Medal of Honor Becomes a Missed Opportunity

I have nothing but harsh words for the people over at DICE today. But, before I start firing my guns, I should give you guys some context:

“I think it is a fair point.” said producer Patrick Liu on the latest issue of PSM3 magazine, on whether or not playing as Taliban soldiers may be pushing it too far, “We do stir up some feelings, although it’s not about the war, it’s about the soldiers…We can’t get away from what the setting is and who the factions are, but in the end, it’s a game, so we’re not pushing or provoking too hard.”

I can’t even count the number of things wrong with those statements. Let’s tackle them one at a time, shall we?

Controversy around this subject is to be expected, especially considering that Medal of Honor will depict present-day conflict. The subject isn’t something most of us have only read in history books, this is something that’s happening right now. And we get to use the actual guns on actual enemies while simulating war tactics in our pursuits for killstreaks. Given these facts, it’s not surprising that some people may have issues with what the game depicts. It’s a sensitive issue.

Still, I maintained hope that the direction the game is taking is some sort of artistic choice–it had to be. Why pick the current war? Why pick the current “enemy?” There has to be some intent, some message, a qualifier of some sort, right?

Hmm. Red flag # 1: it’s not about the war. It’s about the soldiers.

And, it’s a fair enough point. Except, if it’s not really about the war, why bother going through so much trouble to make the game as realistic as possible in the “right” way? It doesn’t make any sense to put so much effort into showing current armed conflict if that’s not the point. Why bother consulting all those special forces? To me, saying that it’s not about the war serves as a deflection.

DICE could have avoided this entire debacle if they just abstracted the themes they want to relay in a different setting or context–after all, it’s about the soldiers. Not about the war. So it doesn’t make sense for them to say they couldn’t “get away” from the setting and the factions. Yes, they could have. In fact, it’s becoming obvious that perhaps they should have, considering that they just got done saying that the war itself isn’t the point. Why bother depicting that, specifically, then?

Unless, you know, the setting wasn’t chosen for some artistic reason, or chosen to relay some sort of message. What if the setting was chosen knowing that it would garner controversy and sell more copies?

Okay, that’s just speculation–but wait, there’s more.

In the end, it’s a game.

Just a game, y’know? Nothing more, nothing less.

You may be thinking to yourself, what’s wrong with that statement? It’s true: it’s a game. And yes, you’d be right, it is a game. Here’s the thing, though, and let’s not kid ourselves: the “just a game” argument has become the biggest cop-out in the industry. Hell, I’d go so far as to say it’s one of the biggest cancers in the industry/community.

The ‘it’s just a game’ argument allows games to keep pushing the status quo without repercussions. It’s funny because gamers tend to get their panties in a bunch whenever someone questions whether or not games can be art, but I’m convinced that perhaps games do not deserve to be recognized as art until we, as a community, start treating it as such. Critical discussion is necessary for that to ever happen. The second someone starts thinking about something critically, though, the gaming community tends to pull the universal cop-out. Activision doesn’t think we should have female protagonists? It’s just a game. Or, ‘it’s just a game’s cousin, ‘it’s just business’. Do we glorify war, have we become desensitized? No. It’s just a game. Why do we keep getting the same bald space marine/Nathan Drake/silent arms carrying a gun? Who cares? It’s a game. It’s just a game, and that’s why they won’t push or provoke too hard.

The argument halts all conversation. Let’s just get back to our headshots and critical hits, we’re better off that way, right? We’re just here to have some fun.

Think of what Medal of Honor could have been, just for a second. It could have brought the issues of the current war to the forefront, to youth who may not usually care about the subject. Most of us live our daily lives without ever having to recognize or acknowledge that we’re on middle eastern soil right now, our country is doing things most of us can’t make heads or tails out of. Sure, a game may not the the most desirable way to learn about what’s going on in the world right now, but I figure that every little bit counts, right? The value a game like Medal of Honor could possess is immense in that respect.

The only thing Medal of Honor had going for it, in this saturated FPS market, was its setting and the potential for that to take us somewhere we hadn’t been before. The potential for it to raise issues and questions that most of us don’t have to deal with. It could have hit home, and it could have hit hard, and, while ugly, it might’ve been worth our time.

But who am I kidding? It’s a game. Just a game.


  1. Tim

    Great article!

  2. A well done article, but there are some issues I’d like to point out. DICE is the dev. team responsible for the multiplayer component of the game (mechanics, game play, structure etc.). EA is responsible for the presentation of a the game as a whole, it’s concept, story arc, characters, and the overall layout of the game, in both single and multiplayer modes. If we’re going to rip on some one, lets rip on the right people.

    As for the chip on your shoulder concerning the game being about soldiers and what not. The game isn’t about all soldiers, but about a very real, very elite group of soldiers that fly below the radar out of necessity. These soldiers don’t exist in a fictional war, in the future, or in the past. The game is about the Special Forces soldiers of TODAY and the sacrifices they have to make for years to become the people we, as a country, can count on. That said, to make this game in any other setting then the current war, with which every American can relate to on some level, would nullify EA’s attempt to tell these soldiers’ stories.

    Lastly, the ‘just a game’ argument is a very good point, and I wanted to tell you I thought you did a great job of explaining it. I myself would love to see games become a stronger art form, and I think with the rise in technology and advances in story telling techniques, it’s definitely on the horizon. But, as you said, until the industry as a whole can step up, and stand behind and defend against even the usual arguments, it won’t happen soon.

    ~Will Moosman

  3. William R. Moosman

    Me again, hehe. Regarding my last post which should be right above this one, I made some errors, ironically enough, in the ‘credit where its due’ bit in the first paragraph. EA is the publisher, I believe the dev. team responsible for the overall game is Danger Close.

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