In a new Gamasutra feature
, game designer and writer Ian Bogost looks at Medal of Honor
's Taliban controversy to examine the commercial game industry's undermining of free speech protections.
Under pressure from the media, U.S. Army, relatives of servicemen and women, and possibly retail, Electronic Arts announced last week it would replace the word "Taliban"
with "Opposing Force" to identify enemy combatants in its upcoming game Medal of Honor
, assuring consumers that this change doesn't "directly affect gamers [or] fundamentally alter the gameplay".
Bogost describes the publisher's decision to dismiss the importance of the Taliban's inclusion in the first-person shooter as one made out of "commercial political convenience, precisely the sort of hedge that undermines free speech protections by distancing them from earnest contributions to public ideas."
He then compares this "total disinterest in earnest speech" with a statement from the ESA regarding the Supreme Court's upcoming case on California's violent video game legislation, in which the group calls video games "a popular form of modern artistic expression involving classic themes, storylines and player involvement, affording them the same First Amendment protections as other media, such as books and movies."
"Yet as Medal of Honor
demonstrates, the wealthy corporations like Electronic Arts that fund the ESA to lobby on their behalf are typically not the ones to take up such a charge in earnest," says Bogost. He claims the majority of "truly challenging artist expression" is coming from rogue, independent developers, not commercial studios.
"Will commercial video games ever care enough about the world they share with war and sex and crime and brutality to want to speak about those issues in earnest, in public, in spite of the negative reactions or even in order to elicit those negative reactions?" the game designer asks.
"Or will they merely want to sell bits and plastic at $60 a go, any one just as good as the last -- so long as its Metacritic scores hold up?"
Bogost's full column, Persuasive Games: Free Speech is Not a Marketing Plan
, goes into greater depth on how the commercial gaming industry has resisted "the expansion of the mass market video game console into the domains of the speech the First Amendment was created to protect."