by Conor Friedersdorf

The next iteration of Medal of Honor, a video game, has a multiplayer mode that gamers will play on the Internet, where some people will play as the good guys, and others will play as the Taliban, trying their best to kill allied troops.

Via Jacob Sullum, a reaction from a writer at The New York Times:

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 rest of the piece is worth reading. It points out that we've been able to play as Germans in some World War II games for years. Furthermore, the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II game sitting atop my X-Box has a disturbing level where you're a covert operative who helps Russian terrorists slaughter an airport full of innocent people, and we're long past the release of Grand Theft Auto and its sequels.

What I'd like to see is a war game where you're forced to play for a level or two as an innocent civilian. Perhaps a little kid trying to restrain your dad from lashing out after American troops inadvertantly hurt your mom during a house to house sweep, or a pregnant woman running to a  bomb shelter as an American air raid begins.  It's one side of war that the average video game player never thinks about, and perhaps the exercise would help people to better understand what it feels like to be on the sidelines in possession of one of the hearts and minds Americans are so desperately trying to win.

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