How to Fight for the Taliban Without Getting Detained As an Enemy Combatant


The latest installment in the Medal of Honor video game series, scheduled to be released by Electronic Arts next month, is set in Afghanistan and allows players to fight for the Taliban in the online version. That feature has attracted criticism from politicians such as British Defense Minister Liam Fox, who called the game "thoroughly un-British," and at least one mother of an American soldier killed in Afghanistan, who said it is "disrespectful" to base a game on an ongoing war. New York Times video game columnist Seth Schiesel has a pretty cogent response:

The outrage is surely genuine…and the discomfort understandable. But those reactions are based on a misunderstanding of what video games are.

First, it is important to understand the critical difference between a game's single-player and multiplayer modes. In a single-player campaign you are the protagonist of a particular story with its own narrative progression. In Medal of Honor's main single-player campaign, for example, the player takes the role of various United States soldiers, looking to kill Islamic bad guys and accomplish various tactical objectives along the way. If such a game's stories end in inevitable failure, no one is going to want to play them. And that is why almost every single-player game, Medal of Honor included, sets the player as the "good guy," in this case as a heroic American soldier.

If Medal of Honor let you play as the Taliban throughout an entire single-player campaign, then we would have a real controversy on our hands. Imagine the reaction to a game that included a mission where you were cooperating with Al Qaeda during the siege of Tora Bora and had to protect Osama bin Laden while spiriting him to safety.

That is not what is going on here. Medal of Honor allows you to play as the Taliban only during multiplayer matches. In such matches there is no story—and no presumption of success. And there is no sense of character development. The job is to match wits with the other humans on the other end of the Internet and defeat them through coordination, tactics and execution under pressure. The actual identities of the combatants are no more meaningful than the choice of black and white in a chess game. (The seminal multiplayer online game Counter-Strike, one of the most popular team-based combat simulators, sets its two sides as terrorists and counterterrorists, without any explicit political identification.)

So I see no reason or rationale to criticize Electronic Arts for remaining faithful to the actual conditions and reality of its game's setting.

Jeff Brown, the top spokesman for Electronic Arts, had it right when he told me this week: "Multiplayer is built on the same dynamic that ruled the cops-and-robbers game we played in our parents' backyard. Someone is the good guy. Someone is the bad guy. When the robbers won, it didn't mean those kids wanted to kill the police."


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  1. How to Fight for the Taliban With Getting Detained As an Enemy Combatant

    It seems that one would accomplish the other.

  2. Shouldn’t that “with” in the headline be a “while”?

    1. Or “without”?

      1. How about, “How to Fight for the Taliban Without an Online Copy Editor”?

      2. Hey I was right! Woo-hoo!

  3. Don’t tell anyone about Axis and Allies.

    1. if Axis and Allies had been released in 1944, your analogy would be more apt.

      1. Don’t tell kiwi about ‘Hogan’s Heroes’. Somehow it was less soon then to make a comedy about a Nazi camp, but would certainly be too soon to do it now.

    2. Hell, just go back a few years to the release of Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts. That featured a single-player campaign where you commanded a German unit during Operation Market Garden. Even worse, your unit was part of the “Panzer Elite”, which might suggest that you’re actually playing as a member of II SS Panzer Corps.

    3. Or America’s Army, produced well before 9/11 (commissioned by… the U.S. Army) and allowed players to fight against American soldiers as ‘indiginous forces’ complete with swarthy compexion and aging soviet RPG-9’s.

  4. We’re all in favor of the First Amendment, but…
    Can’t they move that game a few blocks away?

  5. If you ever played Axis & Allies or any other WWII-type multiplayer game, you will recall that the biggest challenge was always that everybody wanted to be the Germans.

    1. You know who else wanted to be the Germans…

      1. The Italians?

      2. Charles Lindbergh?

        1. The French?

          1. The French?

            The French were played by the Germans. Played like a fiddle.

    2. That because the germans started the game with the second highest amount of money (close to the US) and you had that sissy country Russia that you could take over in two turn because they don’t have enough money to buy sufficient defense in time. While the US and UK had to build transports and planes before they can even do jack.

      /Axis and Allies nerd

      1. That’s crap. I’ve won any number of times playing Russia. Of course, the last time I played the game was about twenty years ago.

        Germany is the most satisfactory, as you can easily conquer Africa, easily neutralize the UK, and, if you’re good and the guy handling Russia isn’t, take out Russia pretty quickly. Japan can be fun that way, too, though the U.S. can become a problem after a while if you don’t win quickly on the Asian mainland.

