In a statement on their website, executive producer Greg Goodrich said the development team listed to the feedback from friends and families of fallen soldiers who expressed concern over the inclusion of the Taliban in the game.
“This is a voice that has earned the right to be listened to. It is a voice that we care deeply about,” Goodrich said in a statement. “Because of this, and because the heartbeat of ‘Medal of Honor’ has always resided in the reverence for American and Allied soldiers, we have decided to rename to opposing team in ‘Medal of Honor’ multiplayer from Taliban to Opposing Force.”
Goodrich said the change does not fundamentally alter the gameplay. He said the majority of the feedback on the game has been overwhelmingly positive.
But he said they were making the change “for the men and women serving in the military and for the families of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
In a June beta test release being developed by DICE and Danger Close Studios, the multiplayer video game allowed players to be a part of the two warring sides in two Afghanistan settings. In that beta release, one side was the American forces and the other was known as the Taliban forces.
A month later, Dr. Liam Fox, the British Secretary of State of Defence, called for British retail stores to ban the game. He told the “Sunday Times” that he was disgusted and angry and asked stores to show support to the military and military families by not selling “Medal of Honor.”
“It is shocking that someone would think it acceptable to recreate the acts of the Taliban,” Liam told the newspaper. “At the hands of the Taliban, children have lost fathers and wives have lost husbands.”
The Department for Culture, Media and Sports in Britian quickly distanced itself from Fox’s call for a ban, describing his comments as a “personal view.” The DCMS backed the adult rating on the game and called on consumers to exercise choice when making decisions about purchasing “Medal of Honor.”
Jeff Brown, a spokesman for EA, said the controversy surprised the game publisher, but there are two sides to the story.
“The misunderstanding starts with people who don’t understand the dynamics of video games,” Brown said. “There are cops and robbers, good guys versus bad guys, in nearly every game and we were surprised to be reminded that not everyone gets that dynamic.”
EA has received many letters from consumers, including military and retired military personnel who, Brown said, are supporting the company’s right to produce the game. Brown said it was comforting to get those letters of support because it showed the development team that they weren’t doing anything that was out of bounds or exploitive.
“We do stop and take measure of people who are offended,” Brown said. “People who say it is difficult actually seeing the Taliban when we’ve lost someone to the war.”
William Gaunter, a former Hospital Corpsman Third Class with the United States Navy, played in the early beta testing and said he wasn’t too surprised that there was an uproar about the inclusion of the Taliban in the game.
“(The war against the Taliban) is happening right now as we speak,” Gaunter said. “The American public — there is a certain time period when they are willing to accept as playing the enemy. There is a cut off somewhere.”
Gaunter pointed out that enemy forces have been depicted in movies, such as “Hurt Locker”, and books in the past without a similar public backlash. He thinks “Medal of Honor” is similar to other war video games by including two sides during multiplayer combat, but in their attempt at realism, they became a target for using the Taliban name in the game.
“Since (other games) didn’t use that name, it really didn’t bother anybody,” Gaunter explained. “It looks the same as the Taliban (in the other games), but since they didn’t use the name, they don’t get the controversy.”
“It is not the game play, it is the name. People are offended by the naming convention — menus that say Taliban,” he said. “We are not changing the game play.”
Brown said former and current military personnel helped with making the game feel as real as possible to appeal to video game players and also to stay respectful to the men and women serving in the Armed Forces.
Gaunter said the in-game realism shows that EA and DICE really did their homework.
“The weapons are what is being used now. Etchings on the guns are spot on,” he said. “It is definitely the Taliban from everything from the clothing to the weaponry.”
Despite EA’s efforts to show respect to military personnel, the U.S. military Army & Air Force Exchange Service asked on-base stores not to stock “Medal of Honor.”
“Out of respect to those we serve, we will not be stocking this game,” Major General Bruce Casella, the AAFES commanding officer, said. “We regret any inconvenience this may cause authorized shoppers, but are optimistic that they will understand the sensitivity to the life and death scenarios this product presents as entertainment.”
Brown said EA sent a letter to Casella, not to appeal the ruling, but to outline their position and history in dealing with respect to the military. Brown feels the dispute is generational.
“Younger people who are familiar with video games, the good versus bad concept, are okay with that,” he said. “Older people who don’t play games and understand the concepts have a problem with it.”
“If you aren’t a person who plays these games, you aren’t going to understand the dynamics of the game,” he said. “It is a game. It is not real life. I don’t correlate the two.”
Gaunter said he talked with other military and former military personnel about the prospect of playing the Taliban in the game. He said it was a wide range of opinions.
“Some are like me. It doesn’t bother them,” Gaunter said. “Some who were in Afghanistan or Iraq aren’t going to play the multiplayer. They are going to get the game and only play the single player, where you play as an American.”
“And I respect their decision,” he continues. “That’s what they are out there fighting for – freedom of choice. We shouldn’t have anyone tell us what we can and cannot do.”
EA plans on releasing the open multiplayer beta version for the PC in October, Brown said, to see if the servers can handle the stress but also to let people decide for themselves.
“When people see the multiplayer, people are going to see the same situation they’ve seen many times before in other games – someone has to be the cop and someone has to be the robber.”