Censoring in The Gaming Industry

posted by on 3rd November 2010, at 12:55am

Censorship has been commonplace since the beginning of time. It has taken many forms, whether it related to limiting the power Galileo had in regards to his discoveries or protecting our children from bad influences. Censorship is most often used to protect a certain demographic from experiencing something that a superior group of people views as inappropriate. Some people agree with censorship, others don’t.

The gaming industry has had censorship forced upon it in the past, sometimes unwillingly, sometimes willingly. These attempts at censorship have all been to prevent the population from experiencing something that had been deemed unacceptable. Censorship in the gaming industry first comes to mind with the abrupt rating change of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas from M to Adult Only after it was discovered after it was discovered an “interactive sex minigame” could be accessed in the Hot Coffee mod on all platform versions of the game. Other examples include general attempts at limiting the availability of violent video games as some believe it will increase violent tendencies, such as in Australia. Overall, censorship is not new to the gaming industry.

If you are a gamer, you are undoubtedly aware that the holiday game season is starting. The most recent episode of censorship pertains to a game from EA, “Medal of Honor.” It was discovered initially during beta testing, that the game made reference to the Taliban. The game went further and allowed the player to play as the Taliban. This resulted in a backlash towards the game from some people and the U.S. military went even further and banned the sale of the game on it’s bases. After it was revealed that a player could play as the Taliban many groups, even military organizations felt it necessary to lobby EA to make the name change. The game has since been released with the Taliban name being changed to the generic “Op-For” (Opposing Forces).

Before we go into why exactly EA was right in making the name change, let’s first take a look at the background of the war in Afghanistan, which has been going on for 9 years. There have been countless troops lost to all NATO nations in Afghanistan; as of October 29, 2010 there have been 2,177 NATO troops lost in Afghanistan. During this time there have been successful missions against the Taliban, there have also been resurgences in areas that were thought to be stable. In a nutshell, this war is far from over and is still very much an active theatre of war.

EA was right in changing the name of the Taliban to Op-For. The War on Terror, specifically in Afghanistan started in October 2001; 9 years ago. During this time countless lives have been lost to all of the nations participating. The goal of the War on Terror was to liberate Afghanistan of the Taliban who ultimately supported Al-Qaeda. Currently the Taliban still have stronghold in Afghanistan which NATO forces are trying to shake. Medal of Honor takes place in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, where the Taliban have operated before. By allowing the player to play as a member of the Taliban in the game, EA would have been glorifying the Taliban.

The Taliban is a force that has known terrorist links. By allowing the in game name to remain “Taliban” EA would have been giving a nod to the Taliban that they have had an impact on the war in a negative way. This nod, albeit simple, would have greatly solidified the view that the Taliban had been successful in bringing awareness to their cause. Coupled with the known terrorist links, the fact that this game would have brought awareness to the Taliban’s cause ultimately brings awareness to the aims of Al-Qaeda. Let me emphasize this again: Taliban name –> Taliban Cause –> Recognition of Al-Qaeda’s aims (by the Taliban receiving Al-Qaeda support). At the end of the day, by using the name Taliban EA would have been bringing awareness to Al-Qaeda, the terrorist organisation responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Granted it’s only recognition but it serves to highlight and promote what Al-Qaeda stands for. Al-Qaeda would be more than happy to take any recognition that they would be able to receive. This is why EA made the right decision in changing the name.

It goes without saying that the military has even more responsibility than EA in matters such as this case. How would it look if the U.S. military was allowing a game to be sold that promoted their enemy? Al-Qaeda would have a field day with this information if they were to hear of it. Ultimately, it’s also a good decision that U.S. military bases banned the game from being sold.

