Osama Bin Laden as Protagonist

Well not quite. But Seth Schiesel looks at the controversy over Medal of Honor which allows you in multiplayer mode—not single-player mode—to play as a Taliban fighter. Schiesel dismisses the controversy, primarily based on the misunderstanding between the two modes:

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.

I actually find this oddly disturbing. Given the politics of the time, everything that follows is theorycraft. Still it must be said that the stories I love generally have a villain I can relate to, someone who I can almost put see myself in. Stringer Bell committed several devious acts—the murder of D'Angelo, the attempted murder of Brother Muzone, the betrayal of Avon etc. But what gripped me was the context, the ability to understand both the logic and utter amorality of his perspective. 

As a maniacal "kill them all" villain, Magneto is, to my mind, just another foil. As a dude with a quasi-defensible, if ultimately amoral, perspective on mutants, he grabs me a little. When contemplating evil, I want to see some of myself. I need to feel the lure of evil, it's seduction. The devil must be luscious to grab me.

In another space, Lawrence Wright pulls this off beautifully in The Looming Tower. He perfectly outlines how and why Al'Qaeda came to be, and in certain parts (the torture of the Muslim Brotherhood) goes so far as to implicate America.  In certain places, you can see yourself in them, your own latent villainy. But through it all, he never lets up on Al'Qaeda—you never get the sense, whatever their reasoning, that Al'Qaeda is actually a force for good. These two notions are only in conflict if you actually believe that there is no evil lurking in those who do good. 

My sense is that video games will have to confront this, at some point. They probably already are. A video game told from the perspective of a Taliban insurgent isn't likely any time soon. Which is too bad. I think that's exactly the kind of video game that might help us get to some emotional truths about the past ten years
Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Entertainment

From This Author

Just In