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The struggle with realism

“Medal of Honor Warfighter” takes elite troops around the world on highly secretive missions.

Realism has been a double-edged sword for developers of the “Medal of Honor” video games.

The Navy recently handed seven U.S. Navy SEALs nonjudicial punishment for their roles advising developers of the most recent edition of “Medal of Honor Warfighter.” The Associated Press reported that they were reprimanded for failing to gain permission to work on the project and for showing game developers equipment that was specific to their unit.

It wasn’t the first time Electronic Arts has been criticized over realism in the series. When it released “Medal of Honor” in 2010, developers drew fire for focusing on the Afghanistan War even though it was still being waged. They were slapped harder for planning to let gamers play as the Taliban in online competition. Even though other developers had Middle Eastern fighters represented in their games, none was bold enough to link them to a specific real-world foe. Electronic Arts dropped the Taliban idea before the game’s launch.

In addition, some in the special operations community wondered whether the advisers of “Medal of Honor” let slip a few sensitive details. As one adviser for another game franchise said, “They were a little too forthcoming.”

Although it’s difficult to say precisely what equipment prompted this week’s reprimands, it’s easy to understand how modern video games could provide detailed views of the military world. Developers are eager to provide a high degree of realism in tactics, weapons, settings and behavior.

With high-definition graphics, gear can be reproduced in exacting detail. Rifles, sniper scopes, unmanned vehicles and more are incredibly realistic. According to the Associated Press report, this is the sort of information that landed the SEALs in trouble.

 Developers go to great pains to accurately depict how real troops wear their gear, perform specific actions and interact with one another. They go into the training field to observe real troops and invite others to be advisers. They put advisers in motion-capture suits and run them through various scenarios to ensure everything looks realistic to the gamer.

In trying to capture realism, advisers run the risk of divulging too much. In interviews with Stars and Stripes, most game advisers have said they are aware that the United States’ enemies also have access to these games and they are loath to create a training tool for terrorists.

But that is a real danger when the games feature details about specific operations. Electronic Arts boasts that the story line of “Medal of Honor Warfighter” was written by “Tier 1 operators” while deployed overseas. In addition, there’s a notice before most missions that indicates they are based on real operations in real locations. The game lets players participate in hit-and-run missions in Pakistan, Somalia, Bosnia and the Philippines.

bowersb@stripes.com

Related: 

Game review: MOH Warfighter eleminates controversal Taliban angle

Interview, video: Veterans advise Ubisoft on newest 'Ghost Recon'

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About the Authors


Brian Bowers is Stars and Stripes’ Assistant Managing Editor for Europe and Mideast and one of its video game reviewers. He joined the newspaper in 1992 in Germany, where he worked on the news desk and the city desk. He has a wife and three children, who are always eager to help him test games.


Sam Laney joined Stars and Stripes in 2007 as a copy/layout editor and slowly convinced upper management to support his video game habit. Since then, he’s added game reviews and previews to his list of duties and moved on to the iPad. When he’s not rocking newbies in “Left4Dead2,” he covers PC and Nintendo systems.


Michael S. Darnell joined Stars and Stripes in 2013 as a reporter and quickly annoyed his bosses into allowing him to write about video games in his spare time. He's a PC gamer at heart whose life goals include buildin