Our Rentaquote Future: Games As Warcrimes

Man, I think I'm going to get some mileage out of this screenshot.
Since John or Jim don’t appear to be going to link to it, I bloody will. BBC News ran a story today about two swiss organizations doing research into war crimes. Which is a serious topic, and to be applauded. Except it’s actually research into war crimes in videogames. And generally, games comes across pretty bad. Blowing up churches and mosques is against international law, of course. “[We] call upon game producers to consequently and creatively incorporate rules of international humanitarian law and human rights into their games.” You can only imagine what RPS may say to this. Except you don’t have to imagine. They asked us, and Jim and John are quoted arguing games’ side. Go read.

145 Comments

  1. Jacques says:

    Jim’s quotes are absolutely brilliant. John’s too, but not as good.

    • Pantsman says:

      All RPS writers are absolutely brilliant, but some RPS writers are more absolutely brilliant than others.

    • Eplekongen says:

      Transcending the absolute. RPS.

    • TeeJay says:

      How long did you get to read & digest the report itself before being asked to comment on it?

  2. Confidence Interval says:

    This is excellent. I’m pleased to have you guys arguing the intelligent gamer’s perspective on stories like this.

  3. Railick says:

    So while certain unnamed countries in the middle east bomb schools with white phosphorus to get at a few insurgents these fools are wasting money trying to convince video game developers to follow the rules countries in the real world constantly break? Maybe they should have spent that money trying to convince real world countries to stop breaking the F@#$@#$@# rules THEN if there is any left over after they solve that problem they can waste it trying to convince the people making Postal 3 not to make a badger saw a weapon in their game.

    • Richard Clayton says:

      @Railick: My thoughts, on reading this article, exactly. Blame games: not constant human rights infringements and borderline illegal wars, rendition flights, intelligence funded political regime tinkering and illegal imprisonment etc. etc.

    • TeeJay says:

      They are not ‘blaming games’ nor are they interested in Postal 3. Before calling them “fools” you should read the actual report itself, rather than some journalist’s condensed summary.

      You will probably still disagree with some of what they are saying, but you will see that they have done a very good job at choosing and analysing the games. The report is intelligent and well argued and any intelligent gamer should go and read it before denouncing it…

      …rather like people should actually *play* a game before denouncing it.

      Link: link to trial-ch.org

  4. Torgen says:

    What a Rossigneurial put-down of those silly people.

  5. WilPal says:

    Stealing my link and claiming it as your own!
    There will be blood.

  6. Alexander Norris says:

    It starts off as a rather biased article, but it does make some sort of token gesture towards treating both sides equally near the end. For what it’s worth, my thoughts:

    It’s a problem if a war sim or in general, a realistic game in which you play a member of the armed forces of a signatory of the Geneva convention, depicts you or other people on the protagonist side as committing war crimes with no reprisal. You should still be able to do it if it’s clear that war crimes are a bad thing, and assuming it serves a greater purpose (much like any other controversial/bad thing). It shouldn’t be acceptable to show members of armed forces getting away with war crimes.

    On the other hand, the games they chose aren’t exactly realistic games that feature you playing as a member of an army. Most of them are either jingoistic nonsense (24, Modern Warfare 2) or deliberately go out of their way to depict you as one of the “bad guys” (Far Cry 2).

    So, while I sympathise with their sentiment (that games in general should not trivialise things that are illegal, especially not something as important and topical as war crimes), it’s really rather misplaced. I find it especially wryly amusing that they apply double standards to video games – they’re not complaining about depictions of war crimes in films or novels – and justify said double standards by calling us idiots who can’t distinguish between reality and a bunch of pixels.

    • TeeJay says:

      I suggest you read the actual report itself. You will be pleased tio find that they analyse each game separately and make clear distinctions between the different settings, levels of realism etc. You might be quite surprised at which games get more criticism or praise, using their criteria.

      They don’t say that ‘games in general should not trivialise things that are illegal’ – they are not interested in “gangster” games like GTA at all, for example.

      They are not really applying ‘double standards’ in choosing to study videogames, and they certainly are not condemning videogames themselves.

      They do not call video gamers ‘idiots’.

      Again, I really recommend you spend at least a few minutes skimming it because in fact what you posted seems to be in agreement with the report itself, and most of what you say you dislike seems to be the spin or misrepresentation introduced by journalists.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      I did read the report; I was commenting on the endeavour in general. It makes sense for HR organisations to take a look at FPSes set during a war and make sure they don’t glorify war crimes, just as it makes sense to make sure games don’t glorify violence or crime – the problem is that most mainstream games don’t, and that assuming your game wasn’t written by a five year old with serious attention issues, you should always choose what servers the story rather than simply limiting yourself out of convenience (i.e. Far Cry 2 gets a free pass since your crimes very much serve story).

      And incidentally, the report begins with:

      We have chosen video and computer games as the object of our analysis because, unlike literature, films and television, where the viewer has a passive role, in shooter games, the player has an active role in performing the actions. Thus, the line between the virtual and real experience becomes blurred and the game becomes a simulation of real life situations on the battlefield.

