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Video games and law of war: International Committee of the Red Cross
an article by International Committee of the Red Cross

Video: Video games and law of war

War packaged for recreational consumption enthrals children and adults worldwide. For the military, these "electronic first-person shooter games" offer a great resource to adapt for training. The ICRC has started working with video game developers, so that video game players face the same dilemmas as real soldiers.

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International humanitarian law and video games: questions and answers

The ICRC believes there is a place for international humanitarian law (the law of armed conflict) in video games. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has publicly stated its interest in the implications of video games that simulate real-war situations and the opportunities such games present for spreading knowledge of the law of armed conflict. The rules on the use of force in armed conflict should be applied to video games that portray realistic battlefield scenes, in the same way that the laws of physics are applied.

What exactly does the ICRC want to see in these video games?

The ICRC is suggesting that as in real life, these games should include virtual consequences for people's actions and decisions. Gamers should be rewarded for respecting the law of armed conflict and there should be virtual penalties for serious violations of the law of armed conflict, in other words war crimes. This already exists in several conflict simulation games. Game scenarios should not reward players for actions that in real life would be considered war crimes.

The ICRC is concerned that certain game scenarios could lead to a trivialization of serious violations of the law of armed conflict. 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.

What are some of the violations of the law of armed conflict that are of particular concern?

The ICRC is concerned about scenarios that, for instance, depict the use of torture, particularly in interrogation, deliberate attacks on civilians, the killing of prisoners or the wounded, attacks on medical personnel, facilities, and transport such as ambulances, or that anyone on the battlefield can be killed.

Should video games be prohibited from depicting such acts?

Sanitizing video games of such acts is not realistic. Violations occur on real battlefields and can therefore be included in video games. The ICRC believes it is useful for players to learn from rewards and punishments incorporated into the game, about what is acceptable and what is prohibited in war.

[Note: Thank you to Cecile Barbeito Thonon, the CPNN reporter for this article]

(This article is continued in the discussionboard)

( Click here for the French version of this article)


Question(s) related to this article:

What should be done about violent video games?,

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(The following is continued from the main article listed above.)

Does this also apply to more fantasy oriented war games?

No, the ICRC is talking about video games that simulate real-war situations. It is not suggesting that this apply to games that portray more fictional scenarios such as medieval fantasy or futuristic wars in outer space.  

A few media reported that certain virtual acts performed by characters in video games could amount to serious violations of the law of armed conflict. Is this correct?

No. Serious violations of the laws of war can only be committed in real-life. A person cannot commit a war crime simply by playing a video game.

Why is the ICRC interested in video games that simulate real warfare?

The ICRC is interested in issues relating to video games simulating warfare because players can face choices just like on a real battlefield.

States are obliged to respect and ensure respect for the law of armed conflict and to make its rules known as widely as possible at all times. In real life, armed forces are subject to the laws of armed conflict. Video games simulating the experience of armed forces therefore have the potential to raise awareness of the rules that those forces must comply with whenever they engage in armed conflict this is one of the things that interests the ICRC. . ...more.

This report was posted on October 21, 2013.