Study applies international law on video games – WTF?

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Proving that anyone can create a study on any topic, two Swiss organisations have decided to test several video games and applied international law, including International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Criminal Law (ICL), to see if the games have violated any of the rules set in place.

The organisations – Pro Juventute, a children rights group, and Track Impunity Always (TRIAL), an organisation focusing on international law – have released their study Playing by the Rules on Friday, with the aim to “raise public awareness among developers and publishers of the games, as well as among authorities, educators and the media about virtually committed crimes in computer and videogames.”

Games included in the study were Call of Duty 4 & 5, Medal of Honour Airborne, Metal Gear Solid 4 (incorrectly listed as Metal Gear Soldier 4), Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6 Vegas and Splinter Cell Double Agent, Far Cry 2 and 24, The Game.

The report gives general information about each of the games studied, then lists the conflicts in question and the violations in relation to international law, with some legal analysis. In some pages, the footnotes can even go as much as half the entire page. This extract is from Metal Gear Solid 4:

In other scenes, the goal seems to be to kill all enemies, even those who are wounded or who
have surrendered. According to a “walkthrough” of the game “enemies that have been
subdued can be awaken if found by another PMC soldier. With this in mind, you should get
into a habit of finishing knocked out enemies off. A very effective way to do this is take out
your Stun Knife, single crouch beside the enemy, hold L1, and press R1 to kill any subdued
enemy in one hit.” This also amounts to a violation of the obligation to spare those who do
not or no longer take part in hostilities.

In another scene, players passing a market square can shoot civilians without warning and
without punishment, which amounts to a war crime. As mentioned above, if fighting takes
place in areas where civilians are present, special care and precautionary measures must be
taken to spare civilians and if the attack is still expected to cause excessive injury or damage
in relation to the anticipated military advantage, fighting should not take place. If no
distinction can be made between civilians and combatants or civilian objects and military
objectives, the attack would amount to an indiscriminate attack and would thus be in
violation of IHL.

The report concludes that it found a lot of violations include the “extensive destruction of civilian property and/or injury or death of civilians, not justified by military necessity” and the “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or torture” and recommends that developers avoid creating scenarios that would lead to violations, or incorporate the rules of international law in the games to portray a “more accurate perspective of what is lawful and what is not” during war.

But who wants to play something realistic? I thought the purpose of video games was to be fake and non-realistic; but I know who’s going to have a field day with this report.

You can find the study here.

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