A video game player will have an option to control Taliban avatars in the latest installment of "Medal of Honor." (EA SPORTS)
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The next installment in the "Medal of Honor" video game franchise has sparked controversy by allowing gamers to play as Taliban fighters against American troops.
Gunning down Americans in video games as an enemy force is not new. Previous installments of the Electronic Arts-produced game were set during World War II and allow gamers to kill Allies playing Axis soldiers. MoH rival "Call of Duty" allowed terrorist-style avatars to kill Americans, but kept the peace by dubbing evildoers "OpFor," short for opposition forces.
Leaving World War II behind for Helmand Valley or gritty Kabul, MoH's online multiplayer mode pits elite "Tier 1 Operators" against — naming names — Taliban fighters.
One preview posted on YouTube shows an insurgent's eye view as he fires a rocket-propelled grenade against American troops, calls in a mortar strike on an American position and uses a sniper rifle to take out a lone American soldier.
This feature has upset at least one Gold Star mother. In an Aug. 14 interview with Fox News, Karen Meredith called EA "disrespectful" for basing a game on an ongoing war.
Meredith's son, 1st Lt. Kenneth M. Ballard, 26, died in a May 2004 firefight with insurgents in Najaf, Iraq. He was a tank platoon leader with 2nd Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division.
"Right now, we're going into a really, really bad time in Afghanistan," Meredith said. "This game is going to be released in October so families who are going to be burying their children are going to be seeing this."
Amanda Taggart, EA's senior public relations manager, told AOL News on Aug. 13 that MoH is a game like any other.
"Most of us have been doing this since we were 7 — if someone's the cop, someone's gotta be the robber, someone's gotta be the pirate and someone's gotta be the alien," Taggart said. "In ‘Medal of Honor' multiplayer, someone's gotta be the Taliban."
Meredith called the statement "disappointing" and criticized the game for trivializing the war.
"I just find this unrealistic to compare cops and robbers to Taliban soldiers, that people can sit in their recliner and play this game, go grab a beer and come back and play again. It's just not based on reality," she told Fox News.
"Their argument is generally if you don't want to play it, don't buy it, but my son didn't get to start over. When he was killed, his life was over, and I have to deal with that every day," she said.
While the game may be offensive to some, it remains to be seen whether gamers hit pause before buying it.
Due for an Oct. 12 release ahead of the holiday shopping season, the game is a high stakes product for EA, which netted $3.7 billion in 2009. CEO John Riccitiello said in a May 11 conference call with investors that taking back leadership in the first-person shooter category was a "strategic priority."
"Call of Duty: Black Ops," the next installment of the MoH rival, is set for release on Nov. 9. The game will be set during the Cold War.
Patrick Liu, a producer at DICE, which developed MoH's multiplayer mode, told video game news site PSM3 that it is fair to expect some gamers to feel uneasy playing as Taliban fighters, but the intent was to be authentic, not provocative.
"I think it is a fair point. We do stir up some feelings, although it's not about the war, it's about the soldiers," he said. "We can't get away from what the setting is and who the factions are but, in the end, it's a game, so we're not pushing or provoking too hard."
At least one reviewer said he was uneasy playing as a Taliban fighter.
"Watching virtual Coalition troops gunned down by insurgents in the ruins of Kabul, I felt more than a little weird, especially since a friend lost his brother in Afghanistan only a few weeks ago," game reviewer Dan Whitehead wrote on Eurogamer.net. "This is a real war that is happening right now, real blood is being shed."
"Medal of Honor" is not the first video game to court controversy for depicting current wars. In April 2009, Japanese game company Konami Corp. pulled the plug on "Six Days in Fallujah," which was based on a fierce November 2004 battle at the heart of Operation Phantom Fury in Iraq.
Developed by Atomic Games with input from more than three dozen Marines, the game sought to re-create the battle from the perspective of a U.S. Marine fighting against insurgents. Fallujah had been an insurgent holdout until U.S. forces stormed it in one of the war's most intense ground battles.
The game was criticized, however, by some veterans, victims' families and others who called it inappropriate.
In March, Atomic Games president, Peter Tamte, told video game news source Joystiq that "Six Days" was complete and looking for a new distributor.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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