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Why removing the Taliban from Medal of Honor is gaming's biggest victory
by Chris Hawke

Was I harsh in my beta review of Medal of Honor? Yes. I was cutting, scathing and wounding. But rightfully so, as even developers and EA staff seem to have agreed that the first public beta was 'pretty damn rubbish'. So, they did what very few companies seem to do these days: they went back, and they made the game better. And to prove it, for four days, everyone with a PC could jump in and check it out.

But the revamped gameplay wasn't the main focus; there was something much more pressing. The Taliban. Oh, no, wait - the 'Opposing Force', as they're known now. After public backlashes from every direction, EA decided to remove that word. Why? Was it to protect free speech? Was it to honour those who gave their lives overseas? Was it to milk every last piece of publicity and free advertising out of this 'scandal'? Who knows. The only thing you need to know is that this removal is possibly the biggest public victory in the history of gaming.

Let's go back to the start. Medal of Honor features the Taliban as your cannon-fodder in the single player. In multiplayer, you could play as either the United States Marine Corps, popping heads from twenty metres, or as the Taliban, capping knees from point-blank range. This went largely unnoticed by most due to the fact that, in their minds, it didn't really matter. But then the press got hold of the story.

And boy, did they have a field day.

Fox got involved, inviting a 'gold star mom' to speak out on why she thinks Medal of Honor is a horrible and sickening piece of 'entertainment'. In the UK, Liam Fox, a Conservative polititian and the Secretary of State for Defence of the United Kingdom called for it to be banned, labelling it 'un-British' and 'shocking', comments quickly revoked by the coalition Government (and resulting in a sharp slap on the wrist for Mr. Fox). EA remained strong, saying: "Most of us have been doing this since we were 7; if someone's the cop, someone's got to be the robber, someone's got to be the pirate and someone's got to be the alien. In Medal of Honor's multiplayer, someone's got to be the Taliban."

Let's not get bogged down in those claims and arguments that blocked out the gaming sun like oh-so-much controversial ash; you have an opinion on each of them, and each of them are valid in some way. The most important thing was that EA had no plans to remove those 7 letters.

Of course, as we now know, hell yeah they did. In fact, after the last straw fell (MOH being banned from various on-base Gamestops in the US), EA decided to remove the feature to play as the Taliban from the multiplayer. "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," said Greg Goodrich, the game's executive producer. Gamers were confused, opinion was split, and EA were either shouted at or praised, seemingly in equal measure. What was lost on people was the fact that, now, Medal of Honor was lost on the press.

I played the PC beta. It makes no difference whatsoever. The OPFOR look like the Taliban. They fight like the Taliban. They speak, shout, move and shoot like the Taliban. The only thing missing are those 7 letters. It changes absolutely nothing; every single facet of this 'Opposing Force' screams Taliban, and ask anyone over the age of about three to give the team a name, 'Taliban' would be used 90% of the time. For all intents and purposes, I played for much of those four days as a member of the Taliban, shooting and killing American troops. So why has gaming won?

Gaming is at one of those incredibly pivotal points in an entertainment form's life, an echo of the times when comic books were banned due to being too violent, when Rock n' Roll was attributed to teenage rebellion, when moving pictures were 'useless' and destined to fail. The Medal of Honor scandal proved gaming has pushed into the mainstream. EA have removed 7 letters from the multiplayer aspect of a video game. In this video game, you kill and kill and kill, blowing up American soldiers or plugging PKM rounds into oncoming insurgents. It's bloody, violent, morally questionable and startlingly accurate in detail. Yet, now that the word 'Taliban' doesn't feature, it's totally fine. Little Jimmy can rack up headshots all day long, and millions around the world can pump lead into each other as they please; the media don't raise an eyebrow over the gruesome or morbid nature of the game's focus.

EA removing the Taliban option was the best choice they've ever made; free advertising, appeasing the masses and proving a point. Are Fox inviting a 'gold star mom' on the question the blood and gore? Are politicians going red in the face over the huge number of deaths you'll cause? Hell no. Now that the headline-grabbing element has gone, these people, who called for the game's ban in the hope that no man, woman or child would ever play one second of the game couldn't care less whether Medal of Honor flops or hits big. You may think it hypocritical, but these people did honestly believe they were right in attacking EA over this matter - they thought they would protect society as a whole, something that should, on some level, be praised. But something like Medal Of Honor, with the removal of a single word, is now a totally valid form of entertainment.

It's a testament to how far along games have come, and how socially accepted they are now, that no fuss is kicked up over the graphic nature of a title sure to sell by the millions. Medal of Honor proves that gaming has finally reached mainstream status.

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- Chris Hawke

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