Medal Of Honor – Respecting the soldier means killing him
So, Medal Of Honor’s kicking up a stink because one of the multiplayer teams is The Taliban. As usual, the loudest and most ignorant voices are drowning out what could be a worthwhile discussion on videogames and war. Whether or not you play as Taliban in Medal Of Honor – it IS NOT an issue. It’s next to meaningless. It’s only in multiplayer, which regardless of the faction names, is the red team versus the blue team. It has no context or grounding in reality. I have killed literally thousands of US and British soldiers in various multiplayer games, except I didn’t – I was killing CIVILIANS. I was killing them in their HOMES. Quite possibly in their UNDERWEAR. But they usually respawn with no lasting damage.
The Taliban are in Medal Of Honor’s multiplayer modes because they’re in the single-player campaign – simple as – and if there’s to be a debate about Medal Of Honor it should, please, be focussed on the single-player campaign. If there are going to be actual meaningful issues with this game, that’s where they’ll come up.
‘Respect for the soldier’ is EA’s catchphrase for Medal Of Honor this time out, and it’s important to remember that above-all it is a catchphrase. Making the game entertaining and commercially successful will always be a higher priority than ‘respect for the soldier’. If ‘respect for the soldier’ were that important to EA, I don’t think they’d be making this game. But EA is a business, it exists to make money from selling games – that’s the way of the world, so I guess I’m prepared to accept this game being made in the first place.
But if it’s going to be made, then the development team had better be really careful not to trivialise the war in Afghanistan, or the notion of war as a whole for that matter. My advice would be to look to older games that have, at least relative to most other games, given players a sense what war is really about. What it really means. For example…
The name and the cartoonish violence made Cannon Fodder seem like it might be a joke at the expense of war at first sight, but it’s actually satirical and arguably one of the most respectful war games ever made. Each soldier has a name and when he dies, his permanent resting place is marked on a cemetery hill along with his fallen brothers. The simple idea that death in war is both inevitable and permanent is one lost on most games, but not all, which brings me on to…
Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Yes, Modern Warfare is, for the most part, a glamorised and unrealistic portrayal of war, but it does have a handful of powerful, meaningful moments, not least the long, slow crawl out of the helicopter into a newly decimated cityscape. A bold contrast to the solo heroics of most of the rest of the campaign. And a bold contrast to the nonsense of Modern Warfare 2’s storyline as well.
So, in short, in order to respect the soldier in Medal Of Honor, it’s necessary to kill him. Sounds weird, but unless the writers and designers do that, and properly acknowledge the permanence, unavoidability and wastefulness of his death, they’re dismissing exactly what it is that each and every soldier in each and every war is risking. And that would be deeply disrespectful.