After a huge outcry, the company Electronic Arts has decided to drop a feature from its new "Medal of Honor" video game that would have allowed players to assume the role of Taliban fighters killing U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan.
Politicians and military officials in the U.S., Britain, Canada and Australia denounced the feature, and the Pentagon banned sales of the game from nearly 300 stores on U.S. military bases around the world because of it.
The critics said allowing gamers to play as Taliban fighters was insensitive to the families of U.S. and allied forces killed in Afghanistan. "At the hands of the Taliban, children have lost fathers and wives have lost husbands. I am disgusted and angry," British Defense Secretary Liam Fox said in late August.
In a new posting on the Electronic Arts Web site, "Medal of Honor" Executive Producer Greg Goodrich said the "feedback from friends and families of fallen soldiers" who opposed the Taliban-fighter feature was an "important voice" that "has earned the right to be listened to."
"We are making this change for the men and women serving in the military and for the families of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice - this franchise will never willfully disrespect, intentionally or otherwise, your memory and service," he wrote.
Electronic Arts is scheduled to roll out the new "Medal of Honor" game on Oct. 12.
The controversial feature was to be included in the "multiplayer mode" – when players go online and form opposing teams battling in Afghanistan. One team was to be coalition forces, the other was to be designated as the Taliban.
As a result of the change, the Taliban team will be renamed "Opposing Force." Gamers playing for Opposing Force will still be able to attack and kill U.S. troops – as Goodrich acknowledged in his message.
"While this change should not directly affect gamers, as it does not fundamentally alter the gameplay, to all who serve - we appreciate you, we thank you, and we do not take you for granted. And to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines currently serving overseas, stay safe and come home soon," he wrote.
Nor will the change affect gamers playing solo. In that version, a player will assume the role of a member of the U.S. Special forces hunting down Taliban fighters.
Many gamers had dismissed the controversy, saying in the world of video games players routinely switch sides and assume the role of assorted villains. Indeed, prior versions of the "Medal of Honor" game allowed players to act as Nazi soldiers attacking American troops in World War II.
The controversy did not seem to affect sales. Electronic Arts announced on Thursday that more people had reserved copies of the new game than any previous version of the hugely popular "Medal of Honor" franchise.
But this is not the first time a video-game publisher has had to change plans because art came a little too close to imitating life.
Last year, the Japanese publisher Konami canceled "Six Days in Fallujah" after veterans, peace groups and the families of some fallen soldiers said it exploited an especially deadly battle of the Iraq war. The game's developer, Atomic Games, reportedly is still seeking a publisher for the game.