      If that isn’t complaining that people are too stupid to tell the difference between real life and video games, I don’t know what is.

  7. Simon says:

    Are action movies also condemned for scenes of treaty-defying violence? These kinds of stories are fish in a barrel, but I hope non-gamers don’t take it all seriously

  8. Roberto says:

    Well said John and Jim!

  9. CMaster says:

    Thing is, I think including the geneva convention into some games could make for being quite interesting.

    • Snarboo says:

      Interestingly, there was a mod for Quake called “Geneva Pact” that applied the rules of the Geneva Convention to Quake’s combat. It was highly amusing but in an unsurprising twist made the game almost unplayable. You can find it here.

    • CMaster says:

      Forced enforcement would obviously be no fun, but say losing points, or getting in trouble for committing said crimes would be interesting at some points in some games – see the SWAT games for a demo of why not shooting everybody dead can be fun. Or perhaps you just have to avoid getting caught for ar crimes. Or your commanding officer lets your unit get into trouble because the support you wanted/needed would be against the rules of war and he is aware of intense media scrutiny. Etc.
      Naturally this only really belongs in at least vaugley convincing war games, but all the same.

    • jsutcliffe says:

      Achievement Unlocked: Violated Geneva Conventions Article 3

  10. Tomski says:

    I read this article at lunch today and was thinking this will be picked up on RPS, when lo’ there are two of them quoted in the piece, and they are speaking some sense too.

  11. StalinsGhost says:

    As I said in the thread, I actually quite agree with the study: Games do not treat war seriously. Indeed, they tend to revel in the portrayal of mass murder – sure, it’s somewhat different in Doom, Left 4 Dead, or those that deal with shooting the inhuman, but I personally believe games portraying war should do so a little more intelligently. Certainly more intelligently than certain recent games that claim to portray modern warfare.

    It irritates me that gamers get so defensive about it – rather than taking note of quotes such as “[We] call upon game producers to consequently and creatively incorporate rules of international humanitarian law and human rights into their games”, rather than simply reducing violence. I personally believe that any game set in war should try to bear this sort of input in mind. I dare say it would help educate people too.

  12. noom says:

    Is quicksaving allowed in the Geneva Convention? I think that would solve a lot of problems.

  13. Pundabaya says:

    Team Fortress 2 also shows war crimes…

    See those Medics? They are carrying weapons, and BAM! WAR CRIME!

    You try to shoot said Medic? BAM! WAR CRIME!

    That watch what allows the Spy to play dead, then get up and attack someone? BAM! WAR CRIME!

    I’m pretty sure Jarate would be classed as a chemical weapon too…

    Yes, yes, I know, TF2 isn’t making any attempt to suggest that it is a serious representation of war fought under the Geneva Convention, but it shows the potential minefield of representing the rules war is fought under, in a videogame.

    • TeeJay says:

      “…TF2 isn’t making any attempt to suggest that it is a serious representation of war…”

      …Which is why it wasn’t included in their study. They discuss the issue of ‘reality’ in the study, including aliens, historical settings and so forth. The report isn’t as stupid as some people assume it is.

  14. Chris Keegan says:

    Part of the point of any kind of fictional storyline be it in a film or a game is that it is meant to be believable.

    “No animals were harmed in the making of this film”

    Some people get very disturbed by what they see. Be it real, realistic or not.
    I don’t know why gamers are treated like such idiots.

  15. DJ Phantoon says:

    Yet the Geneva Convention doesn’t cover just plain shooting people.

    Sanctioned murder is still murder. And I’m an American!

  16. Heliocentric says:

    I can’t wait for the same guidance to be offered to written fiction, or while we are at it, written fact.

    Utterly *word worth 72 points in scrabble*…

    • Torgen says:

      Must resist… urge to drag out Scrabble board and add up word combinations…

  17. noom says:

    On a more serious note, I also have to acknowledge there’s a valid point in there somewhere. I remember seeing a clip of Jack Bauer’s merrily torturing a suspected terrorist in 24 that just seemed to be saying “Hey! Dick Cheney’s got a point y’know..!”. I fully admit to not watching 24, so maybe there’s some particularly tenuous justification for it, but mleh.

    The crucial thing I find myself despairing about is how we’ve managed to get to the point where entertainment mediums are somehow held accountable for the espousing of moral values to the general populace. Point being I may find myself facepalming at the treatment of war and such in many games/films/whatever, but I just consider that an opinion fail on the part of whoever’s responsible for writing said scene, etc. There’s no reponsibility to educate the public there, is there?

    • TeeJay says:

      From wikipedia: link to en.wikipedia.org

      …in February, 2007, The New Yorker magazine reported that U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan (dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point), accompanied by three of the most experienced military and FBI interrogators in the country, met with the producers of 24 to criticize the show for misrepresenting the effectiveness of torture as an interrogation technique, saying it encouraged soldiers to see torture as a useful and justified tactic in the War on Terror, and damaged the international image of the United States. Brigadier General Finnegan believed the show had an adverse effect on the training of American soldiers because it advocated unethical and illegal behavior. In his words:

      “The kids see it, and say, ‘If torture is wrong, what about “24”?’ The disturbing thing is that although torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do.”