    3. They have the best tanks.

  6. If we can let people play Alliance instead of Horde, we can let them play Taliban. Or so I hear.

    1. Yeah, and if you play Taliban you can cut virtual guys’ heads off with butcher knives, I think. That’s kinda cool.

  7. In Half-Life, the Marines are the bad guys trying to kill Gordon Freeman. Is that bad too?

    People are morons about video games.

    1. Adrian Shepard redeemed them though.

  8. “When the robbers won, it didn’t mean those kids wanted to kill the police.”

    He never played C&R with H&R commenters.

    1. I have to admit, I’ve gotten on GTA San Andreas more than once after reading a Balko column.

      1. Admit it, you loved burying that guy in San Fierro alive, you sick fuck.

  9. I’m playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 again, and I’m playing it Dark Side. While I’m one of those rare people who prefers playing the good guy option in these sorts of games, I do like to see how it plays from the other side.

    Fictional, but same thing.

    1. Its weird, but lots of games these days let you play out your character as a good guy or a bad guy. I find it almost impossible to play as a bad guy.

      Which people who know me find hilarious-to-flat-out-unbelievable.

      1. I feel guilty when I have the character do something really evil. Like in this game, I used the Force to mentally overwhelm a couple of guys and get them to jump off a cliff.

        All in all, I prefer to be all sweetness and light.

        1. I spent an hour and a half (as Obi-Wan) repeatedly driving Banthas off a cliff with my light saber in Lego Star Wars while waiting for Thanksgiving dinner last year.

          I mean, the game just gives you a new one every time, so why not?

          1. In the Lego version? That seems particularly evil to me.

            It’s actually one of the things I didn’t like about GTA–that I had to be a bad guy. My brother has Red Dead Redemption, which does allow the good guy option.

            1. I always go evil unless it’s known that choosing the good path gets you more options/better shit. Because it’s fun.

              1. Like in RDR. Playing as a bad guy is just a huge pain in the ass, you miss out on some cool shit, and it makes the cutscenes and stories total nonsense.

                Real western RPGs (Fallout, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Fable) tend to let the player decide whether to be moral or not. And doing morally questionable things or opening you up to making morally questionable decisions are part of what makes those games great.

                Japanese RPGs still tend to make you the superhero Mr. Good Guy jerk off with the crazy hair.

              2. I liked the options available in Neverwinter Nights and other D&D games, you could be evil, good, or neutral and lawful, chaotic or neutral. I almost always played chaotic neutral, which is probably the closest to what I am in real life. Less decisions to make that way.

                The one thing I didn’t like is that evil characters (and to some extent, neutral ones) had a few options restricted.

                1. Right, I played NWN as neutral as I could, because if I went too evil, the evil choices offered overall weren’t as good as the good(er) choices.

                  1. NWN II was a little better in that regard, but I still thought the evil characters got screwed.

              3. I always go evil unless it’s known that choosing the good path gets you more options/better shit. Because it’s fun.

                OMG, you blew up Megaton, didn’t you?

                After that birthday scene (I’m getting the shakes recalling that shit) where you weren’t killing anything, you were getting picked on by another kid without being able to do anything about it, you couldn’t even go back to take out his eyes with the BB gun (I tried, I tried, oh God how I tried), you were forced to bond with Liam Neeson, whew, I can understand you wanting to nuke something.

                1. I’m the same way with Mass Effect. I am SUCH a boyscout in those types of games because being a complete ass is so against my nature

        2. Yeah, the hardest thing I ever had to do in a video game was forcing myself to make Dark Side choices in KOTOR I, specifically forcing Zaalbar to kill Mission at the end. That made me feel . . . dirty.

          I’ve never had problems playing GTA, though. Well, there was one mission in San Andreas where you have to drive a rapper’s manager and his screaming girlfriend off a pier, to help some no-talent douchebag who just happens to live on your street . . . yeah. Killing literally thousands of cops to raise my weapons skills? No problem. But that really sucked.

          1. It is a little different in GTA, because doing evil is the only point of the game.

            I agree about KOTOR, which had a more compelling set of characters and story line than the sequel. I killed Jolee and did some other evil at the end and was wishing I hadn’t. Pretty funny how engaged you can get in a good game.

            1. FFVII, a perfect example if engaing in a game to an extreme. I played it for a week stright, only braking for eating, sleeping, and beer runs. I hate to admit it but when Aeris died it was the saddest video game moment ever. Not only de to the plot but she was quite the beneficial character. I shed a tear…and when I couldn’t get my damn gold chocobo…lots of tears there…and a new controller or two.

              Spikey Haired Dude!

