Sensitivity, or censorship?
One of the hallmarks of the new outrage-industrial complex is that even things that had previously been unobjectionable are now liable to find themselves at the center of “outcries” and “controversy.” A mosque near Ground Zero, for example, was fine in December 2009 but became a symbol of Islamist threat by the next summer. And now a common video game practice that has gone unopposed for more than a decade is at the center of the latest firestorm. But is there a difference in this case?
From ABC News:
After a huge outcry, the company Electronic Arts has decided to drop a feature from its new Medal of Honor video game that would have allowed players to assume the role of Taliban fighters killing U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan.
Politicians and military officials in the U.S., Britain, Canada and Australia denounced the feature, and the Pentagon banned sales of the game from nearly 300 stores on U.S. military bases around the world because of it.
The critics said allowing gamers to play as Taliban fighters was insensitive to the families of U.S. and allied forces killed in Afghanistan. “At the hands of the Taliban, children have lost fathers and wives have lost husbands. I am disgusted and angry,” British Defense Secretary Liam Fox said in late August.
This is the sort of thing that NewsFeed honestly does not know how to grapple with. Our initial reaction was to laugh and sneer. After all, as anyone who has spent even one afternoon at a LAN party knows that nearly every multiplayer game has one team play as the good guys and one team play as the bad guys. For example: In Rainbow 6 (1998) and Counter-Strike (2000), teams are split between terrorists and counter-terrorists. In Battlefield 1942 (2002), players can play the parts of Nazis, Japanese soldiers or Soviet Russians; in its sequel, Battlefield: Vietnam (2004) they can play as Viet Cong. None of these games saw anything near this amount of controversy when they were released, for good reason. When kids play cops and robbers, that doesn’t mean half the kids are endorsing grand larceny.
The difference here is that Taliban currently is killing Americans in real life, so emotions are understandably raw over a virtual representation of the same thing. The more we think about it we can understand the concerns of the military families who expressed their concern to the Medal of Honor development. No one wants to imagine their loved one’s death as being “fun.” While “it’s too soon” is often a lazy excuse, it is too soon. EA’s compromise — to change the name “Taliban” in the game to “Opposing Force” — seems like a weak one, but it brings Medal of Honor closer to the generic vagueness favored by many other multiplayer games (and most Hollywood blockbusters.) The Taliban simulacra in the game will still look like the Taliban and still kill Americans like the Taliban, but that’s the kind of awkward balancing act that most large-scale entertainment dealing with war and terrorism are forced to engage in.
What NewsFeed thinks is the larger issue here is: Who owns what experiences? Military families have asserted their cultural ownership of the Afghanistan War — and because of their sacrifices many people are happy to grant them that. Some 9/11 families have tried to argue for their figurative ownership of the area around Ground Zero, with less successful results. How far do the allowances extend, and to whom? (via Techland)