Any game of cops and robbers needs someone to play the robber. It's probably the simplest statement one can make about any "good guys" versus "bad guys" game scenario. But when a PR manager for a leading video-game publisher feels the need to explain it, you know the company has found itself involved in something that's anything but simple.

In this case, Amanda Taggart of Electronic Arts (ERTS) was explaining why the latest game in the company's Medal of Honor series, which hit stores on Oct. 12, allows players to take the role of the Taliban, a fact that has caused U.K. Defence Secretary Liam Fox to ask British stores not to sell the game and is the reason U.S. military personnel won't find it in stores on bases.

This new Medal of Honor is set in Afghanistan at the beginning of the current war. As with many first-person-shooters, the game offers two modes: a single-player story in which the player takes the role of a U.S. solider fighting the Taliban, and an online, multiplayer mode, in which players are put into one of two teams that fight against each other. In the multiplayer mode, the two teams are represented by the characters designed for the single-player story, but there's no narrative to follow, and neither team expresses an ideology.

Unfortunately for EA, that means some players take on the roles of the Taliban, killing U.S. soldiers. Because of this, Major General Bruce Casella, the officer in charge of the stores on military bases, kept the game of his shelves.

Name Change Didn't Change Minds

In response to that decision, and to what he described as the "feedback from friends and families of fallen soldiers," Greg Goodrich, the executive producer of Medal of Honor, and his team decided to rename the Taliban in the multiplayer mode to "Opposing Force."

In an interview published the same day he announced the name change, Goodrich said, "Medal of Honor has always been rooted in authenticity and respect for the soldier." The first Medal of Honor, set during World War II, was produced by Dreamworks Interactive, a division of Dreamworks SKG (DWA), and seemed heavily influenced not just by the setting but also by the reverence to veterans shown in the Dreamworks movie Saving Private Ryan.

Despite the name change, Casella says he'll still keep the game out of military base stores, "out of respect to those touched by the ongoing, real-life events presented as a game."

Not surprisingly, Casella's decision isn't welcomed by all serving in the military or its veterans. Robert Dorr, a retired U.S. diplomat and Air Force veteran who makes clear that's he's no fan of video games, wrote in an op-ed for Air Force Times: "Airmen, soldiers, sailors and Marines should be able to play this silly game if they want to. It might be in bad taste, but it's still legal."

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