Red Cross seeks virtual consequences for gamers who commit virtual war crimes

Should gamers be punished for committing virtual war crimes during gameplay? The Red Cross thinks so.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it wants to work with video game developers to show the consequences of players’ actions if they commit virtual torture, harm civilians or prisoners, attack medical personnel or violate any of the Geneva Conventions.

The group didn’t outline what those consequences should be, but a spokesman told The Verge games “should not reward players for actions that in real life would be considered war crimes.”

But those consequences should apply only within the context of the game, the group said, and it shouldn’t make the game any less enjoyable or commercially viable.

“Our intention is not to spoil player's enjoyment by for example, interrupting the game with pop-up messages listing legal provisions or lecturing gamers on the law of armed conflict,” the group said in a Sept. 28 statement. “We would like to see the law of armed conflict integrated into the games so that players have a realistic experience and deal first hand with the dilemmas facing real combatants on real battlefields.”

On the other hand, the groups said, gamers should be rewarded for “respecting the law of armed combat.”

The ICRC made clear that it didn’t want potentially criminal actions removed from video games, saying that wouldn’t be a realistic reflection of modern-day warfare, but the group hoped that showing consequences for those violations would teach respect for the law.

“The ICRC is concerned that certain game scenarios could lead to a trivialization of serious violations of the law of armed conflict,” the group said. “The fear is that eventually such illegal acts will be perceived as acceptable behavior. However the ICRC is not involved in the debate about the level of violence in video games.”

A spokesman for the ICRC said video games had become so realistic that “it's very difficult to make the distinction between real footage and the footage you can get from videogames.”

The ICRC said it had already worked with filmmakers to address concerns about following the rules of combat, and the group said these suggested guidelines shouldn’t apply to fantasy or science fiction games.

“With their ever increasing popularity, video games can have a strong influence on what young people, future recruits and societies in general perceive as acceptable or prohibited in situations of armed conflict,” the group said. “That is why the ICRC also follows developments in the industry, particularly with games simulating real-life armed conflict.”

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