Gamed: Video games and the laws of war

gamed video games and the laws of war medal honor warfighter splash image

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

Ace Combat free-to-play prepares for open beta

ace-combat-infinity-announced-as-a-free-to-play-title-for-ps3The long running Ace Combat series will soon make the transition to free-to-play with Ace Combat: Infinity. The game will debut later this year on the PlayStation Network, and it is currently preparing for an open beta, although no date has been announced. Part of the reason for the beta – beyond the standard fine tuning – is to acclimate fans of the series with the new financial model. As long as it doesn’t charge per missile, things should be fine. Seriously, in previous Ace Combat games I fired off enough missiles to make even munitions manufacturers fear for the future of the world.

Microsoft accepts the Xbone

skinnerBack when The Simpsons was still good, there was an episode featuring a flashback showing when Principal Skinner first met Bart and his classmates. Skinner accidentally misspoke and introduced himself as Principal Sinner, then instantly recognized his mistake and said “Well, that’s it. I’ve lost them forever.” Microsoft seems to have finally reached that conclusion as well, and has resigned itself to the nickname Xbone for the Xbox One, a nickname that was born within minutes – if not seconds – of the console’s unveiling. 

U.K. game sales hit four year high

mass-effect-3-LondonThe recent upswing in video game sales is good news for the gaming industry, and it appears that the good times have reached across the Pond as well. Thanks in no small part to GTAV, the U.K. is reporting its best video game sales in over four years. Perhaps this will finally spur developers into offering language tracks in the sadly neglected Welsh language. After all, there are few battle cries more fearsome than “Ymlaen llaw ar y gelyn!” which means “advance on the enemy!” Or “Squeeze me some halibut.” Welsh is a complicated language.

Gaming

Google’s Stadia is the future of gaming, and that’s bad news for our planet

Google’s upcoming Stadia cloud gaming service, and its competitors, are ready to change the way gamers play, but in doing so they may kick off a new wave of data center growth – with unfortunate consequences for the environment.
Gaming

These awesome free-to-play games might be even better than the ones you paid for

Believe it or not, free-to-play games have evolved into engaging, enjoyable experiences. Here are a few of our favorites that you can play right now, including Warframe and the perennially popular League of Legends.
Gaming

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.
Gaming

The hottest Nintendo Switch games you can get right now

The Nintendo Switch's lineup started off small, but games have steadily released as the console continues through its second year. Here are the best Nintendo Switch games available now.
Gaming

The best of the last generation: Our 50 favorite Xbox 360 games

The Xbox 360 thrived during a generation where games were plentiful. Here's our list of the best Xbox 360 games of all time, including all game genres and even a few special indie hits.
Gaming

A beginner’s guide to flawless victory in Mortal Kombat 11

Mortal Kombat 11 is a complex fighting game with several systems to learn, but with our beginner's guide and a bit of practice, you can be finishing enemies off with a Fatality in no time.
Product Review

Gloriously gory and fantastically fluid: Mortal Kombat 11 is the best one yet

Mortal Kombatt 11 reinforces NetherRealm Studios’ status as the greatest western fighting developer on the planet, building on what made Mortal Kombat X so great while adding in a few new tricks.
Gaming

Cyberpunk 2077 dev speaks on gameplay and Witcher 3 Easter eggs

A Spanish publication had the opportunity to pick the brain of Cyberpunk 2077's quest director at CD Projekt Red and he speaks on gameplay changes, player choice, and how the team approaches Easter eggs across games.
Computing

Asus launches a fleet of ROG gaming laptops with 240Hz screens and 9th-gen CPUs

Asus launched updates to nearly every gaming laptop line they have, ranging from the high-end Zephyrus to the budget-level TUF Gaming. The naming schemes might be hard to parse, but there are some impressive options in Asus' new lineup.
Gaming

From fatalities to new characters, here's what we know about Mortal Kombat 11

Mortal Kombat 11 releases April 23 for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Here is everything we know about NetherRealm's latest fighting game, including its characters.
Gaming

A guide to climbing the Klassic Tower and Towers of Time in Mortal Kombat 11

Mortal Kombat 11 has two Towers modes: Klassic and the Towers of Time. Klassic is an offline mode, whereas Towers of Time is an online revolving door of challenges that force you to deal with combat modifiers and wield trusty Konsumables.
Gaming

Master Mortal Kombat 11's cryptic Krypt and get the best rewards

Once you complete the story mode in Mortal Kombat 11 and try out the Towers, you'll head into the Krypt to get your rewards. In our Mortal Kombat 11 Krypt guide, we'll show you how to make the most of it.
Gaming

Swing Thor’s Stormbreaker during the Fortnite-Avengers: Endgame crossover

Epic Games revealed a new crossover with Marvel and Disney's Avengers: Endgame film, showing off Captain America's shield. Players will also get to summon the powers of a god as well when they wield Thor's Stormbreaker.
Gaming

Here's our guide to becoming a master of Fatalities in Mortal Kombat 11

Fatalities are the bread and butt of any Mortal Kombat game, and they're particularly brutal in Mortal Kombat 11. Here's how to do Fatalities in the game, and how you can unlock new ones.