Is EA disrespecting veterans by featuring the Taliban in a video game?

For the first time ever, Electronic Arts’ first-person shooter series Medal of Honor is taking the fight out of World War II. The setting for the latest instalment, set to be released October 12, is the current war in Afghanistan. It promises to be an action-packed reboot of the venerable series, and is aiming to be highly realistic look at the struggle between the Americans and the Taliban.

Scratch that — a fight between Americans and “Opposing Forces.”

Online matches were to have one team as the Americans, and another as the Taliban. However, veterans’ organizations and militaries from across the Western world have condemned the move, claiming that playing as the Taliban is disrespectful to veterans of the current war. After trying to defend the decision, citing a dedication to realism, EA finally gave in, and now the Taliban will be called Opposing Forces in multiplayer matches.

Single player mode, where you play as the Americans, still refers to the enemy as the Taliban.

Executive producer Greg Goodrich defended the move. From the CBC:

“While this change should not directly affect gamers, as it does not fundamentally alter the gameplay, we are making this change for the men and women serving in the military and for the families of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice — this franchise will never wilfully disrespect, intentionally or otherwise, your memory and service.”

Many gamers also accused the media of practising a double standard. Films such as last year’s The Hurt Locker — set during the conflict in Iraq — can win best-picture awards while video games dealing with similar topics evoke controversy.

EA president Frank Gibeau commented on that trend in August.

“At EA we passionately believe games are an art form, and I don’t know why films and books set in Afghanistan don’t get flak, yet [games] do,” he told the Develop-Online website. “Whether it’s Red Badge Of Courage or The Hurt Locker, the media of its time can be a platform for the people who wish to tell their stories. Games are becoming that platform.”

To me, this reeks of a double standard. Frank Gibeau hit the nail on the head with his comments — why are Afghan War films acceptable, but not video games? And what about countless other games based on real wars? There are still veterans from World War II alive today; are we disrespecting these veterans every time we play as Germany in multiplayer? Should we instead play as “Goose-Stepping Antagonist Team” in any of the hundreds of World War II games?

What do you think, readers? Tell us what you think about EA’s decision to rename the bad guys.