      Joe Navarro, one of the FBI’s top experts in questioning techniques, also attended the meeting. He told The New Yorker,

      “Only a psychopath can torture and be unaffected. You don’t want people like that in your organization. They are untrustworthy, and tend to have grotesque other problems.”

      The New Yorker article itself echoed many of these criticisms, and went on to suggest that the show’s portrayal of torture was a reflection of the political views of its creator, Joel Surnow, an avowed conservative and supporter of George W. Bush. The New Yorker’s criticism of 24 and Surnow was picked up by other commentators and bloggers. Andrew Sullivan, for instance, argued that 24 repeatedly used the “ticking time-bomb” scenario “in such a way as to normalize torture in the public consciousness.

    • noom says:

      Interesting stuff, and valid complaints by soldier chappies there, but with all that said, this essentially boils down to a question of censorship. Scenes like those in 24 should in my opinion not be viewed by those too young to formulate at least some critical analysis. It comes down to having an effective ratings system, and an effective way of policing said ratings system, which, let’s face it, is not exactly easy with the internet and television.

      Arguing that we should always be entirely serious and politically correct lest some halfwit get the wrong idea is an odd strain of misanthropy though. That essentially is my issue with censorship regarding anything intended for mature audiences. I’m a big believer in free speech and all that nonsense.

  18. Heliocentric says:

    Company of heroes lets you run over german medics in a sherman tank. Is that okay or do they want to retcon ww2?

  19. Railick says:

    Should Mario not be aloud to randomly stomp on helpless armless gumbas that really aren’t even attacking him, I mean seriously they’re just walking left for the love of God why oh why does Mario have to kill EVERY LAST ONE!? It’s horrific if you think about it :P Then he pops those turtles in the head until they go into their shell and uses them as a living weapon against other random and innocent civilians of the Mushroom Kingdom. Seriously how many people does Mario have to murder in his quest to save 1 freaking woman (and some transgender toads)

  20. Drexer says:

    The analysis chose to focus on video and computer games because, unlike literature, films and television, where the viewer has a passive role, in shooter games, the player has an active role in performing the actions. Furthermore, video games are increasingly used as a training tool within the military and are often set in present day conflicts (e.g. Afghanistan or Iraq), thus illustrating the realism these games have now achieved.

    And yet the videos that they have on the page are only of MW2 and The Punisher. If anyone can find a list of all of the videogames that they tested, please post it… I didn’t see it anywhere.

    Now, besides the fact that the Punisher is a character already containing a personality defined in its comics, and that the No Russian mission doesn’t seem to me has a normal situation(much like 007) where the Genebra Convention applies(I don’t have MW2, so if anyone could elucidate me regarding the general contest of other missions in the game, thank you) ; I find it a bit weird that they differentiate games due to their interactivity from the player. The fact is, that many readers or watchers of a movie tend to connect themselves with the Reader Identification Character or the Main Character, and that is not so different from a videogame. The difference seems to me to be mainly that in other media their whole actions are defined, while in games, the actions might not be individually defined, but their total purpose is.

    An example: A book might tell you how the character kills an enemy squad. The game still tells you the same “Kill the enemy squad”, it just leaves the execution up to you.

    I wonder if they for instance analyzed Batman: Arkham Asylum, where the Batman character is established as having a no-kill policy, if they would consider the decision of the players/developers to leave their enemies alive?

    Not that I wouldn’t appreciate a game with a mechanism of the enemies surrendering/being imprisoned, but the fact is that those kind of situations are so volatile and depend so much on human to human interactions and expressions that I feel that we’re still quite a bit away from crossing that Uncanny valley.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      There’s a blurb about 2/3 of the way down the page on the actual BBC article listing all the games.

    • Mr Lizard says:

      The list is on the BBC article. But yes, very misleading of them to show a video of The Punisher on their site, when it isn’t on the list.

    • Drexer says:

      Thank you both for the pointer.

      But still, I think my point stands now even more firmly. Even though I haven’t played a decent quantity of those games, I can still identify that most of them do not fit in with what they are trying to evaluate.

      Games like:

      24, The Game
      Army of Two
      Battlefield Bad Company
      Call of Duty 4
      Call of Duty 5
      World in Conflict
      Frontlines: Fuel of War
      Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter
      Metal Gear Solid
      Soldier of Fortune
      Tom Clancy Rainbow 6 Vegas
      Tom Clancy Splinter Cell Double Agent

      Most of those deal with special operatives or squads that have been dispatched for a particular reason, ranging from terrorist infiltration to dystopian futures to mercenaries and PMCs (for whom war crimes sentences do not apply), in most of those situations/settings it is pretty much defined that no one is following the Geneva conventions there.