              1. please ignore all typos in the above post.

              2. Yeah, I would play FF 7 for hours and hours at a time. It didn’t hurt that I was couch-ridden with a broken leg and hopped up on Vicodin.

                1. and your reaction to losing posibly the second most useful party member? Even on my 4th run it still pissed me off…i held off on that until Cloud could solo anything.

                  1. The Vicodin shielded me from the pain of loss.

          2. There was that time in GTA where i was chased by several cop cars, I crashed into one, stumbled out, several of the pigs approached and got dropped in the explosion with me. Sweet Jesus. Sweet, sweet Jesus.

          3. If that gets your dander, play Black & White 2.

            You get to arbitrarily kill your villagers in a variety of amusing ways, enslave them and work them to death, worship you until they literally die of starvation, and place their children in torture pits to fuel your godly power.

            If you’re into that sort of thing.

            1. Plus you can train your giant animal to shit on the villagers’ heads.

          4. That moment in the Mission murder in KOTOR was the single most memorable moment in any game I have ever played. Though I was playing a psychotic dark-sider who enjoyed every minute of it.

      2. In WoW I would argue there are no Good vs Bad guys…Allys and Horde are much more nuanced in the story line than Lighties and Darkies (insert obligatory RACIST! here) in Evercrack. For example, the cows are all green eco freaks in WoW while still being Horde aligned.


        1. I found the Undead story quite compelling,We aren’t bad, just misunderstood.. and Rogues are Sneaky, HEHE
          Xixazau/ Undead Rogue

          1. the Undead are very Libertarian.

        2. The vampires in Fallout 3 were overly nuanced, like the developers were checking off a list of things that please reviewers (like Ben Folds approaches writing a tune). I felt like a tool following along the ‘diplomatic’ dialog tree, while wanting to send the bloodsuckers back to their graves the entire time but not doing so because I could since the greater gain for my character was following along with the schtick.

          Fallout 2 does the same pennyante bullshit with the supermutants and deathclaws.

      3. I can’t play Fallout as a bad guy.

        You can be pretty fucking evil in that game, but I just feel bad about it.

        1. Currently playing Fallout as evil as I can. I even go on the wiki to find out how to make the most evil choices possible.

          1. In Fallout 2 you can get married and then pimp your wife out.

            1. Should have said Fallout 3. But I didn’t blow up Megaton because a lot of people recommended against it.

              1. When playing games of this nature I’ve always tended not to be good or evil but more of an amoral sociopath, picking whatever paths offer the best reward.

                With regard to Megaton, I never had a problem nuking it, but only after I’d extracted all of the good things from it. (Specifically finishing the Wasteland Survival Guide).

                One of my problems with games of this sort is that they often present you moral choices, but your character is still locked into the main storyline which almost always has absolute good vs absolute evil overtones.

              2. You can always make friends with Megaton, take their shit, and then blow them up.

                Not that I would do that.

                I always kill that 4-eyed weasel and take his silenced 10mm.

          2. I can’t even get myself to nuke Megaton. Although seeing Moira as a ghoul would push me towards nuking the place.

            1. I would say that is why they make her sound like she is from Minnesota with that horrible accent to entice you to blow it up (same thing with the preacher at the bottom), but then again, do you even get to talk to her before neutralizing the bomb? I recall her shop always being closed before I did that and I played several scenarios before doing that.

    2. What, is there an ending now?

  10. Well, as long as the game includes options for turning DADT on/off, then I don’t see what the big deal is.

    Are the players reading Miranda rights to captured Taliban? That was one thing I hated about Pacman– too little bureaucracy. The FDA never inspected the Pills or the fruits!

    And not to mention the widening income gap between Mario and that ape (and by ape, I am not making fun of Barack Obama).

    1. Back to HotAir, please

  11. If Medal of Honor let you play as the Taliban throughout an entire single-player campaign, then we would have a real controversy on our hands. Imagine the reaction to a game that included a mission where you were cooperating with Al Qaeda during the siege of Tora Bora and had to protect Osama bin Laden while spiriting him to safety.

    Right, because we absolutely must view our current enemies as objects to be shot, maimed, and exploded and not consider that they are human beings with their own hopes, goals, beliefs, and free will — however warped or evil — just as we do. Whatever we do, we must not let children walk in the shoes of our enemies.

    I mean, that’s a useful attitude for a warlike society to inculcate in its offspring, but also an extremely niggardly one in my opinion.

    1. The game would be controversial as all hell, but it could be amazing too. Unfortunately it would sell like shit, the developers would be blackbooked from gaming, and the publishers would be apologizing forever.

