Today, I read a reseach project that explores to what extent the rules of international humanitarian law and human rights are respected in video games. As a master in the field of International Human Rights Law, I found the report interesting and thought-provoking. Do you (or your kids) play violent video games - games reproducing real armed conflicts? Do you respect the "rules of engagement" and rules applicable to real armed conflicts, or do you become "virtually violent" and commit war crimes and crimes against humanity in your video game experience? International human rights law frowns on and limits violence against vulnerable groups - especially civilians, caught in the crossfire. According to the research project, many game producers fail to incorporate rules protecting vulnerable groups, into their games - resulting in grave war crimes and crimes against humanity in video games.
The reseach project - Playing by the Rules: Applying International Humanitarian Law to Video and Computer games, was done by Pro Juventute and a Swiss association for international criminal justice, known as TRIAL. They examined 20 video and computer games. What they found would not surprise you - international humanitarian law is often not taken into consideration in game design. If you've played a video game, you'd agree that more often than not, players are allowed to kill civilians, damage property - including churches and mosques, torture captives (to get information), all without any sanction. This is what we call war crimes and crimes against humanity! It's happening in the real world - in places like the DR. Congo and other hot spots around the world.
Following the research - in a resulting report, the two organizations express regret that game producers, despite the possibility, fail to include rules of international humanitarian law in the games they produce. Incorporating human rights rules would educate the millions of people who play video games, about what is lawful and what is illegal in armed conflicts. They acknowlege a few games which punish (although partially) the killing of civilians. Most importantly, the report makes no secret of the fact that it's a bad idea for game producers to endorse the possibility of impunity for unlimited violence in armed conflicts.
I watched a shocking footage of a video game, entiltled, No Russian. You won't believe the level of violence against non-combatants that goes unsanctioned...
No doubt, video games are meant to entertain, but you cannot underestimate the message conveyed by war video games (when players are allowed to shoot civilians indiscriminately) - a message of impunity in armed conflicts and utter disregard for human dignity. Whether or not these video games prepare kids for war crimes and crimes against humanity, is a subject of another blog post.