U.S. Soldiers Debate Morality of Playing as Taliban in Video Game

Harmless fun or exploiting an ongoing war?

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Forthcoming video game Medal of Honor, a first-person shooter that takes place in the War in Afghanistan, has drawn controversy by allowing gamers to play as a member of the Taliban. U.K. Defense Secretary Liam Fox even called for the game to be banned in Britain, citing the poor taste of allowing gamers to shoot U.S. and NATO troops for fun while actual British troops serve in Afghanistan. Fox's statements are widely seen as a show of protest rather than a sincere effort to block the game's sale. However, the morality of playing as the Taliban is still up for debate. Video-game blogger Joseph Jackmovich decided to give nine American veterans of the Afghan conflict a chance to weigh in. It's hardly an exhaustive statistical survey of military opinion, but their insights shed interesting light on the debate. Here is a sample; click through for the full debate. If you served in Afghanistan, or even if you didn't, please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.

  • Shows That War Is No Game Specialist Zachary Roberts, U.S. Army National Guard, explains, "It does not bother me. I think it is even a good idea, because impressionable children play these games despite the often M rating. These children need to see that war is not a game, and putting a name to the enemies and places that are otherwise generic in other FPS titles presents the real brutality of war, not just the mindless simulated killing in MW."
  • Tasteless to Make Game of Ongoing War Private Becky Brown, U.S. Army, writes, "this is still a current situation affecting a lot of people, and especially for soldiers who have experienced a hard time overseas this probably feels like getting a giant middle finger." Specialist Justin Polaski, U.S. Army, goes a step further: "the creation of games like these is war profiteering; the same profiteering that Blackwater, civilian contractors, and companies that produce ACU backpacks for school children participate in. War profiteering of any form is unjust and constitutes a true insult to those who have served overseas."
  • Distorts Public Perception of Actual Afghan War  Private Brown adds, "With games that stick to World War 2, I think it's a good way to capture the attention of today's youth and help get them interested in something that affected our culture and was a big part of our country's history. With games that focus on Iraq and Afghanistan...it doesn't seem fair. Hearing kids talking about how they shot up the Taliban, and wasn't it awesome they got the high score, it desensitizes them to the real deal, which I think is very bad."
  • Debate Missing Point of Gaming  Private Caitlin Stier, U.S. Army Reserves, sighs, "Honestly, I don't really see what the whole fuss is about. It's a game, and just like in Call of Duty, you don't really care about what side you're taking, just as long as you win. I don't think anyone cares if you're part of the Rangers or Spetznaz, as long as you win. ... Having grown up playing pretty violent video games, and (I think) turning out okay in the long run, there shouldn't be much to worry about."
  • Games and Real Life Are Distinct  Private Heather Thompson, U.S. Army Reserves, writes, "I don't think it should be disrespectful. I think many people will find it hard or harsh because these events are so fresh in our minds. People can easily put an face and name to the soldier that the Taliban may be killing in the game. In the same light, who's to say that we shouldn't be offended by war games that allow us to play as Nazis or other terrorists? I think so long as people can remember to separate the game from real life they should be fine."
  • Army Recruiters Should Stop Using Video Games Specialist Roberts raises the issue of military recruiters who use games to lure in potential recruits. "I hate the fact that recruiters use MW as a means of finding recruits, and the fact that they practice this may mean that MW is actually making kids that think war is a fun game, so the military and killing real people must be fun too."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.