Game Buzz is a weekly opinion column designed to take an irreverent look at one of the biggest news stories to break in the past week. Every Friday we’ll be bringing you another slice of reaction to topical gaming news, and inviting you to agree, disagree, shout assent, vent rage, scream and complain to you heart’s delight. This week, we look at Liam Fox's outburst over Medal of Honor and discuss why he is, in fact, the Doctor of Douchebaggery.
Games will turn your children into drug-addled, murderous drones. You'll learn how to score crack from an ice cream van, pick up a hooker and then brutally execute her. Games encourage interspecies erotica and alien porn. They decrease your penis size and cause you to go blind. Excessive gaming will lead to intense psychological damage and anti-social behaviour and all games developers and publishers are really soul-harvesting reapers hoping to power a gigantic Doom Cannon with the stolen Innocence of generations of otherwise wholesome kids.
The latest scaremongering headline, which Defence Secretary Liam Fox probably thought would be an easy shot to make for maximum reward, is that games are also unpatriotic. Last weekend, Fox spoke out against EA's upcoming Medal of Honor (you can check out our impressions of the mutiplayer here), apparently upset at the game's multiplayer mode which, admittedly, allows players to engage in combat on the side of the terrorists.
With much of the publicity surrounding the game focused on the Tier 1 operatives, the gritty sense of realism that EA are hoping to bring to the game, and the harsh reality of the war in Afghanistan, Fox took offence at the possibility of players fighting as the Taliban:
'It's shocking that someone would think it acceptable to recreate the acts of the Taliban. At the hands of the Taliban, children have lost fathers and wives have lost husbands. I am disgusted and angry. It's hard to believe any citizen of our country would wish to buy such a thoroughly un-British game. I would urge retailers to show their support for our armed forces and ban this tasteless product.'
EA's response, predictably, was unruffled and straight to the point:
'The format of the new Medal of Honor game merely reflects the fact that every conflict has two sides. We give gamers the opportunity to play both sides. Most of us have been doing this since we were seven: someone plays the cop, someone must be robber. In Medal of Honor multiplayer, someone's got to be the Taliban. '
This is hardly a new phenomenon, people lining up to bash a new game for 'courting controversy'. EA probably had this sort of response printed out months in advance. Hell, it's probably the very first thing that happened when someone over at EALA went 'Afghanistan? Sure.' As Rob Fahey notes over at GamesIndustry.biz, it's long been held that games are a soft target for politicians and scaremongers to point a finger at for a quick and easy scandal or some frontpage publicity. The industry is ready for it these days, we've been pushed to boredom by such things, desensitised to the poorly researched apoplectic rantings of hypocrites who've never even held a controller and think that an Xbox is another word for female genitals.
It's hugely telling that the DCMS issued a statement distancing themselves from Fox's outburst, pointing to the ratings system as a justification for allowing games such as Medal of Honor to be sold, and quietly underlining the point that this was Fox's 'personal view', which is politico speak for 'Sit down and shut the hell up!'.
Dr Fox was expressing a personal view and we understand why some people might find the subject matter of the game offensive.
'There is a ratings system in place which exists to categorise games appropriately, in this case the game in question is rated 18 so should only be sold to, and played by, adults. There is a clear choice for consumers which they can exercise when making decisions about purchasing video games.'
Could it be? Are we turning a corner where games are no longer Public Enemy Number One? Well, perhaps not – there'll always be new idiots to pop up and denounce things without even seeing them or playing them or doing the slightest smattering of research – but it does seem that more people are wising up to the idiocy. The factual inaccuracies of Fox's statement were being touted from the heady heights of national newspapers within 24 hours of his ill-advised, ill-informed rant.
The thing is, the crux of his concern is probably valid. It's perhaps a slightly uncomfortable thought for some to be playing as the Taliban, and there are a number of blogs who've expressed this is rather academic terms. EA, depending on your stance, are either being very brave or flying pretty close to the sun on this one. But frankly I rather think that this goes some way to removing the inevitable trivialisation of war in such games. There are two sides (if not more) to every battle, something Fox seems to have forgotten. In attacking Medal of Honor with misplaced jingoistic fervour, Fox has not only displayed a personal preference for media as propaganda, but has triggered public revulsion by dredging up the remains of an old cultural foe whose name is now somewhat akin to profanity: Censorship.
If Fox had merely highlighted the game's duality in terms of comment and debate, he might have had a serious discussion on this hands. If he'd approached this delicate subject with some measure of the tact and informed decision making that EA had at least attempted when producing this title, he might not have had everyone turn their backs on him. But in going for the cheap shot, in trying to fan a quick fire without preparing the fuel properly, he's just ended up burning himself and looking like an outmoded, sensationalist jackass.
Mind you, we shouldn't be at all surprised. Back in 2000, Fox told a joke at a dinner function, surrounded by journalists, that went along these lines: 'What do you call three dogs and a blackbird? Answer: The Spice Girls. ' just as then Tory Leader William Hague had signed a compact drawn up by the Commission For Racial Equality. The man's an idiot.