Gamed: Video games and the laws of war

This week’s edition of Gamed will be 100-percent politics free! So sit back, forget all the troubles plaguing the country, and instead let’s discuss something far more soothing – like war!

ICRCWhen people think about video games, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) probably isn’t one of the first organizations that comes to mind, but that may change. The ICRC is hoping to get more involved with game development, specifically in the way realistic war games are portrayed. It isn’t suggesting that war games make babies into murderers, nor is it taking sides on the effects of violent video games on behavior. It is, however, recommending that violent games featuring war scenarios where they proudly claim realism – specifically those where you play as a soldier – should have some form of consequences built in that mirror those in real life.

For example, if a game is claiming it is a semi-realistic war simulator, firing indiscriminately into groups of civilians or your allies should have some virtual consequences. Your teammates could turn on you, the mission might be aborted, and maybe the rest of the game will turn into a solitary-confinement simulator. There are games that feature a mild version of this (although it’s usually specific to a level rather than the whole game), and you may find yourself restarting after receiving a “friendly fire will not be tolerated” notice after firing one measly RPG into an enclosed room filled with teammates (granted, the C4 and grenades probably didn’t help either). The ICRC’s scope is a little more specific though.

“The ICRC is concerned that certain game scenarios could lead to a trivialization of serious violations of the law of armed conflict,” It claims. “The fear is that eventually such illegal acts will be perceived as acceptable behaviour. However the ICRC is not involved in the debate about the level of violence in video games.”

Putting aside the ICRC’s obvious and blatant anti-American bias when it comes to the spelling of behavior, it actually makes a strong argument. Its concern is that the games don’t punish what in real life would be war crimes, which makes those crimes more palatable to the public. And while I certainly would never speak to the effects of video games on behavior (yes, that is a blatant and bold faced lie ), regardless of how games may influence a person’s psyche, the ICRC raises some good points.

black-ops-2-review-6The first is that war games are more and more often striving for realism, but that realism is selective. Pick any war shooter with a modern setting and in the credits you’ll find several military advisers listed on the payroll. Developers even pride themselves on details like the actual sound and recoil of a particular weapon, and real squad-based tactics are a frequent feature as well. With development teams stretching into the hundreds and threatening to top a thousand on major releases, it may only be a matter of time before Activision or EA invade a country, for research. Tahiti has had it coming for years now, with half of the letters in its name being vowels, looking down on the rest of us.

Realism in video games must always give way to gameplay, but there are easy ways to impose limits that may actually help improve the game. Now, to be fair, I’ve done things in war shooters that could technically be considered war crime-ish. I may have experimented with throwing semtex on my teammates as they run into a group of enemies, and while that is certainly funny, it instantly breaks the concept of a realism. War may be hell, but when it is also hilarious, there is a disconnect.

Call-of-Duty-Black-Ops-Fortunate-Son-and-Vietnam-2There could also be a benefit in gameplay simply from forcing you to be more careful. When I play a hardcore mode with friendly fire turned on in a game like Call of Duty, I won’t say the fear of shooting a teammate makes me better, but it certainly makes me more careful and forces me to focus harder. Plus, when I do knife my friends in the back of the head repeatedly, at least they know I meant it.

The ICRC is quick to point out that its focus is solely on war games that claim to be realistic(ish) simulations of war. It also recognizes the difference between a violent act in a video game and one in real life. It is specifically advocating international humanitarian law, aka the law of armed conflict. And while you may disagree with the idea that war-based video games desensitize people to war crimes, it does make a good point in claiming that a game touting realism that has no – or very light – penalties for war crimes is not really realistic at all. 

Hot Coffee and News

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Microsoft accepts the Xbone

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U.K. game sales hit four year high

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