A Medal of Honor ban?
Electronic Arts Inc., responding to criticism that its new video game was insensitive to Americans killed in Afghanistan, said this month it would alter its upcoming edition of Medal of Honor so that players could not assume the role of the Taliban attacking U.S. and British troops.
But game players still will be able to battle U.S. forces and "kill" Americans. They just will be fighting under the generic name of "opposing forces," or "OpFor," the company announced on its blog.
The decision comes after the U.S. military banned sales of the game, scheduled for release Oct. 12, at nearly 300 stores located on its bases. Maj. Gen. Bruce Casella, who commands the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, which oversees military base shops, said "the life-and-death scenarios this product presents as entertainment" could upset the families of those who have died in the war.
British Defense Secretary Liam Fox also denounced the game: "At the hands of the Taliban, children have lost fathers and wives have lost husbands. It's shocking that someone would think it acceptable to re-create the acts of the Taliban against British soldiers."
Judd Anstey, an Exchange Service spokesman, said his group is reviewing the changes and could decide as early as next week whether to allow the game to sell on military bases.
"The Army & Air Force Exchange Service is aware of reported changes to the Medal of Honor game," Anstey said. "The organization has been and continues to be engaged in a thorough review to fully understand the extent of the modifications."
"It came down to our core value of honoring the soldier," said Greg Goodrich, executive producer of the game, which will be the 14th title in the 11-year-old Medal of Honor series. "We're making this change out of our deepest respect for the men and women serving in the military. The core tenet of the game has always been to honor the soldier."
The game follows a handful of elite soldiers through the opening months of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan toward the end of 2001 and into early 2002. Players in the single-player mode will get to play one of several U.S. troops, including an Army Ranger, a sniper and an Apache helicopter gunner.
The controversy involves the multi-player mode, in which players go online and form two opposing teams, one of coalition forces and the other Taliban insurgents. EA on Friday began testing its multi-player option with a small number of players online.
The change affects only the name of the opposing side, leaving the rest of the game untouched, Goodrich said. Jointly developed by two EA studios in Los Angeles and Sweden, the latest Medal of Honor is the first game in the billion-dollar franchise to be set outside of World War II. Earlier versions allowed players to assume the role of German Nazis battling Allied forces.
Goodrich said the decision to base the game in Afghanistan came when its designers began consulting troops who were in the military's elite special forces known as Tier 1 units.
"These Tier 1 operators are fascinating people," Goodrich said, "and not just because of what they do operationally. When working with them, we found the backbone of our narrative."
Goodrich said the game is fictional but is inspired by events that occurred when the U.S. began sending troops into Afghanistan in late 2001.
Last year, another game company, Konami Digital Entertainment Inc., bowed to public pressure and canceled an ambitious game that re-enacted a pivotal battle in the Iraq war: the 2004 siege of Fallujah that left 71 U.S. troops and about 1,600 insurgents dead.
The controversy surrounding the ban of Medal of Honor does not seem to have affected sales.
EA on Thursday reported that a "record" number of people had reserved copies of the game, compared with previous versions of the franchise, although it did not release an actual figure.