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Medal of Dishonor

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There's a telling scene in the Oscar-winning movie "The Hurt Locker." After all the tension of the action out in the field, trying not to fall victim to a sniper or drive over an explosive device, the soldiers return to the base ... and play war video games. It's hard to believe this genre has such a hold on (primarily) young men.

In today's world, video war games are all the rage. The military knows that video games make young men more interested in military service, and can even make them better soldiers. As is so often the case, some of the producers of these games have taken the simulation too far.

For the latest version of its wildly popular shooter game "Medal of Honor," Electronic Arts chose to set the game in post-9/11 Afghanistan. But now it also allows players to fight as the Taliban and kill American troops. This was too much for the military. Army, Air Force and Navy bases have announced they will refuse to sell the game out of respect to our troops who have been killed by the Taliban.

"You know how many of my friends have been killed by the Taliban?" Staff Sgt. William Schober, a fan of the earlier "Medal" games, asked The New York Times. "One of my friends was sniped in the head by them. That's something you want to have fun with?"

It's another American popular-culture embarrassment.

In the international community, defense ministers in countries that have lost troops to the Taliban have also experienced outrage. Britain's Liam Fox said he was "disgusted and angry" and "would urge retailers to show their support for our armed forces and ban this tasteless product." Canada's Peter MacKay added, "I find it wrong to have anyone, children in particular, playing the role of the Taliban."

The lifelike simulations of combat are manufactured out of a close working relationship between game producers and the military. EA made "Medal of Honor" with the consent and assistance of the Army, which gave them access to a replica of an Iraqi village used for training at Fort Irwin in California. But an Army spokesman insisted the Army wasn't aware that users would have the capability of fighting against U.S. troops and underlined the review process would be more thorough in the future. But why continue a partnership when you've been conned?

An EA spokesman stressed that the game was intended to celebrate American soldiers. But with the popularity of online multi-player showdowns (where one guy in Virginia can play against another guy in Idaho), game makers have increasingly offered users the options of embracing the role of bad guy. EA's last version of the game, set in World War II, allowed players to fight against the Allied forces.

As tasteless as that is, it's history. Right now, American boys are dying every day. They deserve this nation's highest respect, not this final insult.

The amorality of these professional war-gamers can be astonishing. Last year, hundreds of parents protested Activision's game "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" for a scene in which players could take part in a terrorist group's machine-gun massacre of civilians at a Russian airport. The player acts as a special-ops agent infiltrating the terrorist cell that can either choose to join in the civilian shooting to remain "credible," or refrain from the bloodbath.

EA's Frank Gibeau complained to the media that video games are unfairly singled out: "At EA we passionately believe games are an art form, and I don't know why films and books set in Afghanistan don't get flak, yet (games) do. Whether it's 'Red Badge Of Courage' or 'The Hurt Locker,' the media of its time can be a platform for the people who wish to tell their stories."

Here we go again, the scoundrel's final defense: It's "art." Video games are amazing technological products, but they are not "stories" like a book or a movie. Parents don't worry about their kids reading Taliban books. I don't know of any movies where the Taliban are the heroes. It's only video games where children enter an imaginary (but most realistic and therefore dangerous) world in which they are the main characters.

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. In this case, EA has created a plot in which children can be absorbed for hours in the virtual reality of killing American solders, the best and most honorable product our nation has to offer. The idea that game makers just can't comprehend why this would be singled out for condemnation is ludicrous. They know exactly what they're doing as the 30 pieces of silver jingle in their pockets.

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