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Persuasive Games: Free Speech is Not a Marketing Plan

October 4, 2010 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

[In his latest regular Gamasutra column, game designer and writer Ian Bogost uses the Medal of Honor censorship controversy as a lens to focus light on the issue of whether the game industry -- soon to defend its rights in the Supreme Court -- truly exercises the free speech it may soon lose.]

In November, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments from the State of California, as the latter attempts to prohibit the sale of certain games to minors. The issue has remained a nail-biter for the industry and its advocates, who see the proposal as an attack on the First Amendment rights of game makers.

Despite its importance to American life, many citizens misunderstand the First Amendment. It is not meant as an anything-goes license to say whatever you want in any context without consequence. Rather, it is meant primarily to protect citizens from government reprisals if the former wish to mount criticisms or advance unpopular ideas against the latter.

Unpopular ideas, it should be noted, have often been central to American civic reform. Many of the issues we now take for granted, both as rights won and as formative moments in our political history, have been made possible by citizens' unfettered rights to unpopular political speech.

This tradition continues today all across the political spectrum, as debates about issues like gay marriage and health care clearly reveal.

Commercial speech is subject to slightly more limited freedom, although the history of free speech legislation in the U.S. has often included debates about such a distinction. In this regard, it's worth pondering how well video games have pursued the social and political speech the First Amendment exists to protect.

As November's Supreme Court date approaches, there is perhaps no more ironic example of video game speech gone awry than Electronic Arts's decision to cave to public pressure and remove the Taliban from its forthcoming edition of Medal of Honor.

The game has courted controversy for months now. In a departure from its heritage as a game glorifying World War II era combat, the latest edition of the long-running series takes up the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Purportedly developed in consultation with U.S. Tier 1 Special Operations Forces, the game promises that players "will step into the boots of these warriors and apply their unique skill sets to a new enemy in the most unforgiving and hostile battlefield conditions of present day Afghanistan."

It's a promising idea for a video game. After all, warfare has changed considerably since the mid-twentieth century, and the game-playing public might benefit from an experience of modern warfare drawn from the pages of the news rather than the pages of fantasy novels.

Certainly other media have taken up this goal. The recent documentary film Restrepo, for example, chronicles a terrifying year of unforgiving impasse in Afghanistan's dangerous Korangal Valley, which is sometimes called "the deadliest place on earth" by American troops.

Like Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker and David Simon & Ed Burns's Generation Kill, Restrepo eschews geopolitical context in favor of the raw experience of modern war. In fact, that's really the main point of the film: despite home-front rhetoric about the political justifications for extended wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the modern soldier's experience is neither rooted in nor justified by political accomplishment. In a strange and perversely poetic inversion, it is little more than an exercise in terror -- for terrorist and for liberator alike.

For its efforts, Restrepo won the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at the Sundance Film Festival. A small cultural victory, to be sure, but a poignant one too in light of the incredible pointlessness of the American occupation of the Korangal Valley. On April 14, 2010 the U.S. closed its outpost there, admitting that no military nor political progress had been made there during the four years it had been in operation.

Restrepo is hardly the most controversial of recent art about a contemporary political issue. It's tame, in fact, compared with the long history of filmic button-pushing. Movies have mostly stirred controversy through depictions of sex and perversion (a subject about which video games haven't gotten to first base), but war has had its share of filmic contentiousness too.

Michael Cimino's 1978 film The Deer Hunter, for example, won the Oscar for Best Picture despite stirring up considerable debate about the historical accuracy of its depiction of Vietcong atrocity. More recently, Michael Moore's 2004 documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 earned public ire for its take on the Bush administration's handling of the "war on terror."

Among the latter film's controversies were accusations of commercial censorship, as Moore had accused Disney's Miramax division of refusing to distribute the film for fear of political retribution in the state of Florida, where Jeb Bush served as governor at the time. (As it happens, Disney sold Miramax this year -- for $100 million less than it spent to buy social gaming studio Playdom.)

Despite ruffling feathers, these two films serve as relatively modest specimens of art made to spur public debate in the ways the First Amendment is supposed to facilitate. They represent resolve and intention on the part of their creators, who hoped to advance potentially unpopular positions as a matter of speech, not just as a matter of marketing. And as works made for private gain, they advocate for the amalgamation of public and commercial speech, for they draw the public interest out of the accident of industrial production and distribution.