      Developers would also stop taking risks and we’d have nothing but derivative garbage to play.

      1. I don’t disagree with any particular point, but it’s a damn shame that’s the way things are.

      2. I’d play the hell out of that game

    2. It is a video game…

      Anyone who endows a bunch of computer generated pixels with hopes, goals, beliefs, and free will needs a padded room.

      1. Tulpa needs extra padding.

  12. “[T]hey are human beings with their own hopes, goals, beliefs, and free will — however warped or evil.”

    Yes, because, you know, those warped and evil hopes, goals and beliefs are equally deserving of our respect as any others. Moral equivalence being the domain of the submissive.

    1. I’m surprised to find myself agreeing with Tulpa, but your comment is bullshit. First of all, demonizing the enemy is as fucking collectivist as it gets. Second, he didn’t say their beliefs were deserving of equal respect, he said they were human. Which they are.

      Go crawl back under your neocon rock.

      1. Thanks, Epi. I know that had to hurt like a glitter enema.

    2. Because you’ve personally talked to a bunch of Taliban and unearthed the psychological reasons behind their actions?

  13. I’ll be too busy with Black Ops.

  14. 360 / Atomic Games’ V for Victory was the best strategic war game series I’ve ever seen. Similar to Avalon Hill’s old Rise and Decline of the Third Reich, only limited to one particular battle – Velikiye Luki, Utah Beach, Market Garden, and Gold-Juno-Sword. Unfortunately, they are so out of date I think they’re unplayable, unless you still have a computer with DOS and a 3.5″ floppy.

    1. Did you ever see the Western Front games for PC? Basically they were Advanced Squad Leader on your computer.

      1. No – they sound like they were interesting.

        One of my big laments is that the rise of the console seems to portend bad things for strategy games. The last few times I’ve been in Best Buy, the computer game section looked like a ghost town.

        1. Check out Hearts of Iron III if you haven’t already. A lot of the new stuff is mostly digitally distributed.

          Also, check out the mods for Empire: Total War if you like 18th century strategy.

    2. DOSBox. Problem solved.

  15. And here I am regularly torturing my Sims….

    1. Someone once said that playing The Sims for a few hours will make you question the concept of a loving, caring God. And I see his point

  16. The toughest part of Galaga were the challenging stages with the dragonflys. I never completed those levels at 100%, therefore I was unable to catch my brother’s high score.

    The pizza place across the street has a galaga/ms. pac man machine now (upright, not tabletop) and I’ve been working on it, but the closest I can get is 38/40.

    This is a 4chan forum now, right?

  17. You can’t have a game without bad guys, and in H2H somebody has to do it.

    Hell, I just spent 3 weeks playing bad guy and attacking real live American GIs. Being OPFOR is a hoot.

  18. It probably would have been more accurate if the multiplayer matches were played as friendly fire instead of VS the Taliban.

  19. What is the big deal?

    You can already play in many games Soviet soldiers as well as Nazi soldiers.

    In the grand scheme of things i think defenders of the GULAG and the Holocaust are far more grotesque then Muslim conservatives who live in a conservative Muslim country that has been a conservative Muslim land for over a 1000 years.

  20. One of the funniest experiences in any game ever is just listening to the henchmen dialogs in No One Lives Forever. Talk about your hopes, goals and beliefs! But for some reason, like a bunch of democratic voters, it always comes down to the health care plan for those evil henchmen.

    ‘That’s why I joined HARM. Even my nieces are covered in the event I die from a sniper wound to the head.’

  21. Blew the shit out of Megaton. I was one of the dozen people who didn’t like Shooting Body Parts 3 and stopped shortly after Big Town or whatever, but hey.

    But seriously, evil characters get jacked in most video games. It makes the moral choices less interesting, because there’s usually nothing to gain from screwing people over, and then you feel bad for the textured wiremeshes. And it rarely affects the story, except perhaps the conclusion.

    Additionally, most evil choices are chaotic evil (“kill e’erone and loot the corpses”) or passive-aggressive (“tell her she’s ugly”).

  22. I liked the scene from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 where you had to perform a terrorist act only to be killed simply so that they could blame it on the United States Government. Very uneasy feeling playing that game.

  23. Anyone here that plays Sid Meiers Civilization and likes choosing the police state/commmunist style governments ?

    1. I seem to recall that in the original Republic offered the best balance of force, research and productivity, but if you were committed to a military victory Communism was a good bet.

      Civ II was more complicated, but for my style of play I usually ended up Republic again.

      The SO played III and plays IV, but I find other ways to waste time.

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