ICRC to weigh in on "Gaming the Laws of War" at major US conference

Image courtesy of Mashable

Image courtesy of Mashable

Post by: ICRC DC's Scott Chambers

This week, our DC-based Head of Congressional and Public Affairs, Gary Brown, is speaking at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco as part of a "Gaming the Laws of War" panel, alongside Daniel Greenberg of Media Rez LLC, Professor Seth Hudson from George Mason University, and Bohemia Interactive’s Joris van't Land.

The GDC is expected to attract over 24,000 attendees, and provides a forum where programmers, artists, producers, game designers, audio professionals, business decision-makers, and others involved in the development of interactive games can exchange ideas and shape the future of the industry.

The "Gaming the Laws of War" panel hopes to engage participants in a conversation about the opportunities and challenges surrounding the incorporation of elements and dynamics from international humanitarian law (IHL), or the law of armed conflict (LOAC) as it's known in the US, into a variety of video games.

This issue is one that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has worked to address over the last several years. The ICRC seeks, in line with its mandate to share knowledge on the laws of armed conflict, to find constructive and mutually beneficial avenues to work with video game designers and developers on how certain elements of armed conflict are portrayed in games. Recently, at an event hosted by the American Red Cross and with the American Society of International Law, the ICRC participated in a panel discussion on the topic and following the event Eric Sigmund, a Legal Advisor for the American Red Cross' IHL department, contributed a piece to this blog exploring IHL and video games.

For an even more in-depth discussion of the topic, the ICRC's International Review of the Red Cross featured an article titled: Beyond the Call of Duty: why shouldn’t video game players face the same dilemmas as real soldiers?

The efforts by the ICRC and its partners to develop awareness surrounding the nexus of IHL and game design work towards building a community of interest that can tackle the sheer complexity of this issue. Perhaps no subject is a more consistent topic of video games than war. Thousands of games are produced by hundreds of studios and are played by a diverse audience of millions, who engage in many different forms of virtual combat. The industry has comprehensively modeled and simulated many elements of armed conflict, and the graphical complexity and the sophistication of the artificial intelligence have reached new heights. But despite the apparent realism of many of games, they often refrain from challenging the player with the legal, moral, and ethical dilemmas that soldiers face on the real battlefield.

This is not to say that these dynamics are entirely absent from the gaming world: players are often punished for friendly fire or forced to make difficult moral choices. Games such as Spec Ops: The Line or This War of Mine give their players an unvarnished view of armed conflict. Bohemia Interactive’s latest work ARMA 3 incorporated some of these dynamics and the studio has worked with the ICRC to find innovative ways to address particular challenges such the danger faced by healthcare workers and facilities. The "Make ARMA Not War" Contest has recently selected its finalists and will announce a final decision at the end of the month.

However, there are still enormous opportunities for game designers to integrate key IHL concepts into games, and add significant value to their players. Soldiers on the battlefield are faced with challenges such as distinguishing between an enemy and a civilian, or choosing the right weapon to accomplish the mission without doing excess damage.  In the modern context, as lines blur between combatants and civilians, and there are harsh repercussions for disproportionate use of force, these are difficult tasks.

Finding mechanics and narrative elements that add these dilemmas will further immerse players on the virtual battlefields, increase the authenticity of the experience, and add a unique difficulty and challenge to combat scenarios. At the same time, developing nuanced and sophisticated gameplay elements that challenge the player on a moral and ethical level provides a non-didactic manner to develop the player’s understanding and appreciation for the law of armed conflict.

The ICRC hopes this panel can continue the constructive discussion on the topic and will look forward to receiving feedback from the audience. If you want to get in touch with the ICRC regarding this project, please contact schambers@icrc.org.

Explore this topic:

Gaming the Laws of War: Can Real Consequences Mean Real Fun?

Intercross: Learning the Rules of War from Video Games

Make ARMA Not War Contest

ICRC Q&A on Video games and law of war

NPR Interview: Red Cross Wants Video Games To Get Real On War Crimes

International Review of the Red Cross: Beyond the Call of Duty: why shouldn’t videogame players face the same dilemmas as real soldiers