Attention, videogamers. You can't be the Taliban anymore.
The videogame manufacturer Electronic Arts, bowing to strong criticism from U.S. military officials and veterans organizations, made changes Friday to “Medal of Honor,” the newest installment in its series of American-based war games.
Set in modern-day Afghanistan, “Medal of Honor” had been designed to allow players to take on the role of the Taliban in its multiplayer mode, and to kill American soldiers -- a capability that came under withering fire from military officials and U.S. veterans.
The Army & Air Force Exchange Service went so far as to request that American military bases not stock it.
"Out of respect to those we serve, we will not be stocking this game," Maj. Gen. Bruce Casella, the service's commanding officer, said in an interview. "We regret any inconvenience this may cause authorized shoppers, but are optimistic that they will understand the sensitivity to the life and death scenarios this product presents as entertainment."
On Friday, the gaming company waved the white flag.
“We changed the name of the opposing team in the multiplayer mode,” said Electronic Arts publicist Amanda Taggart. “Now the opposing team is called ‘opposing forces.’”
The game's executive producer, Greg Goodrich, also addressed critics and war officials on the "Medal of Honor" blog Friday morning, saying, “This franchise will never willfully disrespect, intentionally or otherwise, your memory and service.”
The changes are exclusive to the multiplayer mode, Taggart noted. “Game-play, environment, characters and weapons are exactly the same” in the single-player game, she said, meaning the player, who is always on the American side, can kill the Taliban to his heart's content.
Videogames that deal with war and combat have elicited disdain from some war veteran organizations, including AMVETS, an organization dedicated to accommodating American soldiers.
“We’ve heard from vets about games in the past that deal with wars,” Deputy National Communications Director Ryan Galucci said. “And products like this trivialize combat.”
“Medal of Honor” isn’t the first game to spark controversy for allowing players to control nationally recognized American enemies. “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II,” a game developed by Activision, allowed players to control Taliban-like forces, though they didn’t bear the actual name.
Activision satisfied its critics by offering to donate a portion of their profits from the game to the Call of Duty Endowment, which benefits veterans.
Galucci suggested that Electronic Arts should do the same.
“There’s a way for EA to turn this into a positive experience," he said. “They can ... donate a share of their income from the game to veterans.”
Set for an Oct. 12 release, “Medal of Honor” has already reached the highest number of pre-sale units sold in the franchise’s 11-year history, Electronic Arts said.