The Hypocrisy of the Medal of Honour Taliban Controversy

For those of you living under a massive rock, the latest incarnation of long-running first person shooter franchise Medal of Honour was released earlier this month to generally positive but few gushing-with-praise reviews and selling a hugely respectable 1.5 million copies worldwide in the first five days of release thanks largely to an extensive marketing campaign, no small feat for a reboot of an IP that has festered over the last few years.

However the release was overshadowed by possibly the largest video game controversy (that’s right another one) since Modern Warfare 2’s ‘how man holiday-goers can you shoot in the face?’ level. It seems that when you make a game that pitches you, as a member of the US army, against the Taliban, the logical decision to make the Taliban the playable opposing force in the multiplayer mode isn’t acceptable.

Fox News were typically ‘fair and balanced’ about the whole situation:

On top of this, UK defence secretary Liam Fox was quick to speak out and was quoted as saying:

“It’s shocking that someone would think it acceptable to recreate the acts of the Taliban. At the hands of the Taliban, children have lost fathers and wives have lost husbands. I am disgusted and angry. It’s hard to believe any citizen of our country would wish to buy such a thoroughly un-British game. I would urge retailers to show their support for our armed forces and ban this tasteless product.”

Canadian defence minister Peter Mackay was quick to read the minds of all 30 million people in his country:

“I find it wrong to have anyone, children in particular, playing the role of the Taliban. I’m sure most Canadians are uncomfortable and angry about this.”

Putting aside the obvious fact that in his country it’s the ESRB that is responsible for the T rating that the game has earned which enables ‘children’ to play the game, not Electronic Arts, the whole controversy over the matter is a shameless hypocrisy for two very simple reasons:

1. It was seemingly fine to play as a Nazi in the previous Medal of Honour Games

That’s right, all previous incarnations of the series which pitted the player against the Nazis have featured multiplayer modes that let you take control of members of a political group responsible for the deaths of:

  • 6 million Jews
  • 2 million Soviet prisoners of war
  • 2 million poles
  • 250,000 disabled people
  • 200,000 gypsies
  • 15,000  homosexuals

Granted, none of the games were as callous as to let the player take part in any of this but the newest game doesn’t let you kill any civilians either, instead it simply focuses on the conflict between the US army and the Taliban, or at least it did until the developers caved in to pressure and renamed them the ‘opposing force’.

EA representative Amanda Taggart was quick to point out the logical necessity of having the Taliban in the multiplayer mode, just like the Nazis in the previous games were also a necessity, saying:

“If someone’s the cop, someone’s gotta be the robber, someone’s gotta be the pirate and someone’s gotta be the alien.”

It’s true that the war against the Taliban is still ongoing whereas the war against the Nazi party has long been over, although fringe groups still exist, but anyone who compared the Taliban with the Nazi party would certainly agree that the latter ‘s actions were by far more devastating and immoral than anything the Taliban has ever done. And despite the fact that the Nazi party was disbanded a long time ago, most of the criticisms about the latest Medal of Honour game don’t stem from the fact that the Taliban are still active, but more that they’re responsible for the deaths of many citizens from the Western countries that are criticising the game, a charge that can also be pointed at the Nazis.

All of which brings me nicely onto the second reason why the controversy is hypocritical:

2.The forces fighting the Taliban aren’t beyond moral criticism.

The War in Afghanistan, as well as being condemned as illegal by many, has also seen the estimated deaths of between 8,991 and 28,583 civilians killed as a result of US led military actions, far exceeding the civilian casualties enacted on the West by the Taliban.

In addition to this there is a vast array of documented civil rights abuses, from the illegal detentions in Guantanamo Bay to the beating to death of an innocent taxi driver at Bagram Air Base, actions widely condemned by human rights groups from across the globe.

Without wanting to enter a drawn out political debate about the necessity of the War in Afghanistan, the civil rights abuses and the collateral damage incurred as a result, it seems that it wouldn’t exactly be unthinkable for some people to claim that of the two forces playable in the multiplayer mode of Medal of Honour, both sides are at least equally morally repugnant. There’s no denying that the Taliban is a terrorist group responsible for atrocities, but then again the US and indeed to other countries in the coalition have, in instances, been as reprehensible and I’m sure that many gamers in Afghanistan would be equally as offended by the prospect of playing a game as a soldier from the same army that has invaded their country.