair enough point. Except, if it's not really about the war, why bother going through so much trouble to make the game as realistic as possible in the "right" way? It doesn't make any sense to put so much effort into showing current armed conflict if that's not the point. Why bother consulting all those special forces? To me, saying that it's not about the war serves as a deflection.
DICE could have avoided this entire debacle if they just abstracted the themes they wanted to relay in a different setting or context. After all, if it's about the soldiers and not about the war, it doesn't stand to reason they couldn't get away from this setting and these factions.
Perhaps they didn't have an artistic reason for choosing this backdrop after all. Maybe they're not trying to relay some profound message. What if they chose the setting simply because they knew that it would garner controversy and sell more copies?
Okay, that's just speculation, but wait, I'm not done.
It's just a game, you know? Nothing more, nothing less.
You may be thinking to yourself, what's wrong with that statement? It's true; it's a game. Let's not kid ourselves. The problem is that the "just a game" argument has become the biggest cop-out in the industry. Hell, I'd go so far as to say it's one of the biggest cancers plaguing the industry and community.
The "it's just a game" argument allows games to keep pushing the status quo without repercussions. I think it's funny when gamers tend to get their panties in a bunch whenever someone questions whether or not games can be art. However, I'm convinced that perhaps games do not deserve to be recognized as art until we, as a community, start treating it as such. Critical discussion is necessary for that to ever happen. Yet, the second someone starts thinking about something critically, the gaming community tends to reuse this tired excuse. Activision doesn't think we should have female protagonists? It's just a game. Sometimes, they mix it up a bit and we hear, "it's just business" instead. Do we glorify war? Have we become desensitized? No. It's just a game. Why do we keep getting the same bald space marine or Nathan Drake look-alike carrying a gun? Who cares? It's just a game, and that's why publishers won't push or provoke us too hard.
This argument halts all conversation. Let's just get back to our headshots and critical hits; we're better off that way, right? We just want to have some fun.
Think of what Medal of Honor could have been, just for a second. It could have brought the issues of the current war to the forefront — to youth who may not usually care about the subject. The majority of us trudge through our daily lives without ever having to recognize or acknowledge that our soldiers are on Middle-Eastern soil right now doing things most of us can't make heads or tails out of. Sure, a game may not be the most desirable way to learn about what's going on in the world right now, but I figure that every little bit counts, right? The value a game like Medal of Honor could possess is immense in that respect.
The only thing Medal of Honor had going for it, in this saturated FPS market, was its setting and the potential for that to take us somewhere we hadn't been before. The potential for it to raise issues and questions that most of us don't have to deal with. It could have hit home, and it could have hit hard, and, while it would have been ugly, it might've been worth our time.
But who am I kidding? It's just a game.
Patricia Hernandez is the founder of Nightmare Mode, a new video game blog which houses all her crazy ramblings, should she have any (but mostly game news/items she thinks are worth reading or talking about). In fact, this article is republished from that very website!