Medal of Honor game banned from U.S. military bases and why that might be strategically unsound

Summary:It's a game. Our troops know it's a game.

Anyone who knows me knows how much I respect the skill, dedication, intelligence, and patriotism of our troops in uniform. Most American soldiers face life-threatening challenges on a daily basis and succeed in spite of the best (such as they are) efforts of the enemy.

That's why it's so disappointing to see the Army & Air Force Exchange Service ban the latest of the wildly popular Medal of Honor video game series from U.S. military bases.

This is both a political and human interest story.

It's also wrong-headed, underestimates the drive of our soldiers, and takes away a possible training tool from our troops.

Most video games have both a single-player mission. This is the version of the game that tells the story and the player plays through on his or her own.

Most modern video games also have a multi-player system, where groups of players get online, trash-talk each other, and frag nOObs.

In the upcoming Medal of Honor, set in Afghanistan, the single-player missions have the player taking on the role of Americans against the Taliban. No problem there.

On the other hand, the multi-player game modes allow players to play as both Americans fragging Taliban and -- and here's where the virtual shiite hits the fan* -- as Taliban fragging Americans.

This is where the whole thing started to go downhill.

According to the Air Force Times, this whole mess may have started because of a grieving mom:

Gold Star mother Karen Meredith told Fox News in an Aug. 14 interview that EA was “disrespectful” for basing a game on an ongoing war. Her son, Army 1st Lt. Kenneth M. Ballard, 26, was killed in a 2004 firefight in Iraq.

Before I go on, it's important to pass condolences on to Ms. Meredith and thank her for her son's service to the country.

But let's be clear here. One of the things American troops fight for is freedom.

We've been at war in Afghanistan for a very long time -- the longest of any war America's ever been in -- and one of the ways we can help give Americans back home even a small taste of what our troops experience is through modern media, like video games.

To block out the war we've been in since the days of the Nintendo GameCube would be to block out a massive chunk of contemporary American history.

Then the Brits got into the game. British Defence Secretary Liam Fox called the game the worst insult he could possibly think of. He called it "un-British".

In any case, the concerns of parents and politicians eventually ganged up on Maj. Gen. Bruce Casella, the guy in charge of the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, and an edict was issued.

There would be no copies of Medal of Honor in base PXs. There would be no copies of Medal of Honor sent to troops via pre-order. And there would be no copies of Medal of Honor stocked in GameStops on base.

First, have you seen the stuff that is stocked in GameStop?

Do you know that there are characters running around shopping malls in drag, beheading zombie women and children with double-sided chain saws? This is the same store that stocks Barbie Horse Adventures. This is a store that stocks Fallout 3 (awesome game, by the way), that shows all of Washington D.C. completely destroyed?

Did Maj. General Casella not think these might have a psychological impact on our troops?

American media can be disturbing. We produce Real Housewives of NJ where, in a perfect world, there'd be nothing on television but always-new episodes of the very British Top Gear running on all channels, 24/7.

The thing is, American troops can take it. To single out one game like Medal of Honor and ban it because we're afraid some real, actual soldiers might play little, fake, virtual made-up Taliban for a night or two is nothing short of ludicrous.

It also sends the wrong message to our troops. America is about choice and if our troops don't want to play Medal of Honor in multi-player mode and don't want to play the Taliban, they don't have to. No one is forcing them to plunk down sixty bucks for the game.

Casella is also sending the message that our troops might be swayed or disturbed by some silly images on their game consoles. Do you know what they see, every day, for real? The idea that our troops can't take the imagery or that we're softening them up on the enemy through a video game is equally wrong-headed.

It's a game. Our troops know it's a game.

The only message Casella is sending is that he doesn't have confidence in the men and women of America's military to tell the difference between a video game avatar and the actual bad guys they face during their work day.

They can tell the difference.

Oh, and one more thing. Drilling and training is at the core of much of an individual trooper's skill set. Drilling creates strong instincts so when the fur is flying, the natural, ingrained reactions that take over are the ones that have been drilled into each soldier.

In Medal of Honor, troops have the option of playing the enemy, playing against the enemy, and playing out game scenarios against the enemy. Taking away a simple, cheap training tool from our forces is unwise.

Man up, General. Your troops are far smarter, far stronger, and far more dedicated than it seems you give them credit for.

TalkBack below. This is bound to be another one where those of you outside the U.S. need to weigh in. You're welcome to, but please identify your country of origin and be polite.

That goes for everyone. This could be a fascinating discussion as long as everyone's cool.

*Actually, the Taliban aren't Shiite, they're Wahhabi, a Sunni sect. But "Wahhabi hitting the fan" wouldn't have worked as well.

Topics: Mobility

About

In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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