Thursday, 17 October 2013

Why Medal of Honor Scares Me

I posted my review of the 2010 release of Medal of Honor yesterday. I mentioned that it creeped me out and briefly talked about some of the reasons, but didn't want to go on for too long about things that weren't super important to the conclusion of the review. But here I'll go into detail.

So first up is my revelation that the game is about the initial invasion of Afghanistan in 2002. I was kind of surprised and wondered why I hadn't really picked up any more setting from the actual game than "Someone said Taliban and I'm in the desert so I guess I'm in the Middle East somewhere". This is an odd oversight, and pretty poor game design to not actually tell me what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. Maybe if I were American instead of Canadian it would have been more obvious that the game's opening was referring to the World Trade Center when it mentioned a bombing, but still, that's an assumption on the part of the developers. Not realizing this while I was playing the game, I was frequently confused as to why things were happening and why everyone was so utterly convinced that they're killing Bad Guys and Doing The Right Thing, but it all makes sense now.

I'm going to change track for a minute here. Before the game actually came out, the public discovered that the two multiplayer factions would be the US Army and the Taliban. People freaked out over playable Taliban. EA's argument was basically "well when you play cops and robbers, someone has to be the robber". That sounds pretty reasonable to me - I mean, no one ever complains about playing as Nazis or Soviets in other war games - but in the end the faction was retitled "Opposing Force" because of the unrelenting criticism. I guess this particular war is too current. As an example of the reaction, UK Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox said that it was "shocking that someone would think it acceptable to recreate the acts of the Taliban against British soldiers [...] At the hands of the Taliban, children have lost fathers and wives have lost husbands".

Can you believe the utter hypocrisy here? Of course it's shocking to recreate the Taliban's actions, but British (or American or Canadian or whoever) soldiers have done no wrong, and it isn't shocking in the least to depict those armies killing thousands. American and British forces have never caused children to lose fathers or wives to lose husbands, because they're the Good Guys, right?

This Good Guy / Bad Guy mentality completely pervades Medal of Honor. The word "Taliban" is only mentioned once or twice in the entire campaign. The rest of the time, they're the Bad Guys. It's okay to shoot them, they're Bad Guys. Bad Guys over there. We're in Bad Guy Land. Oh, he's got a gun, he's a Bad Guy (never mind that the Good Guys carry guns too). Before I realized that this game was about the reaction to 9/11, I found it utterly confusing that there was no justification at all for having the player kill hundreds of men, and it made me kind of uncomfortable given that Spec Ops: The Line is the only other modern military shooter I've ever played all the way through.

Two minutes ago, this was a village. Yay, overwhelming force!
It's also shocking how overwhelmingly the US forces outmatch the Taliban. Group of soldiers is in trouble on the ground? Call in an air strike. There's a machine gun we can't get past? Call in an air strike. There's an anti-aircraft gun blocking our air strikes? Call in an artillery barrage! One scene put me in a gunship and told me to level a town because there were a couple of guys with AK-47s hiding inside.  And through all of this the game wants me to feel like a badass because I have such big guns and look at how many guys I'm killing with my giant guns!

Oddly enough the game tries to have its cake and eat it too. General Flagg, the man in charge of the operation, is portrayed as a bloodthirsty idiot who doesn't give a damn about the reality on the ground. He doesn't care that there are still targets to take down and that it's still too dangerous to land troops, he wants the choppers to put Rangers on the ground NOW. There are some unidentified trucks on approach, and they have weapons? Flagg can't take the risk of waiting for eyes to see if they're friendlies, he wants them blown to hell NOW (turns out they are friendly and he just ordered the deaths of the reinforcements). 

It's astounding how the game is so unwaveringly confident that the soldiers on the ground killing hundreds with no second thoughts (and sometimes even seeming to enjoy themselves) are Doing The Right Thing while the leadership is completely inept and clueless and bloodthirsty. Did it never occur to anyone that if the leadership in charge of the operation is completely inept and clueless, that maybe - just maybe - the soldiers are not in fact Doing The Right Thing? At one point you're even supposed to cheer for the colonel who ignores the general's orders against sending a rescue team for some SEALS, despite the colonel following every order to kill Bad Guys.

And after all of this, at the end of the campaign, the game has the gall to tell me that warriors are born out of injustice and the desire to protect people and do what's right and blah blah blah poetic glorification of the US Army. The complete and utter conviction that you are a Good Guy who is Doing The Right Thing by Killing Bad Guys is insidious and disturbing and reeks of propaganda.

Medal of Honor made me appreciate Spec Ops: The Line even more than I already did for The Line's  willingness to question and criticize military video games and the players who enjoy those games. Basically, The Line says that these games are about twisting reality to create heroism out of insanity. 

After playing Medal of Honor, I have to agree.

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