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Comments


Ian Bogost
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A quick follow-up: this morning I received another ESA email, as I'm sure many of you did too, celebrating three "victories" for videogames:



"These include: an outpouring of support from the political, scientific, business and legal communities in defense of the constitutional rights of video games; a White House ceremony at which President Barack Obama launched a national competition to create a video game promoting math and science learning; and a cover story in the Sunday New York Times Magazine about the importance of games in education. All of these occurrences represented more visible proof of the positive impact our remarkable industry is having on society."



I've got my gripes about the STEM gaming thing, which I think is just White House posturing (read about that here: http://kotaku.com/5496671/playing-political-games), but it's worth noting that all of these examples rely on activities outside of the commercial industry. Whatever "positive impact" the ESA claims here on behalf of constituents like Electronic Arts is hardly one of their own making.

John Healy
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Excellent piece Ian, it's disappointing to see that the only relevance that Afghanistan had to the game was as a setting, a bullet-point in marketing material but to be honest I'd be lying if I said that surprised me. Unfortunately the hardcore market seems focused on shallow iteration, I hope this will change over time but I'm not overly optimistic about that happening...

Michael Meyer
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I kind of wish they'd flip the respect thing back around. Something like "We all have the utmost respect for those who have served and are currently serving in Afghanistan. Because of that respect, we feel it is our duty to accurately depict the conflict. To ignore it, to refuse to depict it because it may be unpleasant to some, would be disrespectful of their courage and sacrifice. You don't show respect by refusing to talk about it."

Andre Gagne
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Like 6 days in Fallujah? Which the ESA left out to river without a paddle...

Thomas Nucci
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I suppose it was too much to hope that this wouldn't be like all the other shooters out there before it. It makes me wonder, though, if Six Days in Fallujah would have been any different, if it hadn't been destroyed by its controversy.



It's a great piece, though; I think I'm going to have to dig through some of those designer's you've mentioned . . .

Sean Parton
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Hm... from the quoted statement...



"[EA has] decided to rename the opposing team in Medal of Honor _multiplayer_ from Taliban to Opposing Force."



Emphasis mine.



It's a storm in a teacup. All EA said they'd do is change the name of the _multiplayer_ team. As with pretty much any other game of this vein, this "meaningful representation" that seems to be decried as being abolished will occur in the _single-player_, which EA has been completely silent on. It should be easily presumable that the single-player, as such, has not been adjusted at all, where presumably the "opposing force" is being called by it's original name.



EA has merely laid down their cards in a very careful faction, playing both sides of the arguing fence for fools. With this, the media and concerned citizens they wish to dodge will be placated, and the gaming public may very well backpedal after release and call praises for EA's "inclusion" of the Taliban in single-player, despite never removing or adjusting them in the first place.



Just another sign that EA knows exactly what the hell they're talking about.

Thomas Nucci
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I know what you mean, and it was what I thought when I heard that news a couple days ago. But, that doesn't quite hold up. Think about it: how many AAA titles have been released recently where the most amazing and incredible facet has been *completely left out* of their marketing? I've looked: you're right when you say there's no real discussion of their single player game, other than perhaps "You're the most awesome soldier of awesome, because you're [dun dun duuun!] TIER 1! And you're going to Afghanistan!" and showing some interviews with soldiers talking about their experiences.



All the rest, and all of the interesting, trailers and screenshots have been multiplayer, something they're trying really hard to suggest is good. Compare that to the Bioshock franchise: most of their game trailers, even for Bioshock 2, even while they also hyped their new multiplayer system, was focused on the single player mode and the story.



Companies market what they feel will get their game to sell the best, and they rarely hold much of their major marketing points back. Specific weapons and levels and plot twists, sure, those are kept quiet. But Medal of Honor has given almost nothing, beyond it being set early in the Afhanistan War. In one of their soldier interview trailers, the guy talks about how every Tier 1 customizes their weaponry and gear, which would be a fantastic selling point, and which is mentioned nowhere else. Their "Buy the Limited Edition" trailer focuses exclusively on things you'll get access to in multiplayer. All us single player FPS fans have to look at is a guy on the cover and a general time frame of when the storyline takes place.



So, either they're cheating their own developers who've worked hard on a single player campaign by avoiding talking about it and getting solo FPS players interested, they don't really have much to offer and are downplaying the lack of a serious and mature solo campaign, or they're taking one of the most risky ways to offer an incredibly powerful campaign, by pretending it doesn't really exist.



