EA Games, makers of the upcoming Medal Of Honor: Warfighter video game, recently removed a blog that gave reviews of the real-world weapons used in the game itself, as well as links to the manufacturers’ websites. The blog was put up to promote a charity partnership, with EA’s proceeds from the partnership going to the Navy SEAL Foundation and the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which provide scholarship grants and couselling services to families of fallen special operations personal as well as financial assistance to severely wounded special operations personal.
Now, let me state this straight away: I am in full support of the Navy SEAL Foundation and the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. War is a horrible thing and anything done to heal the wounds suffered in battle, both physical and psychological, should be done with everyone’s full support. What I am against is EA Games’ decision to promote real-world weapons as a video game tie-in.
I’m not worried about those who use weapons properly, with proper training and proper securing of weapons when not in use. I am worried about kids going to the game’s website and blog and seeing the weapons promoted as being something so awesome you can’t live without them. My reason? Well, let me put it this way: curiosity and hindsight rarely go hand in hand.
Most of the blog postings about the weapons have been taken down after criticism of the partnership. A common criticism on posts regarding the program I’ve seen is the irony of promoting weapons to raise money for families whose lives have been torn apart by weapons themselves, in some cases including ones promoted on the blog itself.
I am all for promotional tie-ins, especially ones with charitable donations involved. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve donated an extra dollar or two to a charity drive while getting fast food or making a purchase at a department store. I’m all for cross-promotions and I usually find them fun to look into, like the James Bond series’ on-going promotion with Aston Martin. As it stands right now, one of the books I currently have on the go is the novelization of “The Dark Knight Rises”, after buying and enjoying the novelizations of the previous two Batman movies. If you, as a media company, have created a cool world to get lost in, the geek in me is going to want to take part of that world home with me. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Here we get into a murky ethical area. If someone buys a first person shooter game like MoH: Warfighter and then decides the weapons are cool, buys one and then opens fire on an innocent crowd, I wouldn’t hold the game manufacturer responsible anymore than I would hold the Beatles responsible for the Manson Family killing because of Manson’s misinterpretation of songs on the Beatles’ “White Album”. Case in point: when the Columbine shooting happened it was revealed the shooters were huge fans of the video game “Doom”, which lead to many wanting the game banned outright. However, subsequent studies, including ones done by Harvard Medical School and the US Department of Education found playing violent video games, including Doom, was not a cause for violent school attacks.
Where EA has gone wrong, in my opinion, is being realistic about the target audience for the game. Yes, it’s rated “M for Mature”, meaning it can’t be bought by those under 18, but there are numerous documented cases of underage kids getting M-rated games as gifts or by pestering their parents into buying it for them. I myself have seen it firsthand while standing in line at stores like EB Games, a parent buying a game with their teenage child right next to them. You can tell which one of the two the game is for. Hint: it’s not the one footing the bill.
If someone decides to go the illegal route of getting the game, namely via downloading a pirated copy off the internet, there’s not much you can do to stop them, let alone make sure they are of legal age to play the game. Sure the websites for M-rated games are often requiring age verification but any teenager knows all you have to do is enter a date of birth prior to 1994 and you’re golden. EA knows this. They are well aware of the problems and loss of revenue caused by piracy, hence new forms of Digital Rights Management (DRM) such as one-time activation (also preventing re-sale in the used game market) and the requirement of an always-on internet connection to play the game. And again, I’m all for protecting your intellectual property and any produced product, even if it does treat the honest buyer the same way as the dishonest scammer.
I guess what I’m calling for is a sense of responsibility from companies in how they market their products. With the recent shootings in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, we need to be more aware than ever of the seduction a weapon can have on someone who feels singled out or comes from a rough background. A gun can be far too empowering for someone who feels like they don’t have any control over the world around them. In working with at-risk youth I can tell you first hand the personality change that someone can go through the moment a weapon comes into their posession. The Warfighter blog showcasing the real-world power of the in-game weaponry is, to me, too close to lighing match under a power keg. The whole purpose of advertising or promotion is to make you believe you can’t live without something you may have not even known existed ten minutes ago. And a high-powered weapon can seem like an easy way out of your problems when things are going bad.
EA Games knows their games are big hits among the under-30 crowd. Multiplayer deathmatches are a way I and many friends have passed (far too much) time during our high school and university days. I used to work at a gaming cafe where teens from the local high school would come in after class and have Call Of Duty deathmatches. There wasn’t a bad kid in the bunch. Issues including being socially awkward and having questionable hygiene where very prevalent but no one who played in the daily deathmatches set off alarms for potentially violent behavior.
Here’s a better idea for EA, if they’re so adamant about raising money for soldier-related charities: donate a portion of sales from Warfighter and other EA Games titles. If they gave one half of one percent of their stated 2012 earnings (4.14 billion dollars) to the Navy SEAL and Special Operations Warrior Foundations, that would work out to over twenty million dollars in donations. Too much to ask of EA? Probably. Especially with all the piracy going on in the video game market. I guess the real world isn’t as cool as video games make it out to be.