Why SEALs paid the price for 'Medal of Honor' video game consultation
SEALs gave game developers a private demonstration of how to build a bomb and critiqued game details as small as the motions of reloading weapons.
Mon, Nov 12, 2012 at 12:00 PM
A screen from Electronic Arts's latest video game 'Medal of Honor: Warfighter.' (Image: Electronic Arts)
Seven members of SEAL Team Six — the special operations unit famous for killing Osama Bin Laden — have been disciplined by the U.S. Navy for consulting on a new video game called "Medal of Honor: Warfighter" without permission. But what possible secrets did the SEALs give away in their game consulting to deserve such punishment?
Several SEALs discuss general tactics in a promotional YouTube video series for the game called "SEAL Team 6 Combat Training Series," but have disguised voices to protect their identities. They also gave game developers a private demonstration of how to build a bomb and critiqued game details as small as the motions of reloading an assault rifle, according to a TechNewsDaily interview with game developers prior to the release of "Medal of Honor: Warfighter" on Oct. 23.
"The guys we were fortunate to deal with are sort of old guard, they're old school badasses who have been around the block and trained a lot of the newer guys," said Dan Moditch, a senior designer at Electronic Arts.
Those examples may not count as highly classified information. But the U.S. Navy frowned on the fact that the SEALs "used classified material" during their consulting and "violated the unwritten code that SEALs are silent warriors who shun the spotlight," according to the news story from CBS News posted on Nov. 9.
The seven SEALs' punishment includes letters of reprimand that kills chances for promotion and having half their pay taken away for two months, CBS News reported. Four other SEALs who also consulted on the game are still being investigated.
Making military games
Many popular military-themed games that feature players shooting one another in single-player stories and multiplayer battles — such as Electronic Arts' "Battlefield" and "Medal of Honor" series or Activision's "Call of Duty" series — have used ex-military or active military members as consultants. It's part of a broader "militainment" trend in films and video games that blurs the line between entertainment and war.
But the latest "Medal of Honor" games have also been pitched as a more sober, realistic look at war compared with their competitors. That drove game developers to seek out the expertise of many members of "Tier 1" special operations units such as the U.S. Navy SEALs — especially because the latest game allows players to step into the role of both Navy SEALs and special operations soldiers from other countries.
Two of the SEAL Team Six members served as the main contacts for the game developers. One of the most surreal moments came when the SEALs brought in some "buddies" to show how to build a "real bomb" that could blow up part of a concrete wall or a car, game developers told TechNewsDaily. [How Video Game Statistics Could Transform War]
Devil in the details
SEAL Team Six's consulting work also led to a few "aha" moments for game developers in their quest to make a game that looks and feels realistic. When one Navy SEAL sat down and played an early demo of the game, he saw a problem with the game's reloading animation for a Heckler & Koch HK 416 assault rifle.
It turned out that the game animator had worked on the reloading animation with a Polish GROM special operations soldier. The game developers suddenly realized that each of the special operations units they were trying to show in the game had their own unique ways of doing even the most basic actions — a discovery that compelled them to add those unique features to the game.
Despite the Navy's punishment of the SEAL Team Six members, the U.S. military may not necessarily shut the door on consulting for video games. The military has shown a clear interest in the value of gaming for recruitment and training simulations — not to mention the number of younger U.S. military members who play games.
"A lot of younger SEALs [trained by our SEAL consultants] were super excited about the game," Moditch said.
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