New study analyses war crimes in games

Call of Duty series goes on trial.

A pair of Swiss organisations have tried a number of videogames under International Humanitarian Law, International Human Rights Law and International Criminal Law to discover how many feature war crimes.

Pro Juventute Switzerland and TRIAL (Track Impunity Always) watched as experienced gamers ploughed through 19 games, ranging from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty 5: World at War to "Metal Gear Soldier 4" and Army of Two.

"The aim of the study is 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, and to engage in a dialogue with game producers and distributors on the idea of incorporating the essential rules of IHL and IHRL into their games which may, in turn, render them more varied, realistic and entertaining," the study, which can be read in full online (via GamePolitics), stated.

"The goal is not to prohibit the games, to make them less violent or to turn them into IHL or IHRL training tools."

Entitled Playing by the Rules, the paper said today's violent shooters "clearly influence" your view of what combat situations are like and the role of the military within them.

Call of Duty 5: World at War committed a few war crimes. Using flamethrowers for close-range combat is, apparently, against the rules. "The use of these weapons clearly violates the prohibition of causing superfluous injury and unnecessary suffering which was already an obligation established in the Hague Regulations of 1907 and thus already prohibited during the Second World War," the study reasoned. "Today, employing 'weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering' is considered as a war crime." Oops.

Furthermore, World at War allows players to shoot injured enemies. Tut tut, said the study: "This was also already prohibited by the Hague Regulations of 1907 which states in Article 23 that it is especially forbidden 'To kill or wound an enemy who, having laid down his arms, or having no longer means of defence, has surrendered at discretion'."

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was, on the other hand, praised; during the helicopter scene where players provide aerial support for a team on the ground, the game prohibits you from shooting at a church. Well done, said the study: It is commendable however that this scene incorporates the prohibition of attacking one particular civilian objects, namely the church.

"Nevertheless," added the study, "Other civilian objects in the town such as houses, water towers and the graveyard, which also benefit from protection against attacks,68 may be completely destroyed without any punishment or warnings."

In conclusion, the study said "violations of the principles of distinction and proportionality" as the most frequent offence. This covers "extensive" destruction of civilian property and injury and death to those bystanders. Also "common" was "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or torture" and "direct attacks against civilians".

"The incorporation of rules of IHL and IHRL in a consistent manner in video and computer games is not only possible, but would surely render the games more interesting and would create players with a more accurate perspective of what is lawful and what is not in real armed conflict situations or law enforcement operations," ended the study.

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