      Hour of Victory
      Medal of Honour Airborne
      Brothers in Arms – Hell’s Highway
      Conflict Desert Storm

      Those concern past conflicts, where the Geneva conventions were not established. It would be irrational to expect them to conform to such.

      Close Combat: First to Fight
      True Crime Streets of LA

      Those two seem the only two ones where following international treaties/common law seems rational in the situation context. And even so, in another medium you would see everyone gunning down the bad guys left and right.

    • dadioflex says:

      In Batman:AA I always assumed that after i knocked the bad guys out that Robin finished them off with a broken bottle, off camera.

    • TeeJay says:

      @Drexer

      If you read the report itself you will see that they discuss the background and context of each game. They refer to all the points you are raising as part of their analysis. They make a separate critique for each game.

      Link: link to trial-ch.org (click on the front-cover picture for the .pdf file)

      It would make a lot more sense for you to actually read what they have written before making your mind up (just like people should play a game before praising/denouncing) it.

      (ps I agree with you that they made a bad choice of videos. Maybe it was done separately by a web designer rather than the report writers?)

    • Drexer says:

      @TeeJay

      I actually didn’t knew the report was available through the site. I was on firefox with javascript disabled, so I didn’t notice that the report was available through the picture. Thanks, I’m reading through it now.

      Like I said before, I do not had a negative idea about this report from the start, in fact, I would love to see a videogame incorporate elements of surrendering and taking prisoners in conformity with international treaties, however I am a bit skeptical about the ability to do such currently with our current standing in the uncanny valley of representing human interactions in videogames. If I gave the wrong impression due to having misinterpreted the only information I noticed, sorry.

      Although the full report is indeed much more analyzed, there are still some issues that I feel that are quite nonsense to be analyzing considering the games:

      24, The Game – They analyse it without considering that the character and situation approach has already been defined in a TV series. It’s pretty much like what i said before regarding Batman:AA, in which the characters stance against violence has already been defined, and as such, even after you defeat 20 enemies you can still check that they are only ‘unconscious’. I find it wrong to evaluate a videogame when it had to conform to pre-set standards of violence.

      Battlefield: Bad Company – They spend some time considering the destruction of civilian property, specially due to the games famous ‘destroy all mindset’, however this ended up being the game big selling point, so I wouldn’t for instance analyse it as a serious point. In fact, regarding Bad Company, I would characterize it more like TF2 from a realism point of view, mainly due to the way it ‘plays’ with such destruction.

      I don’t have much time left, so I’ll finish the report later. Just one other point by the way:

      The classification of acts of violence by the enemies as ‘medium violations’ is in my opinion not correctly analysed. In the general spectrum of videogames, portrayals of enemies as torturers, cold blood killers, and generally infringing international war law serves to portray them as characters which would not surrender and in the psyche of the player as ‘monsters’. I do think that evaluating the behavior of the player actions is needed, but the fact that the enemies have been shown in such a light before, takes the context of the usual application of laws away from the perspective. Or if I might make an analogy, in such situations the enemies are nothing more human than the Flood right when you first face them on Halo.

      Another note on the way it is hard to create surrendering gameplay in videogames. I’ve been playing around with the historical idea recently of a dictatorship overthrown through a population/army movement, with almost no causalities(2 to be exact). How would you portray such an event from a first person perspective while still keeping the situation interesting and properly display the enemies surrendering and not taking away control from the character(example: if he has a gun in his hand to intimidate the enemy, he might use it, but if he kills the enemy he should suffer a penalty while still allowing him to play the rest of the game with that action behind him).

  21. Jon says:

    Wait, what is this? Someone sensible was asked to comment on a story about games by the mainstream media? Is it Apirl 1st again? I call shenanigans on this one.

  22. Pidesco says:

    1. Committing a crime in fiction isn’t a crime. Law isn’t my area, but I’d wager imagining things isn’t criminal.

    2. “…the fact that those who “violate international humanitarian law end up as war criminals, not as winners”. ”

    This is not a fact in any way, shape or form, and it’s mind boggling that a human rights group would say such a thing, unless they defend human rights primarily in the magical land of lollipops and fairies.

    • TeeJay says:

      Kind of depends whether ‘winners’ is meant in the heroic and/or moral sense: ‘criminal’ and ‘winner’ are not strictly opposites.

      However (in one perspective) disgusting people are “losers” in life, and good people are “winners”, regardless of who kills whom or steals or the money.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      It’s been a while since “winner” has meant anything other than “person that is successful” in quite a few circles, especially ultra-competitive or professional gaming.

      So, yes, those who “violate international humanitarian law end up as war criminals, not as winners.” Except when they, y’know, win by violating humanitarian law (wave hello to most dictators!).

