The big take away from the recent American Red Cross event, Targeting the Rules of War with Video Games, is that even if games aren’t designed with an educational purpose, they are still educational in nature. When it comes to video games, they are educators with a tremendous reach.
The $93 billion video game industry reaches massive audiences across every political and geographic boundary. Improvements in technology allow dozens of gamers to play hyper-realistic first-person shooters and other wartime simulations online. Young gamers routinely confront virtual situations in their living rooms previously only experienced by soldiers on the frontlines. This leads to an obvious question: can humanitarians partner with the gaming industry to promote awareness of the rules that govern the conduct of hostilities in armed conflicts? Tuesday’s event sought to find an answer.
Representatives of the American Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), set out to share with the audience their organizations’ goal of promoting international humanitarian law (IHL) in video game settings. The goal is education and dissemination of principles of law that have a proven track record of making war more humane.
Having set the stage for the conversation, a panel of industry experts and academics shared their thoughts. Professor Garrison LeMasters of Georgetown pointed out that one hurdle is that “our culture is deeply suspicious of play” and that new media and video games are coming under increased scrutiny. He also observed, however, that games have a long history of simulating war—think of Chess or Go. That is why it is not surprising that war is a common theme in modern video games as well.
Much about the conversation around games really revolves around rules and consequences for specific decisions. The challenge of incorporating IHL into games to simulate decisions made in the battlefield could therefore be relatively straightforward. “IHL is a ready set of rules to use in game development,” said Professor Lindsay Grace of American University. And a great way to engage an audience with new issues is by “offering new solutions to gamers for traditional problems.”
At the end of the event, and throughout the afternoon, participants had the opportunity to view clips from different video games that demonstrate acts in combat that conflict or comply with IHL. If you missed the event you can still watch our recording of the panelists, try your hand at some of the featured games—Valiant Hearts or Prisoners of War–online, and follow some of the highlighted themes from the event by checking out #roleplayingIHL on Twitter.
This event was part of an ongoing conversation between the American Red Cross, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the American Society of International Law (ASIL), and gaming industry leaders and academics on the intersection between video games and the laws of war.