Besides, the controversy probably doesn't affect the single player campaign. Nobody's said anything about "You can't shoot the Taliban! That would be wrong!" So unless they're offering one campaign that is barely spoken about, and a second that they have never even hinted at existing, the controversy doesn't affect single player.



If I'm wrong, I'll happily eat my words, but I've got to, at least right now, disagree with you, Sean. They know what they're talking about, by balancing a controversy between both sides.



Then again, even if they do release it with a full, meaningful campaign including the Taliban as playable, the backlash from the non-gaming community, no matter how well done, will be so many times worse. Worthy of defending, if it's done well, I think, but nothing compared to what there is now.

Sean Parton
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Valid points.



In my opinion, I would figure that EA is taking a calculated gambit; after seeing the backlash from including "Taliban" as multiplayer PC's, they may have wanted to hold back on single player details until closer to launch, to help keep the mystery there and to hold off letting the rabble brew and cause more damage.



But this is all assuming EA knows exactly what it's doing, and has this secret weapon at the ready. Time will tell.

David Glover
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But they've only been removed in multiplayer, surely any artistic merit their inclusion would have is in single player, where there is actually plot and characters that could affect that.



Multiplayer is just designed to be two balanced teams for the funs, they might as well be Red vs Blue.

Christian Nutt
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Then they should be Red vs. Blue.

Sean Farrell
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Good point. Why is the multiplayer not red American team vs. blue American team, set in Afghanistan? That would reduce the reluctance people have playing the "opposing force".



Personally I think that all this is just a marketing stunt. Make some controversy, get into all media and done...

Will Burgess
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Good point Sean, David. The transparency of this issue IS important to note, but if its only changed in the multiplayer...who cares? Multiplayer is an entirely different game vs. single player (even developed by two separate teams in this case).

Unfortunately, it is rare that the multiplayer side of a game focuses on sharing a good, deep narrative experience. Multiplayer is usually too bogged down by balancing, repetition, etc. to have any room left for leaving the players with a nice uplifting story complete with moral dilemma, character growth, etc. It focuses chiefly on competition between players.



Bogost is a bit harsh on EA's decision, although he does shed light where its needed; mainly in the area where games are showing their immaturity. Videogames are a very young medium, and have yet to be taken seriously by the majority of consumers as an artistic medium. Hardcore crowd aside, people do not expect nor PLAY games to experience a deep criticism of an issue. Personally, I think this needs to and will change (especially when I have anything to do with it), but for the mean time games are still distractions...not art.



How can we be surprised when we raise our voice at the adult table when they're talking about adult topics that we quickly rescind our comment because we are out of line? How can we be expected to be taken seriously, when the most successful creations our medium has produced involves nothing but violence, guns, and gravel-blender throated soldiers?



If I was EA, I would have done the same thing; its hard enough to turn a profit WITHOUT media controversy surrounding your product.



November will be a huge step forward towards the artistic legitimacy of games as a medium. Every medium has to fight for freedom of expression, but as Bogost said, will we use it when we have it?

Ian Bogost
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It's entirely possible to imagine an artistically meaningful and complex multiplayer game mode in which the differences between coalition and Taliban forces actually mattered. The fact that it's so easy to conclude that "it's just a multiplayer deathmatch" or similar strikes me as part of the problem.



There's also a rhetorical issue at work here. The court of public opinion won't likely make a distinction between play modes (if even it would understand them) as it forms a collective opinion about videogames' engagement with public speech.

Hayden Dawson
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But why should that last conclusion be part of any problem at all? If we are looking for our industry to evolve and for those outside the hobby/medium to recognize and understand us, should we not understand that the medium can be used in so many ways? And that each of those is legitimate within itself.



The MoHs and CODs of the world, are of course our summer movie fare. No one goes into that expecting an answer to everything or any other 'more serious' concept. If someone really wishes to explore the deep dark recesses of the human heart, then I'd direct them to find a Herzog festival somewhere. In books, no one would expect Don Quixote from the latest Twilight or Dragon Tatoo book.



If our goal is to broaden the nature of video games shouldn't we not let some Stallone blastem fest be just that and help ensure that the more 'realistic' games or those with more dramatic character studies the get press and recognition they deserve?

Ian Bogost
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So, where are the Werner Herzogs? We're all Michael Bay it seems.

