At Gamasutra, Ian Bogost takes us through a recent flap over Electronic Arts' forthcoming Medal of Honor game, set in modern Afghanistan. Though similar titles tend to avoid geopolitical specifics, here gamers were promised the option of siding with Taliban militants against U.S. soldiers. Critics said this was offensive and EA ultimately announced it would "remove" the Taliban. Was free speech–and an intriguing topical insight akin to Embedded with the Taliban–left by the wayside?
To Bogost's piece, I'll add two devils-advocate thoughts. Firstly, the "chilling effect" hits EA's business and its speech, and we should guard carefully against letting the two targets blend. Corporate interests love to cry 'free speech' when others criticize their commercial products, and EA's free speech doesn't entitle it to make money. Remember radio's Dr. Laura, suggesting that free speech entitles her to a national radio show? No-one's stopped EA releasing its game as intended, and Dr. Laura can get a blog.
Moreover, EA's 'Find & replace' self-censorship — all it did was change the Taliban's name — is a transparent fug leaf. Bogost dislikes what it says about the interchangeability of vaguely-defined foreign enemies, but who is fooled except the critics? By simply removing the word "Taliban," EA treats their complaints not as substantive objections to the game's content, but as empty political opportunism. That the critics seem to be happy with EA's token change rather says it all.