“I literally stopped the game, paused and grunted in fury, actively angry at the Taliban.”
That’s from my notebook at around 1am, scribbled during the first hour or so of Medal of Honor.
The game opens with a satellite viewpoint of the Earth, military chatter filling your ears. It’s easy to tune out; there’s not much there that hasn’t been in any other military shooter in the last few years. Then, my ears perked up, my brow furrowed and my fingers began to grip the controller with purpose.
Those terms set a certain emotional tone for me—they got under my skin.
Medal of Honor isn’t great, but it’s important for one reason. As far as I can tell, it’s the first game that elicited genuine verbal, physical and emotional anger from me unrelated to interfacing with the interactive mechanics and specifically in response to the enemies presented on screen. I was not seething with anger because a seemingly endless stream of enemies wouldn’t stop until I triggered the next scripted segment or an enemy was taking all-to-accurate pot shots from an unknowable location.
Dropped into nighttime Afghanistan, the setting feels familiar. I play close attention to the progress of America’s wars overseas. Photos, articles, personal accounts. That’s been especially true lately, as the December review for Afghanistan nears and insane midterm election rhetoric has ramped up. A close friend also spent a tour in Iraq, a decision that emotionally tormented me at the time. I’d never had a friend in harm’s way. He came back fine—as fine as he’d been before the Middle East, anyway.
Pop. Pop. Pop. I begin taking out the enemy
Al-Qaeda. When they the Taliban came at me, my teeth clenched, sloshing left to right. Once or twice, I actually laughed a bit—probably sadistically and inappropriately so. After a few minutes, realizing my hands were sweating, I set the controller down.
That’s when I wrote that note and took a deep breath.
Medal of Honor labeled the enemy. That made a difference for me. Granted, I’d been out with friends earlier in the night. Several beers were consumed, chemically charging my state of mind. My emotions dissipated soon after; it became obvious Medal of Honor was just another shooter. Plus, outside of perhaps the ending, the game doesn’t do much with that emotional engagement besides queuing it up.
It’s accurate to criticize Medal of Honor for failing to live up to its potential and its unfathomably poor job of contextualizing the reasoning behind, not to mention magnitude of, the battles portrayed. EA did, however, name the enemy Al-Qaeda. Alone, that deeply pushed my buttons. I didn’t expect that one.