Medal of Honor would not be the first video game to put you in the mind of a terrorist

Recently, Atomic Games DICE and EA announced that in the forthcoming installment of their successful Medal of Honor series, players will be able to play as the Taliban in multiplayer matches. Yes, that Taliban.

On the one hand, for obvious reasons, it's a design decision that might make some people uncomfortable. But on the other hand, if handled right, it could be a somewhat profound look at our current international political climate, or a look inside the mind of a terrorist and what causes them to resort to such acts. The game won't be released until October so it's difficult to say for sure, but from the sound of it, the "play as the Taliban" mode appears to be mostly superficial. And, for their part, the game's makers are playing the "it's only a game" card, something we've covered before.

The mealymouthed "it's only a game" defense is disappointing. What I haven't heard many people point out, though, is that this Medal of Honor game would not be the first that enabled you to play as a member of a terrorist organization. Really, when you think about it, any number of games involve a protagonist either a) invading a foreign territory, committing acts of violence, destroying property, and generally instilling fear in the citizenry or b) defending his or her homeland from an unwelcome occupying force. But even moreso than that, one game tackled the issue of capital-T terrorism almost fifteen years ago - and though it may have resolved itself a bit easily, it still presented nuanced background motivations for the characters involved. The game was pretty popular, too, and most people seemed to regard it well at the time.

Yep, Final Fantasy VII. I've actually never been 100% clear on this (despite multiple playthroughs of the game), but the entire world of FFVII, is ruled by the Shin-ra, which as best I could tell was some kind of hybrid of a tyrannical governing body and a monopolistic power company. Your party for almost the entire game includes three members, Tifa and Barret along with their new recruit Cloud, of an organization (called AVALANCHE) who specialize in bombing facilities called Mako reactors, which provide energy to various cities by drawing from the planet's natural Mako resources. AVALANCHE's contention was that these reactors were killing the planet, and they felt it was their duty to destroy them to protect the planet. Okay, not quite the same thing as the Islamic fundamentalists of the Taliban, but still - a group responsible for the deaths of innocents all the same. And the game doesn't sugarcoat that fact.

The game actually opens with a mission to destroy a Mako reactor: you take control of Cloud, a mentally damaged ex-millitary man (those who've played the game know that you learn a lot about Cloud and his history throughout the game, but we're not really focusing on the Jenova/Sephiroth stuff for purposes of this discussion) who's helping AVALANCHE out on this mission, although he hasn't decided how loyal to the organization he wants to be at this point. You set the bomb, and make your getaway. You then reconvene in a hideout underneath a bar in the slums, all to do something similar again the next day.

A bit later on, you start to understand the scope of what you've done. In a disproportionate response, the Shin-ra destroys an entire sector of the underground slums of Midgar - specifically, the one AVALANCHE is based out of. As this is happening, one of the members of the group says "Because of our actions, many people died. This is probably our punishment." In other words, she's accepting her fate as the retribution for the collateral damage caused by the group's bombings. Shortly afterwards, guilt begins to consume Barret, the ringleader of the group, who begins using stronger and stronger language to rationalize his own actions.

As with practically everyone else in the game, we do come to learn more about Barret as we go. Specifically, we find out that before his days in Midgar, he lived in the mining town of Corel, where he lobbied his fellow townsfolk to accept the Shin-ra's plan to build a reactor there. Unfortunately, after the reactor was built, an accident there inspired the Shin-ra to destroy the entire town of Corel, killing Barret's wife, knocking Barret's friend Dyne off of a cliff, and leaving him with Dyne's now orphaned daughter Marlene. AVALANCHE, we come to learn (after encountering and killing the now-insane Dyne), was actually the vehicle for Barret to seek revenge. We also discover that Tifa joined the cause of AVALANCHE for similar reasons: she held the Shin-ra responsible for the death of her father.

So there are political, moral and personal reasons for their actions - but those actions also came with a cost. They re-commit themselves to the cause for the actual future of the planet - as I said, it's a bit of a tidy resolution - but for a while, there was some real moral ambiguity there. Now, apparently, the makers of Medal of Honor are unwilling to go even that far.
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