Hayden Dawson
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Maybe no Herzog's yet Ian (although there's been more than one attempt to link games to causing suicidal tendencies). But I would say there have been attempts to at least explore a more dramatic side; but not all these attempts have come from the US side of the Pacific.



The Persona series is likely the best known of such titles. I THANK THANK THANK you guys for giving P3 and P4 the face time you have. But there are others, which fall even more into the 'visual novel' side of things.



Ever 17 is a multi-leveled, multi-playthrough novel game focused on a small group of players trapped after an underwater disaster. VNs also have experience in making their puzzles part of the 'game' which seems to a concern of some related to the Layton games. There is also a niche within the B-game market (yes those games) which focus on characterization and what can happen when people collide.

Vin St John
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"There's also a rhetorical issue at work here. The court of public opinion won't likely make a distinction between play modes (if even it would understand them) as it forms a collective opinion about videogames' engagement with public speech."



I agree with most of the points in your article, but this statement isn't true. The distinction is what caused the controversy in the first place. The original uproar was very specifically that the game allowed you to play the game AS the Taliban and kill American soldiers. Gamers understood that this was probably just a multiplayer mode that that had little actual narrative or context, and was simply borrowing those elements from the "story mode". Whether this is excusable or not, the distinction mattered to the public.

Brice Gilbert
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This is an interesting issue when it comes to artistic expression and how corporations and the mainstream business models can be a detriment at times, but I think the free speech thing is clear cut. You can say whatever you want and the government can do nothing to stop you. Free speech can be and sometimes is a marketing plan. If you as a company want to have your game sell to as wide an audience as possible sometimes you make decisions to accomplish that. Decisions that some on the team might not like. I dislike this mentality, but it's certainly not a free speech issue. You are free to make stupid decisions, you are free to go where the money is, and you are even free to be a vile racist. Perhaps the article is using free speech in a more free speech==saying something loud way. Or maybe I've missed the point.

Ian Bogost
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Brice, check out the differences between applications of strict scrutiny and intermediate scrutiny in free speech precedent for more on the importance of context and purpose when it comes to the first amendment.

Adam Bishop
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Free speech does not actually mean that "you can say whatever you want and the government can do nothing to stop you". There are plenty of laws restricting speech, such as laws against making death threats, laws against harassment in the workplace, libel laws, copyright laws, etc.

Daniel NyeGriffiths
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As ever, thought-provoking stuff. That said, I'm not sure that EA would really position themselves as quite in the business you're describing, in the same way that, even with a Sundance win, Restrepo will never be a blockbuster movie (and for that matter, even the Hurt Locker - Oscar, star cast and all - has grossed not that highly).



The single-player narrative will in all probability still feature the Taliban, as Sean Parton says above, and also foreign fighters (who may not be specifically identified as al Qaeda - I can't recall offhand - but who will be speaking Gulf Arabic, in the interests of verisimilitude). I wouldn't expect an in-depth look at the troubles of the area there, either, but it's going to be the place where the storytelling happens.



Whether a PR strategy or not, this close to launch I can't see what could really have been done beyond a name change. Taking out the IEDs would have unbalanced the game, unless they had replaced with something exactly like them in function, and it would have needed more testing, maybe another public beta ... all quite significant changes.

Ian Bogost
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Sure. But EA is a big company, and it's curious that they don't want to diversify their offerings in the way that other media organizations do, particularly when there are clear long-term benefits from doing so. As you point out, awards and critical acclaim is not necessarily intended to produce profits, at least not directly.

Daniel NyeGriffiths
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True, although EA might argue that the are diversified - they have EA Sports, Maxis, Bioware, Criterion, DICE and so on, all making different kinds of games. But you're right - these are mostly making games aimed at sizeable but overlapping audiences in something like the mainstream. Something like the output of a mainstream TV channel, in fact - sports, lifestyle drama, sci-fi series, racing, modern warfare action movie. It's interesting to think what an EA art games studio would look like, or if it could exist in those terms. Maybe the role of the big studios in the gaming equivalents of Restrepo is funding organisations which lobby for protections to free expression that the big houses don't tend to need (except during moral panics about videogame violence), but which help to prevent a chilling effect on the output of smaller producers?

Alexander Jhin
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I have long argued that competitive multiplayer games are even more susceptible to losing their backstory meaning than single player games. Imagine a game about killing puppies. As a single player game, the player will be disgusted at first. Yet, the more the player plays, the more she will lose the backstory and become with obsessed with simply getting a higher score. And the less she will think about puppies. With a competitive version of the game, the backstory fades even faster -- players will quickly lose any backstory out of a desire to beat other players.



