The BBC have published an article online about how human rights groups have played a variety of “videogames” to determine if any simulate “war crime” via a breach in humanitarian laws. Gamers killing civilians, destroying their homes and torturing captives were all events condemned by the study. It also stated that developers should make the effort to ensure players are reminded about the limitations the “real world” presents.
Lawyers adept in the interpretation of humanitarian laws watched over as the staff of two Swiss human rights organisations carried out the study – Trial and Pro Juventute – by playing through the games. Twenty games went under the microscope as observations on the conflicts portrayed and player abilities were made, with comparisons between virtual theatres of war and the limits of the real world then established. “The practically complete absence of rules or sanctions is…astonishing,” said the study. Call of Duty: World at War, Far Cry 2, Army of Two and Conflict: Desert Storm were a few of the games under scrutiny.
The games were analysed to determine “whether certain scenes and acts committed by players would constitute violations of international law if they were real, rather than virtual” with games, rather than films, were selected due to the interactive nature of video games. “The line between the virtual and real experience becomes blurred and the game becomes a simulation of real life situations on the battlefield.” Violations of the Geneva Conventions and its Additional Protocols were being watched for. There was a sharp eye on how non-playable characters who surrendered were treated and the effect on citizens present in the warzones, as well as whether the damage buildings sustained was proportionate.
The study found some games punished the killing of civilians but that some also reward tactics used to limit the damage of conflict. The study also found that churches and mosques were attacked, along with torture during interrogations and a few allowing executions. Apparently the games were so complex that it was difficult to ensure the testers had witnessed all possible violations or that no violations were possible.
Allegedly all this could influence a person’s interpretation of war and a soldier’s conduct in the real world. Stating that games are sending a false message saying conflicts are waged with no limits and anything goes as regards counter-terrorism operations. Games failing to show that a violation of international humanitarian law will deem those accountable as war criminals and not victors. Rather than simply making games less violent, the authors have called upon developers to incorporate rules of international humanitarian law and human rights into their games.
“Games really are treated in a peculiar way,” said John Walker – a writer on the Rock, Paper, Shotgun games blog. Mr Walker doubts that anyone would campaign for the fiction in books to abide by the same humanitarian laws or for Bond, James Bond, to not machine gun his way through a super villain’s underground complex. He states; “For all those who mowed down citizens in Modern Warfare 2’s controversial airport level, I have the sneaking suspicion that not a great deal of the think this is lawful, not appropriate, behaviour.” Jim Rossignol from the same Rock, Paper, Shotgun games blog, said there is the opportunity to mix real world rules of war into games. “Whether or not the rules of war are included in the game should be based entirely on whether that improves the experience for the player,” he said. Rossignol goes on to suggest that this study perhaps shows that this research demonstrates that the testers and authors misunderstand what games are and how they are perceived by the people playing them.
That is pretty much the article that the BBC posted online, the full article can be read here.
Now for my views*
With military training and time served in preparation for “real world combat” I find these articles insulting! The government and tax payers (the public) pay a lot of money to ensure soldiers undergo very tough training and education to be effective in combat. Soldiers spend weeks, months and years preparing for combat and to become “unbreakable” in a relentless pursuit to protect those who need protecting, including themselves when out in the field.
I was told to wound rather than kill should the opportunity be “ideal”, that a target wounded should then receive battlefield first aid once it was declared there was no danger to my squad or myself. The 5.56mm L85A2 rifle is ideal for wounding and the purpose was simply to get a target down but alive (in pain and vocal about such pain) with the intention of lowering the morale of any other targets around. With just one bullet you could render a small squad combat ineffective as they scurry to admit first aid to their fallen comrade. You are not then legally permitted to engage upon those treating the injured target – or further injure the target himself.
This in the real world would be a very scary, difficult and perhaps confusing situation to be in which is why the soldiers go through such extensive training. In the “virtual world” this does not make for an entertaining nor constructive experience. I would find it offensive if games simulated these rules and then gave the player the option to breach them. But I cannot think of a game that has stated it is within the rules of real combat and that you are to abide by them. Such a game would need to put us all through years of training and education to make any allegations that we are being influenced with the opportunity to break international humanitarian law stand! The people playing these games are ignorant to the correct procedures and laws governing war and combat. I will bet my right leg that anyone who has played a war game would not reference the game in the heat of real combat! The games are too far over the top with a very simple representation of combat. The laws of “right and wrong” don’t really apply in “virtual interactions” but it will take much more than those interactions for “right and wrong” to be misunderstood or believed to be realistic.
As gamers we have the luxury of being entertained by interactive media that does not want us to endure the harsh realities of combat. Men and women are fighting and dying to give us the freedom to play these games without fear or constraint. I’ve seen soldiers playing virtual war games as an escape from the realities they face and enjoying the freedom these games offer. These games are so pathetically inaccurate and over the top that they can not be accused of breaching laws in the real world or leading gamers to believe this is how combat is. On top of the fact that the human mind is far too sophisticated to be influenced so easily, the moment anyone signs up for military action – they will undergo such training and face such decisions that videogames simply cannot be of useful reference.
Let me go into a little detail about the procedure of combat. A bullet is fired from a gun in “combat” and that bullet is the result of more than just the trigger finger pulling it. You can trace it back to the mind that sent the signal to pull that trigger. This mind has been trained and taught to observe the situation before making such a decision. Checking for potential damage to innocents, potential danger in giving away his position and likely that of his squad. The effect the bullet landing true will have on the target and those surrounding the target – will it wound and lower morale? Could it exit the target on a dangerous trajectory that may harm additional persons whom could be innocent? That’s after receiving a fire order from the squad leader or a commanding officer. Going back even further and there is the decision from the superiors as to where the “trigger” should be with a (clear) set of instructions/orders on the duty to be performed there. Back even further and we end up in politics and the decisions made by the top brass as to whether the conflict is in the best interests of the nation. The soldier does not have the luxury of knowing whether he is right or wrong in his actions. All this would make for a very boring game and would be insulting to those engaged in real combat if a “game” allowed us to make such decisions under such simulation without real consequence.
Thus I believe gaming does not influence our vision of war and certainly does not affect our abilities to instinctively know what is right and wrong. It protects us from such decisions and the guilt that would break most minds, the actual dangers of combat. It brings people across the world together to communicate, interact and share a positive experience together, ironically such freedom being the result of combat and wars waged over past and present conflicts.
Do games encourage people (other than that “chav” in the hoody “lifting” MW2 from his local HMV) to break real world laws? Do any games what-so-ever seem “real” to you? Or are we all in agreement that videogames are simply interactive entertainment that really only influences the tone of our language, eating and sleeping habits, and spending of hard earned cash? The only additional governing I would like to see in the video games industry is that no parent ever has the right to complain to their child for playing games, unless said parent has a gamerscore above 30,000 or Trophy level of 20.
Now, off to bayonet Mrs Fruit for not telling me where the Pringles are. Been torturing her for days after wiping out her family as a demonstration of my cause but she won’t budge! My stomach is entitled to those Pringles whether they are located on her territory or not!
* Please remember I am not selfish and that you are all entitled to my view too.