Should War Crimes In Video Games Be Punished?

Friday, October 04, 2013 - 10:11 AM


The Red Cross wants video games to punish players who commit war crimes. And their case for why is actually pretty reasonable.

From their site:

Sanitizing video games of such acts is not realistic. Violations occur on real battlefields and can therefore be included in video games. The ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] 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.

The Red Cross isn't saying this should be mandatory, and they're not saying it's appropriate for every single game. They're offering to consult with game developers on games that are designed to be realistic war simulations. Which actually makes sense. For starters, video games have been used to train soldiers, so why not add humanitarian law to that training? But also, it's easy to imagine a shooter game with war crime punishments built-in that would be massively fun to play.

One of the misconceptions among people who don't play a lot of video games is that the reason games are fun is that they let you do whatever you want, without consequence. But that's not typically true. Consequences are usually built into games, and as with most things, it's the restrictions that make the fun parts actually fun. Even in Grand Theft Auto, doing something as mildly transgressive as ditching a cab fare will result in the cops being called.

Over on the gaming blog Kotaku, which discussed the Red Cross suggestions earlier this week, reaction to this idea has mostly been positive (There's a Mass Effect spoiler in these quotes, so please be forewarned). 

"Id actually like this in a game, not all games mind you but a game where your actions have actual consequences."

"Yeah, it would provide an interesting new perspective. Especially if it's a choice you can make, and have to live with the consequences. I was hoping Mass Effect 3 would start out exploring these consequences, after Shepard killed billions of Batarians at the end of a Mass 2 DLC. The game starts off by telling you how much trouble you're in, but then the Reapers arrive and incinerate that plot thread entirely. Shame."

"But yes something like that, we need more understanding about the things we do and a game would be a good example"


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Comments [3]


Interesting idea but dum.. it's a game.
If it were not a game.. the last place I would want to be is on a battle field..
it's also often hard to Id combatants from non-combatants.
So you usually tend to just shoot anyone who looks at you funny.

Video games are twitch.. there's little time for rules of engagement.

Oct. 30 2013 02:35 PM

Sorry about that Will, I'll add something in. Mass Effect spoilers have gotten us in trouble in the past, believe it or not.

Oct. 04 2013 01:13 PM
William from MA

Spoiler alert on the second quote please.

Oct. 04 2013 11:27 AM

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TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by Meredith Haggerty. You can subscribe to the TLDR podcast here. You can follow our blog here. I tweet @manymanywords and @tldr.

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