‘Shock Value’ isn’t worth it in the gaming industry

EA’s Medal of Honor went on sale this week amid the kind of controversy that’s usually only reserved for Grand Theft Auto games. Although the game is a standard first-person shooter featuring a campaign and multiplayer, it caught heat not from anti-violence groups, but from the military. The game’s multiplayer mode allowed gamers to play as Taliban fighters who could kill Allied soldiers in-game.

After getting leveled with complaints from the U.K. government, veterans, and other groups, Electronic Arts finally decided to remove “Taliban” from the game, and call the group an “Opposing Force.” It was a move that, the company hoped, would quell unrest.
It was a surprising move. For months, EA had been saying that it would support the inclusion of the Taliban in the game. And it wasn’t until a couple weeks before the title’s launch that it finally made the decision to ditch it.
But it didn’t matter. EA’s decision to wait so long to change the name helped keep Medal of Honor in headlines, as opposed to being ignored as it normally would without the controversial inclusion.
But the Taliban inclusion did little more than shock some who couldn’t believe that a video game would offer such content. The idea, critics said, that users could play as virtual Taliban fighters and kill virtual Allied soldiers was wrong. And the outcry didn’t end until EA finally relented.
But whether or not Medal of Honor really should have included the Taliban in its game from the beginning is decidedly up for debate. It didn’t need to be included in the title. And the game’s developers could have easily called the fighters an “Opposing Force” from the beginning.
The outcry over the Taliban inclusion reminds me of the “Hot Coffee” scandal with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. It also didn’t need to be there. It was irrelevant to the game or the quality of the title.
That’s the problem I have with these games and others that try so hard to push the envelope and be different.
We don’t need “shocking” features to make a game great. We need an outstanding storyline, solid controls, and nice graphics to make a game great. We can live without the Taliban in our multiplayer modes. And we’ll do just fine without Hot Coffee-like scenes in games.
Believe it or not, what we’re looking for is actually quite simple: a high-quality gaming experience without all the frills that huge publishing houses think will sell more games.
Take, for example, the Call of Duty franchise. It’s arguably the most important gaming franchise in the business. And yet, controversy rarely surrounds it. Yes, the anti-violence groups don’t like it, but beyond them, we don’t hear a thing. Activision simply sets out to build a solid title each year and releases it. No more, no less.
I thought we would be over the “shocking” game content by now. After all, developers hoping to shock folks did so long ago with Leisure Suit Larry and countless other titles that missed the mark. The industry has come a long way since then. And gamers expect more than an attempt to capitalize on sheer shock.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that EA or Medal of Honor’s developers were trying to shock gamers. But it shouldn’t have been a distraction in the first place.
I understand that developers should be able to express themselves. And I realize that movies are pushing boundaries, as well. But pushing boundaries should not be the focus for either medium. Inevitably, game developers or filmmakers should be worried first and foremost about delivering a top-notch entertainment experience.
If they’re not doing that because of distractions elsewhere, it’s the person consuming that content that will lose. And nobody wins in that scenario.

Bangla Choti   Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 launch event is Monday at 9:30AM ET, and we'll be there live!

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