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Black Ops has NVA multiplayer; controversy compared to ongoing Taliban issue

David Hughes's picture

Developer Treyarch and publisher Activision held a press event to promote Call of Duty: Black Ops at the California Science Center last night. In it, they revealed and confirmed a slew of multi-player features but one stood out as potentially newsworthy to the general public: you can play as the North Vietnamese Army. Will (and should) this spark controversy the way EA has with Taliban in Medal of Honor?

Controversy has happened about more than the NVA and the Taliban

A brief history of the controversy surrounding military first-person shooting games demands attention to the controversy engendered by Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. One level in that game, the notorious “No Russian” level, put players in the role of an agent put undercover and forced to commit a terrorist act in order to maintain their cover. No role-playing was involved—any attempt to kill the terrorists ends the game. This sparked such a severe outcry that Modern Warfare 2 shipped with a warning message that gave players the choice to skip over that level entirely.

The next controversy came with the upcoming reboot of the Medal of Honor franchise published by EA and developed by EALA and DICE. The game focuses on the current conflict in Afghanistan, and the single-player campaign puts players in the role of Army Rangers and ‘Tier 1’ special operatives fighting the Taliban—with an emphasis on an experience that is as authentic as possible without actually compromising the tactics used by the soldiers in the field. That’s not the controversial bit—despite what happened toSix Days in Fallujah--but the fact that in multi-player, one half of the players represent the Taliban. And their objective is to kill players on the coalition side.

After the feature was made public during the open beta of Medal of Honor’s multi-player suite, British Defense Secretary Liam Fox called for a countrywide ban of the game outright, stating that it's "shocking that someone would think it acceptable to recreate the acts of the Taliban against British soldiers." Not counting the fact that British soldiers are not used in-game, this has created a rather large outcry.

Personally, after playing the beta myself, I found the inclusion of a real-life enemy such as the Taliban actually somewhat novel after other games’ (like Modern Warfare 2) use of generic Islamic groups that are really just a collection of stereotypes. Moreover, I can see how using real enemies like the Taliban is controversial, but I have never understood why other groups like Russians are perfectly acceptable as the generic enemy that no one will find offensive.

That part is just my opinion—and it remains clear that no matter what one's opinion is, this controversy is not going to disappear anytime soon. EA president Frank Gibeau has said they will not change the game, saying: "We respect the media's views, but at the same time [these reports] don't compromise our creative vision and what we want to do,” emphasizing that their close collaboration with the US military and the Congressional Medal of Honor Society on the single-player side of the game will win people over once the game is released.

Just yesterday, though, the controversy developed further when Maj. Gen. Bruce Casella—the Army & Air Force Exchange Service's Commander—announced that Medal of Honor will be banned for sale on any world-wide military base because of the Taliban issue.

The announcement that Black Ops will include the option to play multi-player matches as the North Vietnamese Army is not even 24 hours old, so it is unclear what—if any—controversy will come of it. Given the fact that Vietnam, despite being a historical rather than current conflict, has a very politically charged history does not look promising for Activision in the face of the current controversy over EA’s Medal of Honor.

This will make for a very interesting story to watch—especially if Black Ops somehow avoids the controversy that has plagued Medal of Honor in the recent weeks.

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