The Army & Air Force Exchange Service has stated its renewed intention to prohibit the sale of EA's forthcoming Medal of Honor from military stores.
The game, which focuses on the current conflict in the Middle East allowing players to assume the role of both U.S. Forces and their opponents, attracted controversy in recent weeks following accusations that its subject matter is disrespectful to American soldiers in active service.
As a result EA made the decision to replace the word "Taliban" as a side in the multiplayer mode of the game with "Opposing Force", a decision executive producer Greg Goodrich said was driven by "feedback from friends and families of fallen soldiers."
Following these changes, the AAFES announced that it was "engaged in a thorough review to fully understand the extent of the modifications." However, last night it became clear the changes to the game do not go far enough to address the group's concerns.
“Out of respect to those touched by the ongoing, real-life events presented as a game, Exchanges will not be carrying this product,” AAFES Commander Maj. Gen. Bruce Casella said in a statement.
“While we regret any inconvenience this may cause, our position is consistent with the direction stated a month ago. I expect the military families who are authorized to shop the Exchange are aware, and understanding, of the decision not to carry this particular offering.”
EA Senior Public Relations Manager Amanda Taggart said, in response to the decision: "We respect AEFES' authority to decide what's best for their customers. EA has not asked for, and does not expect, a change in the Defense Department's decision to restrict the availability of Medal of Honor on bases."
Nevertheless, the news will come as a disappointment to the developer. Goodrich told Gamasutra last week that ensuring the game was respectful "keeps me up at night".
"I truly believe that our intent is to honor that community, to honor those individuals [soldiers]," Goodrich said. "Truly, I think if people play our game, if they play it from beginning to end and they see what we've done, the character arc and what goes on and how they're dealing with it to the very end, I think people will get it and understand and say, 'Oh, yeah. Okay. I see now. We've spent a heck of a lot of time making sure we don't do anything stupid, and that we do it with the right tone."
However, it seems as though EA's changes will appease nobody. While the AAFES remains unconvinced that the modifications made to the game make it respectful, the publisher has endured stinging attacks from some within the industry, who claim the decision to backtrack on the use of the word 'Taliban' reveals the immaturity of the medium in comparison to cinema, which routinely tackles difficult subject matter from similar angles.
Game designer and writer Ian Bogost is among the most vocal opponents of the decision and, in a column for Gamasutra titled "Free Speech Is Not A Marketing Plan", described the publisher's dismissal of the importance of the Taliban's inclusion in the first-person shooter as one made out of "commercial political convenience, precisely the sort of hedge that undermines free speech protections by distancing them from earnest contributions to public ideas."
"Will commercial video games ever care enough about the world they share with war and sex and crime and brutality to want to speak about those issues in earnest, in public, in spite of the negative reactions or even in order to elicit those negative reactions?" the game designer asked.
"Or will they merely want to sell bits and plastic at $60 a go, any one just as good as the last -- so long as its Metacritic scores hold up?"