With millions of adults and children around the globe taking to the virtual battlefield in lifelike video games, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) believes its time for game developers to focus on the laws of war.
Wary of ruining the entertainment value of hugely popular “first person shooter” franchises such as Call of Duty and Battlefield by compromising player freedom, the ICRC insists that realistic war games could offer unprecedented learning opportunities by making players “face the same dilemmas as real soldiers.” Rather than making it impossible for gamers to violate the law of armed conflict established by the Geneva Convention, the ICRC recommends game developers include penalties for the wanton killing of civilians, utilizing torture, or targeting in-game medical personnel.
“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,” the ICRC advised. “Sanitizing video games of such acts is not realistic. Violations occur on real battlefields… 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.”
Before you begin to worry that your days of raiding Orc villages are over, the ICRC has insisted that their recommendations are only meant for video games that simulate real-war situations, not games that specialize in fantasy warfare.
With the latest edition of the Call of Duty franchise, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, the franchise’s publisher Activision has estimated 100 million gamers have played the first person shooter. The ICRC is focusing on video games over other types of media due to the enormous audience for such games, coupled with the uniquely immersive experience of the virtual battlefield experience.
The issue of international humanitarian law in video games gained prominence in 2011 at the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, where the independent organization based in Geneva first suggested they would ask developers to incorporate the laws of war, or “encourage” governments to adopt regulatory laws on their video game industries.
At the time, the ICRC estimated that nearly 600 million gamers may have virtually violated the laws of war, many without in-game consequences.
Christopher Butterfield is an intern at ThinkProgress.