Medal of Honor cashes in on America’s War on Terror

Military-themed video games occupy an interesting cultural space in the post-Bin Laden world, as the “War on Terror” continues on into the foreseeable future. These so-called “militainment” game franchises will no doubt continue to cash in on the public’s fascination/preoccupation with terrorists, and the men and women who combat them. As Matthew Thomas Payne points out, Medal of Honor is trending more towards realism as its main first person shooter competition, the Call of Duty and Halo franchises, look towards the future and outer space. Judging by the results of the 2013 Golden Globes, American public sentiment seems to line up with Medal of Honor‘s thinking. Ben Affleck’s Argo, based on the true story of a CIA operative saving hostages, won best picture, drama and best director. Zero Dark Thirty, the story of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, which partnered with Medal of Honor to provide the incredibly realistic maps and gameplay, won the Golden Globe for Jessica Chastain’s portrayal of a CIA agent. Homeland, which depicts the post-Bin Laden War on Terror domestically, won awards for best actor, actress, and drama series. These successes indicate that the American public still has an appetite for “militainment” after the death of Osama Bin Laden.

Despite the popularity of combat and the War on Terror in the media and contemporary culture, I was just as shocked as Matthew Thomas Payne to see the partnership between Medal of Honor and Zero Dark Thirty. Respectfully adapting real combat missions and real battles into a video game is a tricky process. Many people may feel as though translating the combat into a video game trivializes the sacrifices of the men and women who lost their lives during those battles. I had never heard of Six Days in Fallujah before seeing it mentioned in Payne’s writing and, after reading the article accompanying the link, I can see why the game was never published. A hyper-realistic first person shooter vividly recreating an incredibly bloody firefight is undoubtedly going to encounter some public resistance.

I found it particularly interesting the way the Peter Tamte, president of the game’s development company, argued that a video game is the best way to convey the truth and meaning of war to the millennial generation, more effective than a book or a History Channel special. This raises an interesting question about whether militainment video games such as the new Medal of Honor, with its special Zero Dark Thirty map pack, are attempting to convey some sort of meaning and truth about the 21st Century War on Terror, or whether they are simply cashing in on the public’s fascination with counter-terrorism. I believe, and I think Payne would agree, that the video game publishers are ultimately pursuing profit and monetary success. If producing increasing realistic games about the War on Terror is shown to be profitable, then these games will continue to get made until the gaming community tires of the genre. 

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About Karlin

Karlin is a graduate of the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon, with a degree in Marketing. He wrote his thesis on marketing movies using digital media. Television, and film aficionado, lifelong Portland Trail Blazers fan, recovering comic book nerd.
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One Response to Medal of Honor cashes in on America’s War on Terror

  1. cstabile says:

    The question I’m left with has to do with Payne’s concept of “military realism” and why we find these representations of violence so much more troubling than, say, zombies in CODBLOPS. Why would a hyper-realistic first person shooter encounter more public resistance than America’s Army? Or would it encounter more public resistance — I’ve yet to hear of any outcry about Medal of Honor’s Zero Dark Thirty map pack.

    It seems to me that militarily realistic games get a kind of free pass — as I mentioned in class, they’re not subject to the same scrutiny as Doom, Quake, World of Warcraft, the GTA series — they aren’t at the heart of moral panics about videogames. Why not? Especially given the military style tactics of so many mass shootings.

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