    • TeeJay says:

      Well the full quote is this:

      “Games which portray conflict situations, law enforcement measures or intelligence operations in a very realistic manner, but not the rules that apply in international and national law to such operations, send the erroneous message that there are no limits in conflicts and in other extreme situations, e.g. in counter-terrorism operations. This is especially problematic in view of today’s reality. The recent controversy about whether so called “enhanced interrogation methods” are allowed under international law, shows the dangerous tendency to step back from what has been achieved in the field of human rights in the last 60 years. It is not surprising that this theme comes up in the games that have been tested: in extreme situations players are allowed to torture, kill civilians and destroy civilian property wantonly, without considering international rules. Opposite developments, on the other hand, have not found their way into the games: nowadays, multiple international and mixed tribunals such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), as well as the International Criminal Court (ICC) have shown that in real armed conflicts, those who violate international humanitarian law end up as war criminals, not as winners, and numerous decisions of international human rights bodies clearly tell states where they violated human rights norms in their law enforcement measures. These limits are not, or are insufficiently reflected in the games played by thousands of children and young people.”

      Obviously this isn’t claiming that every war crime is punished nor every side which commits them loses and in fact it would be very weird for a human rights NGO to say such a thing, since their reason d’etre is precisely because it isn’t true.

  23. Taillefer says:

    In our unbiased study we’re going to choose games based on 24 and Tom Clancy novels to see if they just happen to give the results we expect.

    Apart from that, I’m not against the idea where it’s appropriate.

    • TeeJay says:

      They describe how they picked the games on pages 5, 6 & 7 of the report. They set out their methodology. Before claiming the report is biased, you should actually read it.

      Link: link to trial-ch.org

  24. Hunam says:

    On a similar note I always found the torture stuff in 24 hilarious. Not because torture is hilarious (well, maybe a little) but because they used to have little PSA’s before the episode with Kiefer explaining that the shows creators do not condone torture in real life and that it should never be used in interrogation. The episode that follows then has Jack torturing people left right and centre and then saving the day based solely on the intel gained from torture and then makes a stand that it’s the only way he could get that intel and he’d do it every time no matter what.

    There always seems to be that duality in media between what’s right and what works in their stories. But like many have said, what’s the point in the games following the rules when the conflict it is based on flouted the rules. I can understand from a philosophical point why war has rules, but when two countries to go war with each other, they aren’t exactly going to sit down and make sure they follow the rules, they want to win or survive and will do anything necessary to defeat their enemy.

    • Saul says:

      Love your first paragraph. Hypocrisy FTW!

      But yeah, stories are stories, not moral or legal documents.

  25. Jezebeau says:

    I don’t think war crimes should be treated any differently in games than they are in real life: if you’re a permanent member of the UN Security Council and your opponent isn’t, it’s not a war crime.

  26. Thermal Ions says:

    Great to see “mainstream” media actually obtain comment from game bloggers who can effectively articulate the absurdity being thrust forward as fact. So often those selected to defend games can’t put two coherent words together.

    Well done guys.

  27. Sam says:

    While I sympathise with the hackles raised by the condescending implications of the study, I can’t help but feel like what they’re essentially getting at is the same frustration Alec and Kieron have both voiced recently over MW2.

    If the mainstay of commercial war games had even thematic aspirations towards the material of popular war films and books perhaps the comparison wouldn’t need to be so consistantly hurled from our side of the fence.

    Outwardly, the basis of the study is the technophobe’s dead horse, ‘it’s interactive, it must leave deeper scars’, a theory yet to be proven in any controlled test or successfully justified in a court room. Behind that though, I can’t help but agree with their founding lament. Look at their list of test games; there’s barely a title on there that doesn’t make you sick to the stomach at the simplistic jingoism and unmistakable perspective of white-man-privilege peddled on those discs.

    You may think it’s over-zealous analogy, but trying to defend games over that sample makes me imagine having to defend comics whilst only citing Electric Retard.

    • TeeJay says:

      I don’ think they are saying “it’s interactive, it must leave deeper scars”. I think they are saying interactivity makes possible choice>action>rules>consequences in a way that passively watching or reading something doesn’t allow. They don’t say that videogames are ‘worse’ than movies and hey aren’t laying into videogames per se.

      You might also be surprised to find out that they don’t have negative things to say about every game on the list and actually commend some of them. They also don’t go down the route of criticising violence, war, racism, militarism, stereotypes and so forth. They stick to one single issue and deliver a careful and fair analysis of each game.

      You don’t need to try and “defend games” because they are not “attacking games”.

  28. john t says:

    This is actually a really interesting topic, and I’d love to see a survey of the how the laws of war have been treated in video games from a games designers perspective.

    What I can’t get past here is the idea that they seem to think that all behavior in video games is meant to be seen as positive and something to be emulated.

  29. Axeman89 says:

    I’m amazed by how poorly the report was written. The quality of citations was poor, footnotes were far longer than necessary, the grammar was poor at points, and the writing was too colloquial to be taken seriously by any academic (although I can understand if the writers were not native speakers of English). I read through the sections regarding games I’ve played, and missions were often misunderstood and poorly described. There seemed to be especially great confusion in the Call of Duty 4 and World in Conflict sections.

