I recently pulled out my copy of Afghanistan: d20 and had a look through it for the first time in years. I don’t know how many people bought it when it was released in 2002, but I was one of them and I was well aware of the controversy surrounding its release.
The argument against Afghanistan: d20 was that it was somehow disrespectful to the troops fighting there to make a game of their hardships and, yes, their deaths. My perspective was that we have successfully made games out just about any war you care to think of, from WWI to Vietnam. Some have been wargames, some roleplaying games, but they were all still games. Did these efforts, too, qualify as disrespectful?
I guess on the one hand I can kind of see the argument against a roleplaying game. With a wargame things are abstracted. The death of one or a dozen or a hundred is just numbers on a sheet of paper. Properly executed, a roleplaying character has a life of his or her own and that character’s death is going to be felt more acutely as a result. Assuming the player is the empathetic sort. Some aren’t.
In a less touchy-feely but more practical sense, there’s the argument that there is little to do in an Afghanistan: d20 campaign. I believe this comes from a perspective that doesn’t see the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan as a fully fledged war, but as some kind of low-intensity peacekeeping mission. War is full of plot hooks, as anyone who’s run a WWII game or the like can tell you.
At any rate, America’s war in Afghanistan has become our longest. It seemed like the right time to look at Afghanistan: d20 and review not only the controversial origins of the supplement, but what we can do with it now to tell meaningful stories.