Posted by: pittsburghtrademarklawyer | October 13, 2010

When is it alright to play as the Taliban in a video game?

In response to Morgan’s most recent post, I’ll throw out what I think is a loosely-analagous case.

Evidently, there was a controversy recently involving the video game Medal of Honor, which is set in the current Afghan war, and which allows players to play as the Taliban (in response to public outcry, game-maker EA changed the name from “Taliban” to “Opposing Force).

It’s probably a sign that I’m getting older (though I’ve never been a gamer myself), but I didn’t get wind of this controversy until it hit NPR’s airwaves in the form of a prescient and thoughtful essay by essayist, photographer, actor, and, yes, Marine, Benjamin Busch:

My grandfather fought the Nazis and was wounded. For years afterward, my father recreated that war in games in his Brooklyn neighborhood, where some of the children playing had lost their fathers overseas. War games always require two sides, and someone in Brooklyn always had to play the Germans.

[…]  We know children are immersed in digital interactivity now, and the soldier of today has grown up on video games.  […]

But what nation or military has the right to govern fiction?  Banning the representation of an enemy is imposing nationalism on entertainment. The game cannot train its players to be actual skilled special operations soldiers, nor is it likely to lure anyone into Islamic fundamentalism. It can grant neither heroism nor martyrdom. What it does do is make modern war into participatory cinema. That is its business.  (italics mine)

Here’s my question for everyone: how similar is this case to Morgan’s?  What distinctions can we draw?


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