  30. bighatdino says:

    They used a WWII game and studied whether it adhered to the Geneva Convention? A game set before it existed? Clever!

    • TeeJay says:

      They clearly point out for each game what conventions were in place at what time. There were already international agreements (eg 1907 Hague Regulations) in place. This is all discussed in detail in the report.

  31. RagingLion says:

    Lol at the tag. Maybe … it could be possible somewhere down the line, that Rossignol v. Paxman showdown we’ve all been looking forward to. Well I am now, anyway.

  32. Saul says:

    It is an interesting topic, and it would be interesting to see games that deal with these ideas. But not games that make these conventions into incontrovertible rules. And not all games. That’s just nonsense.

  33. Gap Gen says:

    Actually, they might have a point. I’m sure there are 24 fans who believe that torture is justified. I know a Christian who believed that Liam Neeson’s character in Taken was justified in torturing the people trafficker, even beyond the point where he had the information he needed.

    So yeah, people are affected by the messages conveyed in the media they view, I think, even if the messages are subtle and not necessarily implied to be realistic.

    • IvanHoeHo says:

      Methinks you are confusing traffickers with actual human beings.

    • Gap Gen says:

      Methinks you are confusing Christians for people who believe in revenge.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      Methinks you believe that arbitrary practices and beliefs somehow make people stop being biologically human.

    • Psychopomp says:

      He sold his fucking daughter into sexual slavery

      What sane father wouldn’t torture that man?

    • Gap Gen says:

      I’d argue that Christianity isn’t an arbitrary practice/belief to a Christian. Sure, I can understand on a kind of animalistic level the sort of mindset that would cause people to torture each other out of revenge, but I don’t think it’s justified on a moral level. If you’re a Christian then I believe that is exactly what the Bible tells you to do – to hold yourself to the highest moral standards, regardless of your own biologically-motivated feelings.

      I’d also argue that torturing someone for no reason is wrong, regardless of who they are. In general this is because it makes it safer/nicer to be me if I live in a society that believes such things. Aside from the argument that you can get it wrong about who is a bad guy, if people believe in brutality enough to dehumanise anyone, then it sets a bad precedent for how we as a society value life on a basic level.

      On an interesting parallel, I went to a talk by Thomas Schelling (a Nobel Prize for Economics laureate) on nuclear weapons, and he argued that nuclear weapons could have been used a few times in history for solely military reasons with basically no civilian loss, but people didn’t do it because the use of nuclear weapons is not something you want to make light of, as it leads down a path where the taboo over their use in general is weakened. In a similar way, I’d view torture as something that may help your cause in the short term in certain limited cases, but it’s not something you want to condone if you lead a civilised nation.

  34. blah says:

    “War. War never changes.”

  35. Brett says:

    Games have a chance due to their interactive nature to really I think games have a chance to show war crimes in a much more nuanced way. Definitely better then the 24ish, hoo-ah, jingoistic way they are now. I don’t think the report the article is about is calling for complete sanitisation, just that some of these big games might think about the highly illegal conduct they often glamorize, especially when they go for some sort of believable real world setting. Also, without access to the report we can’t see how they looked at pre Geneva convention (but post Hague conventions and Geneva protocol) conflicts. The news article doesn’t go into much depth.

    I was actually thinking about this issue while playing the first level of MW2. I knew that something was coming up in the game, but not what it was, so I thought obviously erroneously it might actually be an interesting comment about conflict. So as the convoy moved through the narrow streets and people throw pots and such, building the tension, I thought it might be coming soon. The convoy reaches a open area, there’s a single shot and then you and your buddies open fire on a bunch of silhouettes on the roof of an apartment building.

    It turns out they all have RPGs, but of course it does. I was immensely disappointed that this wasn’t the moment. Of course, telepathically, the amazing American armed forces know that that’s a building full of evil insurgents, and probably a hundred dirty terrorists were killed. But really that sound could have been anything, it could have come from somewhere else. Those silhouettes could have been ordinary people running for their lives. We could have just committed a horrendous war crime. In the end the actual ‘thing’ that the internet was buzzing about was just a really stupid shooting gallery that, and I never bothered to finish the game, the US in the game could be absolved for narratively. Certainly the ways they were trying to weren’t very convincing.

    I don’t see what would be wrong with people making these big games trying to explore the real world limitations placed on armed conflicts, as long as they did it properly. It could add an interesting and refreshing flavour to the game. Definitely what we get now is often almost offensive in the ways they portray the different sides of an armed conflict.

  36. IdleHands says:

    I love seeing these ‘studies’ list of chosen games, it clearly shows no interaction with a gamer at any stage just a browse through HMV’s games section picking at random.

    Soldier of Fortune – Seriously? How old is this game, it’s hardly a game the newer generation of gamers will be fully aware of. Bet it wasn’t chosen at all for the fact limbs could be shot off.

    24 the Game – If this doesn’t scream ‘we’ve never talked to a real life gamer before’ then I don’t know what does.