But this is a fundamental flaw of modern video game design -- both games have "winners" (in single player, the person with the highest score, in multiplayer the one who kills the most puppies.) Declaring one party a winner, no matter the backstory, subverts the more subtle moral calculus of the game to win/lose.



One could argue, however, that this is the true nature of war: In the heat of battle, I'm not fighting for my country. I'm not fighting for ideology. I'm not fighting for religion. I'm fighting for myself and the man next to me. I'm fighting to win... and not die.



Popular FPS war games are devoid of greater meaning because they focus on actual combat. This is perfectly appropriate, given that actual combat IS devoid of meaning -- it is one of the most stupidly destructive, meaningless aspects of human existence.



Yes, EA did not help the cause of video games as a whole by backing down. But, simulated warfare is not where we should be fighting this battle -- it should be off the battlefield, in the areas of humanity with richer value to humanity than the base reactions of fight or flight.

John Mawhorter
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I don't know why you wrote this piece without mentioning Six Days in Fallujah which was a much more important admission by the game industry that it won't make a documentary game for fear of offending the public. The public, by its own right, seems to think that "it's just a game" means any documentary effort would necessarily cheapen, rather than deepen, our understanding of a time and place. Although they do have a good point, in that game balance and fun may often be sacrificed in a documentary approach, and thus a "fun" documentary of war would be a false one (and they assume all games are fun, so all game documentaries are necessarily disrespectful). Anyways, my point with all of this is that someone just needs to release a goddamn Iraq or Afghan war gameumentary (simulation?) to make up for the industry's reluctance to tackle the issue. It could even feature a multiplayer mode in which the severely undertrained and equipped Taliban manage to win by inflicting more costs on the US Army than the US Army inflicts on them. Maybe scoring for the locals is damage to the US economy and for the US Army is depicted in "hearts and minds" which can only ever slip through our grasp...

Ian Bogost
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Matter of space/focus, but we (me, Simon Ferrari, Bobby Schweizer) wrote about Six Days in Fallujah in the documentary games chapter of our new book Newsgames. It should ship any day. http://www.amazon.com/Newsgames-Journalism-Play-Ian-Bogost/dp/026
2014874

John Mawhorter
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@Alexander there are alternative ways of deciding winners and losers, or one can abandon the idea of winners and losers entirely... imagine a multiplayer game in which you can only play once, because once you die you're dead forever (maybe cut to a shot of your coffin being offloaded from a C-130). Or abandon binary win-lose structures altogether...

Stephen Northcott
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I've always wanted to see someone develop a multiplayer FPS where you die once. Period.

Perhaps even one with a compromise where you have to sit out for 24 hours after each death.



Although it wouldn't get rid of the idiots who just run and gun constantly, it would sure thin them out quite quickly.



Great piece, Ian, by the way.

Shay Pierce
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So to boil this article down, it seems to be saying: "If you're going to make a game about the USA fighting the Taliban, actually make the game decisions and systems be based on a simulation of what that experience is actually like. If playing on Team B is not really anything like being a Taliban, then don't call it the Taliban team, call it Team B."



This is a sentiment I entirely agree with.



But I have to ask where you would draw the line, Ian. If I were a game designer tasked with designing an FPS that depicted this conflict - and to make sure that it was, at its core, something fun to play (in other words something we can sell) - then I believe that I would take the actual events and systems of the conflict as my starting point, and only use traditional FPS mechanics where they were applicable.



But if you simply make a completely accurate simulation, your game is pretty much guaranteed to be unplayable and not "fun." As The Onion spoofed not so long ago, a realistic military game would feature 3,200 hours of boring logistics for every hour of shootouts. This is the logical extension behind questions of "why aren't war games more accurate?"



Making a game that is a simulation of war (or anything else) is like writing a novel about war: you have to leave out some details simply for it to have brevity and comprehensibility. Mechanics have to be changed, details have to be omitted, health points have to be tweaked.



I suppose my answer would be, "I feel that I would have done justice to the conflict if that conflict was the starting point of my design and always remained at the core of my design, even as I removed and modified some rules and mechanics to allow the game to be accessible and engaging." It's a subjective valuation, but it seems like it's the only sane path to create meaningful play in the context of a game based on a real war, while remaining respectful to the subject matter.

