Bozell might want to try JRPGs…

Brent Bozell, discussing EA‘s controversial video game Medal of Honor in which you can play as a Taliban fighter, writes:

 “Video games are amazing technological products, but they are not “stories” like a book or a movie… In a video game, every player is the author and the movie director. The game maker only sets the parameters, and lets the player finish the story. ” 

Well, he’s wrong. Some games–maybe most games–really do “railroad” the player. I mean, there’s only one way to play through Doomyou go around shooting monsters and collecting keys. Any other way would result in losing the game.

This may be even more true of the really good narrative-based games. Metal Gear Solid springs to mind as an example of a game where you didn’t feel like you were making your own story, you were playing/watching Hideo Kojima’s story.

Even in a game with multiple endings and branching paths, Bozell’s criticism need not always hold true. No matter what path the player chooses in the great Black Isle RPG Planescape: Torment, the underlying theme of the story is still of the game designer’s choosing. No matter what you do, you’re still probably going to see the motifs, ideas and themes that Chris Avellone wants you to. (This, by the way, is a very good thing.)

Now, it is true there are some games you could make this criticism–if it can really be called a criticism–of. Everything is so morally ambiguous in Obsidian‘s Alpha Protocol that there is no “theme” or “moral”; you really are directing your own spy-thriller story.

All of this is an aside to the main point, which is that, in this Medal of Honor game, you can only play as the Taliban in the multiplayer game, which probably has no plot at all. As the EA spokesperson said: “Most of us have been doing this since we were seven: someone plays cop, someone must be robber.” Bozell does not seem to be aware that this is the case.

Personally, I think multiplayer modes are boring, and a serious threat to games as a storytelling medium. And I wouldn’t mind a bit if they removed the Taliban fighter option and replaced it with, for example, a Nazi, which would almost certainly be less offensive, although I don’t know why.

I also agree with Bozell on the infamous airport level from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. It was disturbing without being thought-provoking and ought to have been removed. But Bozell’s criticism of the Medal of Honor game is so badly informed that it makes it impossible to take him seriously.

What's your stake in this, cowboy?