    Metal Gear Solid – It’s a bit of a stretch that this is about a real war, since you know it’s all about science fiction, but I guess a case could be made for it.

    True Crime Streets of LA – OK, what the hell? When in this game did it simulate a war, which is what they were supposed to be looking into.

    • blah says:

      The report covers Soldier of Fortune: Payback, not the original. Although excluding the contents of games listed, you have to actually read the report to realise that.

  37. Persus-9 says:

    I saw this article earlier but didn’t bother reading it because I’d read the GamePolitics story earlier in the week and had my fill of facepalming then. Glad you linked it otherwise I’d have missed the RPS quotes.

    I actually have a bone to pick with Far Cry 2 about war crimes. Basically I’d like to know why there weren’t more of them. I mean Far Cry 2 was desperately trying to be Apocalypse Now/Heart of Darkness the videogame but it fell flat on it’s face in my opinion by completely failing to depict the horrors of war in any way and instead made itself only a game. I recall from the GamePolitics article that the criticism that the study had of Far Cry 2 was the church gets attacked. Now I’m sorry but for a game about the horrors of war Far Cry 2 was guilty of something far far worse than depicting a violation of international law by some of the many guys of that game. It was guilty of pulling it’s punches. How can you make a serious game about the horrors of war with the message that the protagonist is a complete monster who deserves to die while at the same time limiting interaction with the civilian population to trading passports for medicine with them? If anything Far Cry 2 actually depicted (if you ignore the Kurtz tapes you find that seem to be talking about a completely different place) an almost perfect psychopaths playground where everyone in the entire god damn country is a trigger happy psycho just like yourself except not as good at it. There was almost no horror of war in Far Cry 2, it was almost all set in some sort of happy shooting fantasy world. Immediately after I finished Far Cry 2 I watched my copy of Apocalypse Now and sadly there is just no comparision because Apocalypse Now presents a place no one in their right mind would ever want to be. Far Cry 2 on the other hand was just a game. Someone really wanted to make it more than that but whoever was ultimately in charge baulked and took out everything that would make the game interesting or emotionally challenging and replaced it with shoot ’em up. The interesting thing they could have done was the bioshock thing and given you a moral choice and given you the bad ending if you ever chose evil. They could have littered the world with civilians and they could have allowed enemy soldiers to surrender etc and basically given you free choice whether to commit war crimes like those you would have seen occuring in the game world and if you did then when you got to the final scene if you’d been good Kurtz would have let you go to the checkpoint to bribe the borderguards and live but if you’d been evil he’d have told you that the journalist fellow had ratted on you and you were a wanted war crimial now so you might as well end your life in a meaningful way by setting off the dynamite. That would have been quite good.

    • D says:

      Desperate need of TL;DR/paragraphing. Otherwise A+. I think everyone was disappointed by FarCry 2 on some level, but the developers made it clear that they wanted to accomplish nothing new with it.

  38. El Stevo says:

    Ooh, are you the new go-to guys when the BBC wants quotes about stories related to games? They used to always ask what’s-her-face that used to edit Edge.

  39. tekDragon says:

    True, but if both sides of a conflict acquire quicksave tech, the subsequent quicksave/load escalation could lead to infinite recursive time regression…. very bad news. Someone should enforce a global anti-quicksave proliferation treaty enforced by a monopoly on quicksave tech.

  40. Mad_cat says:

    It’s also illegal to murder people, steal cars, sleep with hookers, etc… so why don’t they get on the case of Grand Theft Auto and ask them to make a game that obeys laws??? I agree that these games can give some people the wrong idea about war. War is not fun. It’s not like it is in the game. You don’t get to pick up a medic pack and heal automatically. One bullet and you might not move that leg or arm again. As for the Swiss organization’s study?? It’s a joke and they just wanted a little bit of press exposure.

  41. Eli Just says:

    At least in the AC130 mission in CoD 4 you explicitly cannot engage the church. Yay!

    • Eric the .5b says:

      And if you shoot the civilians who run from the commandeered truck, you lose the level (did it once by accident).

      However, your CO beats the crap out of a prisoner to try to get him to talk, then shoots him dead. Worse, the prisoner is a head of state (which makes it assassination).

  42. Eric the .5b says:

    They used a WWII game and studied whether it adhered to the Geneva Convention? A game set before it existed?

    The first three Geneva Convention treaties predate WW2. After the Nuremberg trials, they re-affirmed the first three and extended protections for civilians in the fourth treaty.

    Personally, I’ve found the whole area interesting ever since a discussion of whether gunning down infantry with vehicular cannon in Battlefield 2 counted as a war crime.

    • Kommissar Nicko says:

      It does, indeed, count as a war crime does it not? I always thought it was illegal under Hague to use anti-aircraft artillery on ground troops.

      I could be wrong.

  43. Patrick says:

    John as (one of) the subjects of a BBC news article? Bath may implode in joy.

  44. Brer says:

    The funny thing to me is that this thread illustrates why some coverage of the issue of different RoEs and the Laws of War…because there are a lot of misconceptions here, starting with the comment here about blowing up Mosques and Churches being against the Laws of War.

