Sorry to Offend…

posted by on 29th April 2012, at 8:19pm

Political correctness is one of the greatest obstacles game developers and publishers have to overcome before sending a game out to the public. The purpose of a game is to entertain, not to offend nor support a certain action or cause. It’s alright to be politically correct, yet when it masks the truth of a situation, it goes too far. I think it’s about high time political correctness took a step back out of gaming development. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about.

Medal of Honor Devs Rename Taliban to Opposing Force

When the new Medal of Honor game was coming out in 2010, people (namely friends and family of folks in the military) were up in arms that the multiplayer faction in the game was called the “Taliban.” As UK Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox put it, he believed it “shocking that someone would think it acceptable to recreate the acts of the Taliban against British soldiers.” Due to these concerns, EA changed the name of the faction to simply the “Opposing Force,” an appropriate and fitting name, but still a concession to the concerned and a masking of the truth. The US military said it would still not sell the game on its bases even though it would allow it on base if purchased elsewhere, clearly showing they were not totally against the game being bought by soldiers, only in supporting its sales.

Even though the game has been released now, we should still consider some things going into the future of game development. 1) Did the game creators intend for the game to offend people, 2) should those people have been offended, and 3) should political correctness therefore be a consideration in game development?

To answer the first part, no, I don’t believe EA intended to offend anyone or in any way condone or mimic the actions of the Taliban. Rather, they were aiming for a realism in their game. By calling the other force the Taliban, they were only sticking to real life context. As Amanda Taggart, senior PR manager for EA said at the time, “Most of us having been doing this since we were 7 – if someone’s the cop, someone’s gotta be the robber, someone’s gotta be the pirate and someone’s gotta be the alien. In Medal of Honor multiplayer, someone’s gotta be the Taliban.”

We all know that in a fight, there are two sides. Regardless of whether or not you call the other the “Opposing Force” rather than its real name doesn’t change the fact that we are still talking about the same entity, and that entity has a name and a certain association that goes along with that name. To not call the force the Taliban is to ignore the truth of the matter that this is who we are fighting. We care more about the thoughts of feelings of a minority of people rather than the truth. The same argument could be made, but was not, against Call of Duty for allowing players to play as the Germans fighting against the Allies in CoD 1, 2, or 3. The issue to gamers isn’t great, but are critics fine with challenging the truth?

Second, sure, the people had a reason to be offended, but it wasn’t a reasonable complaint. Of course we don’t support or agree with the Taliban and what they did or do to our soldiers, but calling them by their name in a game is neither a show of support nor a condoning of their actions, only a matter of context and realism. Most gamers do not necessarily associate with the people they are playing as. When playing an FPS game especially, few actually care which team they get put on (or if they do, they care more about who is on their team and how good their abilities are). It’s not about being the actual person in the game, but just playing and enjoying the game. For all the gamer cares, you could call the teams Black and White and they wouldn’t care that much.

Third and lastly, does political correctness belong in gaming development? I say no. Political correctness, while good in some circumstances, serves to do no good in a game. If it were to block a game from reaching its full potential (not necessarily in this case), then I would strongly urge against including it. And we need to remember, too, that the game is for the player, not the peanut gallery critic who won’t end up playing the game themselves.

If I were to add in some social commentary, I’d say that society focuses on the little things too much rather than on the important things. Society also has a pretty thin skin and can get easily offended, though we have come a long way from the 40’s and 50’s when it comes to modesty. Still, my greatest gripe isn’t with being offended or focusing on the little things. It comes with masking the truth. To me, there is no greater problem or wrong doing than hiding the truth. It may not be pretty, it may not be nice to think about, but the truth is the truth no matter how much you play with it or sugar coat it.

The bottom line in all this is that, sure, people make get offended at games and some of their content and for good reason. But, this doesn’t mean that developers should tailor games to the wills and whims of these people. Games are made for gamers, not for the critic. Truly, as long as the gamer is happy with the product, that’s what developers need to keep focusing on. You can’t please everyone in this world, nor should you try. By doing so, you do yourself no favors nor the people for which you are making the game. Publishers and developers should focus on creating an excellent game for their players and ignore side criticism from others who won’t play the game. Only then can they reach the best quality result.

This article is filed under Gaming. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can discuss this article on our forums.