Study Examines Video Game War Crimes

Video games frequently flaunt international human rights and criminal law without portraying the consequences, a study by Swiss human rights organisation TRIAL and youth rights advocate Pro Juventute Switzerland has unsurprisingly discovered.

Lawyers trained in international humanitarian, criminal and human rights law cast their legal eyes over twenty shooters including Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, 24: The Game, Far Cry 2 and "Metal Gear Soldier 4 [sic]" for the study titled 'Playing by the Rules.'

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The study makes for slightly surreal and mildly entertaining reading as one discovers what would be the real-life consequences for fictional video game characters.

Fist-bumping Army of Two stars Salem and Rios, for example, "may be tried for their mere participation in hostilities" as "mercenaries are considered to be civilians and as such, they have no right to participate in the hostilities."

Battlefield: Bad Company is unsurprisingly singled out for its widespread destruction of civilian property, not to mention the "pillaging" of gold--"strictly prohibited under IHL."

The Call of Duty 4 mission which involves manning an AC-130 gunship receives one of the study's few compliments, described as "a positive step in the direction we wish for other games" for causing players to fail should they attack the church--though it notes the scenario is unlikely to occur in reality as it could easily "cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof."

Criticism of Modern Warfare continues with the assessment that the violent interrogation and execution of villain Al-Asad by the player's moustachioed chum and superior officer Captain Price is torture--"prohibited in any context, under any circumstances" in reality.

Such "ticking bomb" scenarios are the target of much criticism due to their relation to "recent controversy about whether so called 'enhanced interrogation methods' are allowed under international law."

Similar politicising surrounds the study's findings on both sides, expressing concern that video games may colour players' perception of "what combat situations are like and what the role of the military and of individual soldiers or law enforcement officials in such situations, is" to fuel what is called "the dangerous tendency to step back from what has been achieved in the field of human rights in the last 60 years."

The message of the scenes should never be that everything is allowed, or that it is up to the player to decide what is right and what is wrong. In real life, this is not the way it works. In real life, there are rules and there are sanctions for violations of these rules. It is not up to the soldier or to the law enforcement agent to decide what is right and what is wrong. The events in Abu Ghraib have shown, what such "private justice", even if carried out by well trained and high ranking officers, may lead to.

The choice to focus on video games over other mediums similarly appears to be rooted in political concerns, with the study saying as "the line between the virtual and real experience [is] blurred" by the interactivity of the medium--a claim often made by various interested parties but yet to be proven in any substantial way.

The US Army's promotional game America's Army--intended to drive recruitment--and 'virtual' training tools are offered as support for the supposed "link with reality."

Overall, the most common human rights and criminal law violations found were attacks against civilians and non-military targets, as well as shooting wounded or surrendered soldiers, and "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or torture."

The study concludes by imploring developers to take the rules of international human and humanitarian rights into consideration by forbidding certain acts and showing the consequences of actions. TRIAL and Pro Juventute Switzerland believe such a move "would surely render the games more interesting and would create players with a more accurate perspective of what is lawful and what is not."