Ian Bogost
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Nobody said it would be easy... should it be easy? Shouldn't it be hard?

Tom Cole
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I simply cannot believe the controversy that this has generated. All that I can think of is, "How can we talk about games being art/having cultural relevance when we can't even make *1* game about a modern war theatre?". What annoys me even more is, as emphasised in the article, other art forms seem to have a carte blanche about the whole thing. How many books have we seen in major high street book shops about this very topic and 'racier' (i.e. involving the additional element of radical Islam/Islamism?)?



It almost seems like a betrayal of the whole medium for EA to simply change due to a little bit of pressure. Maybe this sounds like a fanboy talking, but at what point are publisher going to stand up for games going beyond being merely entertainment and offering more to the world?

Kriss Daniels
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Anyone would think mr bogof has some sort of vested interest in the rather naive concept of news games.



A book to market and promote, maybe.

Mihai Cozma
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Excellent article.



I will add something here that hopefully will be clear and not generate any controversy about it.



First of all, our country (Romania) has soldiers in Afghanistan too. Now let me tell you something about this "let's honor our military forces" thing. These forces, generally known as "peace keeping" forces, are not serving our countries in this afghan conflict, nor in any similar conflict. And no, they are not peace keeping forces, they are invading forces. They have occupied a country that now they struggle to control. In my country, military service is based on "mercenaries", basically people are not recruited, and anyone is free to join the military service by his own will. Most of the ones who did this was to get a better living for their families, as a larger salary was promised to them if they go fight for 6 months in Afghanistan. This enforces even more my previous statement: There are these people, skilled in fighting techniques, true warriors, that enroll in the army for money (when they could have taken other jobs) and go into a foreign country to fight some tribes and warbands for their resources. There is nothing to honor in this, and there is no morality in this.



Following my statements above, I believe that a game about this conflict should be like a history book, presenting the events as they are, without taking any sides. It is not our right to ignore our "enemies" (quotes because we really made them our enemies, they had nothing to do with us prior to that) like they never existed, just because we are in charge of making the game itself. Now MoH will be YAFPS (yet another first person shooter), with the "hero allied invading force" killing some "cruel middle eastern terrorists" who actually want to keep control over their own country.

Daniel Boy
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""cruel middle eastern terrorists" who actually want to keep control over their own country."



I don't like wars. But your view is a little narrow. How many foreign troops do fight for the taliban? It's more like the Spanish civil war. They fight for the cause (islamism/antiwesternism) and not for their homes and not for natural resources (except poppy). And there are two main problems why you can't just leave afghanistan be:



1. Geostrategic cause: It's a failed state and warlords have fought over the control for 10+ years, will fight for it again. Last time the "Taliban" eventually "won" and they started to destabilize the region, infiltrated the neighbouring states. Then you have terrorist camps there, where people learn to use explosives and tactics and ideology and take this knowledge back to england or iraq or russia and apply these technés.

2. Humanitarian cause: It's no fun to be controlled by a warlord, it'll be lot less fun, if the warlord is a really fundamentalistic one. For me every person that is stoned to death is a shame for every enlightened person. There is only so much barbarism I can tolerate.



This was no invasion of old for territorial or financial gains (even if some profit from the war). I don't know what they will do with this topic, maybe the sp-story or mp-mechanics will be great, maybe crappy. We will see. The name change by a major industry player implied only, that games are not protected as free speech. And that is Ian's main concern.

Mihai Cozma
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Well, I agree with you on the Spanish like civil war, however, why are not the allied troops in Spain?



1. Agree with you on the fact that it's chaos in there, however, who are we to get involved? Please enumerate the states where the presence of peace keeping forces really helped more than they damaged, through out history, and then enumerate the ones that did a lot of damaged to the population, and then compare them. It is true that if we bring stability to a region from which we buy some of our most important resources (talking here about the whole middle east thing), those resources will come cheaper. About the terrorists taking their bombs to west world, it is true, however no terrorist ever attempted anything in Romania, and you know why? Because we never interfered with their affairs (until now, God help us). The weapons and training in those camp got there since the cold war, and we know who brought them, and the internal fighting you are saying about is the legacy of the fight for dominance between USA and USSR over Afghanistan, just like it happened in Vietnam and other countries. I've recently seen a documentary containing statements from the (old now) people involved in that conflict from both sides (USA and USSR) and they both agreed they gave them weapons, stirred them to fight and then left them to fight each other after the cold war ended.