    Religious structures have no special protections. A military may choose of its own volition to restrict its forces with regards to action against religious structures, but that is entirely voluntary. So no, blowing up mosques and churches isn’t a war crime unless it takes place as a part of some other crime defined under the Laws of War. The exception to this is if a religious structure is being used for humanitarian relief purposes (say, staffed by the ICRC and being used as a field hospital), in which case it is protected under Protocol III if it is clearly marked.

    However, even there there are exceptions. If structures ostensibly being used for humanitarian purposes (whether they’re converted churches or schools or hospitals) are the source of attacks on soldiers, then their protected status is ended and the soldiers may return fire with all force necessary to destroy the source of the attack.

    • Brer says:

      For those of you who don’t feel like reading over the Geneva and Hague conventions, one example of “other war crimes” that could include attacks on religious structures would be collective reprisals (indiscrimate attacks upon a civilian population in response to attacks on soldiers).

  45. MadMatty says:

    While i was playing the horribly bugged Arma2, and my controls locked for some reason, i was trying to get my weapon to work again by pointing at some sheep, which i eventually popped- and guess what: -200 pts.
    Thats what you get from letting some poor polygon family starve (although if they ate it soon-ish, it would be roughly the same wouldnt it?).

    • D says:

      Don’t feel bad. Sheep are used for wool and you probably did it a favor :)

  46. D_Mike says:

    I found the BBC report and commentary interesting.

    leaving aside FPS-es (how do i write that?), what about games like Civilization and the Total War series. I have exterminated whole cities and civilizations in both games. Surely that is war crime on a colossal scale?

  47. pepper says:

    This calls for a game soley focused around blowing up churches and anything else that is a war crime.

  48. Pippin says:

    The discussion here’s been really interesting and a lot of good points have been made on all sides. Nice to see people defending the report a bit, as well as those more clearly against it for one reason or another.

    I thought the BBC talking to the RPS guys was a good sign, as this does generally seem to be the source of the most insightful comments on games these days.

    Still, I find it disappointing that the central counter-point that was given in the BBC article was just “gamers know it’s not real, all is well.” Yes, we do (largely, I’m sure there are exceptions) know it’s not real, but does that really end the discussion so conclusively? As that all that need be said?

    One thought-experiment that hasn’t appeared in this thread, though I’m sure it comes up, is to ask yourself whether there’s a simulation of violence of some kind that you absolutely would not be comfortable interacting with. For me personally, a game like “Hit the Bitch” (discussed on this site and elsewhere) was too much and I didn’t play it; for others I’m guessing there are lower and higher limits. And for still others, perhaps, there are no limits to what they would happily go through with in a game environment.

    But if there is a limits that you find yourself reaching, it’s interesting to then ask yourself about the slippery slope this creates. If I’m not comfortable hitting the woman in “Hit the Bitch”, why am apparently comfortable running women over in GTA IV? Is there an actual difference I can point to that makes one seem alright and one not? I’m kind of worried there isn’t one, and I’d be interested to know what others think.

    Anyway, my overall point is: I think it’s more complex than “it’s just a game, get over it”. So complex that I don’t really understand it at all.

    • D says:

      I read the quotes in the article as more along the lines of “1) it’s not the games medias responsibility to educate, and 2) the influencing effects that games have on minds are minimal when it comes to killing and acts of war.”

      The other point you make is very interesting. I’m totally with your opinion on “hit the bitch”, but I speculate, if there was a minigame in Saints Row 2, where you’d have to play “hit the bitch” to get your hookers to earn money, I would definitely play it. (Full motion video and all, poor as it would be.) I think the motivating cause is important to what you ask – GTA has a motivation of “see ragdolls amusingly fly around”, the Saints Row 2 minigame would have “earn money”. “Hit the bitch” has the motivation of “see what happens at the end”, which is incommensurate with what it asks you to do.

  49. blah says:

    The table featured in Annex II was the best bit of the report, in that it made me laugh the most. Company of Heroes’ war setting is classified as ‘N/A’ – that game wasn’t even covered in the report…

    • D says:

      Well. You obviously can’t put the responsibility on generals and commanding officers, its the grunts who do the shooting who are committing the crimes.
      No but seriously, I think CoH was just considered outside the realm of “influencing games”, as the RTS perspective doesn’t lend itself to representation of real action. Or, well, theres certainly an argument in that.

  50. Daniel Klein says:

    Is it just me or did anyone else look at this and go, oh, look, academics in Academia wasting their time and other people’s money! How peculiar!

    This is simply the kind of study that makes for great headline bait and doesn’t reveal anything at all that you couldn’t have found out by talking to a gamer for about a minute and a half. Well done, academics! You managed to avoid talking to the Smelly Ones!

    On a brighter note, the Beeb coming to RPS for quotes is quite spectacular. It’s almost like you’re accepted as proper journalist-type people! Yay! Let’s go shoot some civilians to celebrate!