Now comes the point where the question will be asked: why is this case different than World War II games? Well, World War II ended 65 years ago, while this war is still in progress. Germany and Japan were defeated, the Taliban is currently not defeated. We also have to realize that this current war deals with an insurgency that has no problem recruiting people from different countries in the world, whereas World War II dealt with nationalistic militaries and the politically radical leaders that controlled them. Since the end of World War II, there have been restrictions put in place to prevent Neo-Nazi’s from having too much influence; and both Germany and Japan have emerged as economic superpowers. However, the outcome of the current war is not set in stone yet and as citizens of the nations fighting it is our job not to undermine the war effort. One could even go further and say that a person who creates or supports a game that glorifies the Taliban is a supporter of the Taliban, in a figurative sense at least for the Taliban. It’s clear that there is a vast difference of a war from 65 years ago that was a conventional war to a modern war that is a war based on an insurgency.

Censorship should not take a back seat in the name of national security or at the very least the military of your country of residence. Censorship in cases like these is needed. People associated with the free speech movements or those who are naturally anti-establishment will undoubtedly be uncomfortable with censorship. Censorship is often needed to ensure the population progresses and does not regress. This is the reason why censorship of this game was valid and should have went further. By censoring the game it would have ensured that the Taliban were not glorified and would have better supported the war by presenting a pro-alliance viewpoint alone.

Before I wrap up, I have one question that everyone should ponder. Does it matter now? The game has been released. The original Taliban name made national news. Most importantly, everyone knows who they are actually playing as. Extending this question: Are we better off with the name being Op-For? Or should regulatory agencies have demanded that the content be re-written so that you could not play as a terrorist since we now know the origin of “Op-For” for Medal of Honor?

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  • Duke Juker Says:
    3rd November 2010, at 1:40am

    I might suggest Shane that a little over 2,000 is not “countless.” To be literal, if you can count it exactly, then it is counted. Saying “countless lives have been lost” is making the situation sound much worse than it is. That aside, more into censorship. I agree that taking modern issues into gaming is much different than something in the past like World War II, but I wouldn’t say there is any difference in the way things are presented. As a result, I would not agree that putting the Taliban in the game was a “glorification,” but rather a (controversial) attempt to understand the other side of the issue. The Taliban are humans, too, with ideals they believe in and are currently fighting for. In my mind, censorship is leading to a misunderstanding of the truth in this case.

    In today’s modern world, we are buffeted by news from every direction, and along with that news comes opinion and bias. What I suggest is that this game was just another example of that, but in a much more extreme sense. I don’t think we should discount the idea or content the game developers had in mind just because it’s “politically incorrect” as you are suggesting in my opinion. I believe we both know that the developers knew they were touching on a sensitive issue, but still decided to stick with what they wanted to do. And for that, I respect what they did and don’t view it as insensitive or disgusting.

    What I’m finding now is that this world’s becoming much more immature and protective than it ought to be through use of this kind of censorship. I don’t think all censorship is bad, mind you, but in some cases it’s unnecessary, and perhaps even extraneous in this circumstance. And as you mentioned at the end of the article, changing the name doesn’t do a darn thing. You can change the name of something to whatever you like since language is a human construction, but at the end of the day, the thoughts and ideas running through our minds that “This is the Taliban” will prevail no matter what, especially since it was already stated who they were.

    In conclusion, censorship can be good, but it can also be bad and harmful to the pursuit of getting at the truth when done in a sensitive manner. I don’t think the developers were intentionally trying to justify or glorify the Taliban for what they do, but only to provide us with more understanding about why they do what they do and what it feels like for them. That, in my mind, is a good motive for doing what they did. And I hope that’s the motive they had in mind.

  • Regnenth Says:
    7th November 2010, at 10:51am

    I don’t think it really would’ve mattered if EA didn’t change the name from Taliban. In earlier Medal of Honor games, players could play as Nazis, which if WW2, killed more people than the current war has. If someone is going to make the argument that keeping the name as The Taliban supports the Taliban, then that person must also feel the same way towards the other MoH games.

  • Patty Delagrange Says:
    2nd December 2010, at 4:32am

    Keep the good information comming, we need more authors like you! Been looking everywhere for a complete Wii games list. Now I have it bookmarked. Thanks!