2. I agree with all your points here. However all the documentaries and reports I've read show that little has done to help the population in these regions.

Lance Burkett
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@Daniel



I'm pretty sure there are some Central African countries with religious extremist insurgents, but we don't invade there.



Strategically Afghanistan is impossible to conquer, Russians tried it, Alexander the Great tried it. Learn from history ffs.

Lance Burkett
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@all of you



You cannot universally define right and wrong, especially in a hostile environment.

Daniel Boy
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For rhetorical reasons I radicalized and shortened my arguments a little bit, maybe too much.



@Mihai

The state building part of the war is not very visible. You can't pull out until there is a strong national army or somekind of well-fortified civil society. I don't think Romania will suffer a strike because of her war engagement, there are jucier targets never hit (eg Berlin).



@Christian

You're historical account is correct. The Taliban emerged in Afghan refugee camps on Pakistan's terrain. From there they started to attack Afghanistan warlords. But after they consolidated power in the pashtun regions of afghanistan their new base of power enabled them to influence Pakistan.

I compared the situation with the Spanish Civil War to introduce the foreign fighter element into the equation that Mihai left out. As in Spain the locals fight for a different cause than the foreigners. I think this will be reflected in MoH.

International terrorism uses training camps. It is of no importance where they are: North Korea for the japanese red army, Jordan for the red army fraction, pashtun land/Sudan/Iraq for the "Al-Qaeda" movement. I'm not sure that the NATO troops are doing a good job, but is pulling out the answer? What would have been the status of the "country", if the NATO hadn't invaded? Better, worse?

The British invaded to defend India proactively; the SU invaded to stop US assisted insurgents; the "NATO"* invaded because of 9/11, to stabilize the region against local powers and russia and china, to stop a cruel government. The geostrategic position is only part of the answer, why the NATO invaded Afghanistan at that moment in time and it is not the most important part.





*In democracies not only military or economical causes are important. You have to sell the war, too. You need public opinion on your side to start a war, so you need to look like the good guy taking on a bad guy. It is actually easier to start a war against countries with a bad rep than a neutral because you have to spin less to sell the war. The humanitarian aspect is no excuse for a war, it is part of the cause, as is the need of the executive to show that it is capable of acting after 9/11, as is the geo-strategic importance and possibility of winning for the military.



@Lance

"I'm pretty sure there are some Central African countries with religious extremist insurgents, but we don't invade there."

I have tried to explain, why there is no easy pull out strategy. The countries in Central Africa are not so visible on the western mental map because they aren't of great geostrategic importance and have not the same press coverage. And there was not another 9/11 attack. Otherwise we may be talking about the Sudan and not Afghanistan.





i hope that shed more light on my view.

Andy Krouwel
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Good luck getting A Clockwork Orange approved on the iPhone.

Brandon Davis
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The issues here are essentially a function of American politics as usual. Politicians whether they are as stupid as New York Governor candidate Paladino, or as ignorant as Sarah Palin, have no substantive interest in the intellectual discussion of truth. Their public positions are intended to appeal to the grossest element of mediocre public opinion.



Politicians tend to be motivated by the psychopathology of social manipulation, as opposed to leadership of the truth. The Supreme Court is somewhat more elevated, but again will break down along traditional party lines, i.e. Democrat vs. Republican.

Nathan Frost
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Normally I avoid simply posting agreement with an article on the grounds that merely nodding adds little to the discussion.



But Ian, I agree with you *so* *vehemently* I couldn't stop myself from doing so.



More commercial developers need to step up to the challenge of being philosophically relevant. I'll keep pushing my teammates, and maybe someday they'll get it too, and we can ship something more deeply meaningful.

Lance Burkett
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I reckon Modern Warfare 2 touched on some sensitive political matters. The premise of that game (in my opinion) is that USA will eventually get owned for their unnecessary Military activity, both past and present.

Andrew Vanden Bossche
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A painful, damning critique of the industry, and impossible to disagree with. I firmly believe that a culturally relevant game will garner more and more positive attention from press and gamers alike—the films cited in this article are part of film's canon because they took risks. Dated jingoism like Red Dawn is only remembered for how laughable it was, yet Modern Warfare 2 decided that 2009 was the perfect time to talk about a Russian invasion of America.



When you have a franchise that is, no matter what, guaranteed to sell, you have nothing to loose and worlds to gain by making artistic choices.


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