Do War-Based Video Games Fall Under the Geneva Convention?

The International Red Cross seems to think so

Gamers are monsters. I'm not even joking about that—why else do you think otherwise nice, pleasant people would join the Sith in Star Wars: The Old Republic, or go out of their way to go on a murderous rampage in a Grand Theft Auto game?

 

Unlike PETA, who has a great habit of getting up in arms over something absolutely inconsequential, the International Red Cross brings up an interesting point regarding gamers and war—specifically, how humanitarian law applies to video games based on war. With military shooters as one of the most dominant and popular genres in the industry, it only makes sense for the humanitarian organization to address their "role and responsibility to take action against violations of IHL (international humanitarian law) in videogames."

 

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The Red Cross is, of course, the only actual authority on the subject in the world as defined by the four Geneva Conventions, which govern humanitarian treatment of victims of war. One of the most notable and familiar parts of Geneva Convention law includes treating wounded or sick fighters, prisoners of war, refugees, and medical personnel as non-combatants, which is what the International Red Cross is questioning.

 

A study by the Red Cross looked at major military shooters, including games from the Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Rainbow 6 franchises. According to the study, "In computer and video games, violence is often shown and the players become 'virtually violent.'  However, such games are not zones free of rules and ethics.  It would be highly appreciated if games reproducing armed conflicts were to include the rules which apply to real armed conflicts.  These rules and values are given by international humanitarian law and human rights law.  They limit excessive violence and protect the human dignity of members of particularly vulnerable groups."


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The study went on to mention that killing unarmed combatants, who are technically prisoners of war, using weapons that inflict unnecessary injury, and torturing hostages and prisoners of war are common parts of modern military shooters that are violations of international humanitarian law. Keep in mind that this study only focuses on realistic(ish) military shooters—science-fiction properties like Gears of War aren't part of the equation.

 

"The practically complete absence of rules or sanctions is nevertheless astonishing: civilians or protected objects such as churches or mosques can be attacked with impunity, in scenes portraying interrogations it is possible to torture, degrade or treat the prisoner inhumanely without being sanctioned for it and extrajudicial executions are simulated," the study continued.

 

When I play video games, I almost always play them by unwritten rules: in Grand Theft Auto, I have a very strict "no killing cops unless absolutely necessary" rule, and in Mass Effect, I'm very much a Paragon, with the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few. But should war games like Call of Duty be bound by these laws as well?

 

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While some war games—like the upcoming Spec Ops: The Line—are designed around the theme of the horrors of war and crimes against humanity, most games simply gloss it over, no matter how seriously they want you to take the story. What do you think? Is this a serious question warranting discussion, or just another overreaction from a public organization?

 

via Blastr, Kotaku

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