When it comes to real life war crimes, the International Red Cross often finds itself with its hands tied. For example, the organization has been hinting that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should face war crimes for about two years and many would argue that he hasn't really faced any real consequences for his litany of sins which includes gassing his own people.
The agency apparently wants to change that in the virtual world too and is urging developers to punish gamers who violate the Geneva Convention. Killing civilians, torture, and killing medical personnel are some of the things the ICRC is taking umbrage with, and addressed in a statement. They write:
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.
There are probably just a handful of games where torturing someone is depicted. And the Grand Theft Auto franchise, though not set in a war zone, is probably one where gamers can do just about everything the ICRC doesn't like.
If you had questions about killing off peasants and healers in Starcraft and Warcraft-like games, or sending wave after wave of troops into Gandhi's defenseless town in Civilization, you are fine. The ICRC's suggestion is only to games inspired by actual war.
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.
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.
The ICRC's statement brings up a conversation about free speech in art and the ongoing violence in video games solution. Even though study after study has shown that the connection between video games and real life violence is shaky at best, that hasn't stopped U.S. lawmakers from continually targeting and prescribing solutions to the industry. True, perhaps adding a virtual consequence might teach a lesson. But it might also be ignored, much as in real life.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.