aolnews: It's a standard feature of World War II-themed video games like Electronic Arts' best-selling "Medal of Honor" series: In multiplayer sessions, while some players take the roles of Allied troops, the other half wind up playing as soldiers of the Third Reich. Now EA's next "Medal of Honor" release is set to up the discomfort factor that comes with such an option. Set in modern-day Afghanistan, it will allow users to play as the Taliban.
Developer DICE has emphasized that it isn't trying to make any grand political statements with the game. Along with publisher EA, it says it's not possible to make a game about a contemporary war without including this kind of feature -- and facing the controversy that comes with it.
"Most of us having been doing this since we were 7 -- if someone's the cop, someone's gotta be the robber, someone's gotta be the pirate and someone's gotta be the alien," Amanda Taggart, senior PR manager for EA, told AOL News. "In 'Medal of Honor' multiplayer, someone's gotta be the Taliban."
While the Nazis in the old "Medal of Honor" came at the safe remove of history, having U.S. children portray Taliban insurgents trying to gun down U.S. forces via the game is indisputably more in-your-face. The game is also set to launch amid the deadliest stretch of the Afghan war for the American military, which has lost more than 1,200 soldiers in the conflict so far. "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" caused a stir when it allowed the player to take part in a terrorist attack on a Russian airport, and that wasn't connected to a real American war.
One gamer who got to play an early version of the game couldn't help but feel conflicted. "Watching virtual coalition troops gunned down by insurgents in the ruins of Kabul, I felt more than a little weird, especially since a friend lost his brother in Afghanistan only a few weeks ago," Dan Whitehead wrote at eurogamer.net. "This is a real war that is happening right now, real blood is being shed, and simulating that for fragfest fun while being rewarded for kill streaks. ... Well, there's just something a bit icky about that."
But Joseph Olin, president of the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, argues that depictions of war shouldn't be pretty to start with. He also feels that a role of the arts in wartime should be facilitating empathy for the enemy.
"In all combat simulations that we've entertained ourselves with, from pen and paper to movies and literature, you've always been able to experience combat from the enemy's perspective," he told AOL News. "That's always been a draw about some of the best films that have been done about World War II."
At the end of the day, "It's a game," the title's producer, Patrick Liu, told PSM3 magazine, adding that DICA and EA had no intention of provoking a reaction.
American Legion spokesman Marty Callaghan seemed to agree about the place the new "Medal of Honor" has in political discourse.
"The content of video games is not a concern of the American Legion," he told AOL News. "We are concerned with the real world, and the troops who are fighting overseas, and the veterans who have served their countries with honors. We're concerned with that reality."
Game Developers have tread dangerous waters before when Konami planned to publish "Six Days in Fallujah," a planned Iraq war game that the company claimed was even developed with input from insurgents. That game, however, was ultimately scrapped due to political considerations.
The new "Medal of Honor" is slated for release in October.
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