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5:36 am
Sat October 12, 2013

Red Cross Wants Video Games To Get Real On War Crimes

Originally published on Sat October 12, 2013 7:46 am

There aren't universal laws of war when it comes to video games. Players can disregard the rules of the Geneva Convention without encountering any consequences. The International Committee of the Red Cross wants to change that.

ICRC spokesman Bernard Barrett says that for the past two years, a special unit of the Red Cross has been working with video game producers to help them simulate real-world sanctions for virtual war crimes.

As its website explains, "The ICRC is concerned that certain game scenarios could lead to a trivialization of serious violations of the law of armed conflict."

"We're not going to get into the fine technicalities of the Geneva Conventions," Bennett tells Weekend Edition host Scott Simon, but the organization is focusing on things like deliberately killing civilians, shooting at ambulances and torture.

Some games already do exact a price for such violations, he says: "In one game for example, at a company that we've worked with, if you start shooting indiscriminately at civilians, someone from your own side may start shooting at you."


Interview Highlights

On how the ICRC works with video game producers

We've approached them, and in some cases they've approached us, asking for advice. In one case we said, "Hey, would you like to incorporate this in your game?" They thought it was a wonderful idea, so we sat down with them and explained some of the basic concerns and maybe some ways that they might want to approach it.

On whether flouting the rules of war in games is just an accurate reflection of life

It may reflect what happens in life. At the same time, because they are flouted, we can't throw up our hands and say it's useless, anything is allowable under war. We have to keep insisting on that, and we have to keep pushing the notion that there are laws, even in war, and that they must be respected.

On whether the ICRC should be more concerned with real war

This is not a huge effort or expenditure on our part ... We've got a unit that specializes in working with the military, with armed forces, with armed rebel groups, talking about the laws of war and trying to encourage respect. And so this is a few of the people in that unit who took an interest in video games ...

We know a lot of military off-duty play video games, and a lot of young men and women who are likely to be recruited play video games. And it's also a chance to sensitize the general public, so they can tell their leaders, whether they be military or political, that's not acceptable or that is acceptable.

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There are rules in video games and there are even rules about the conduct of war. So, why don't video games about war reflect those rules? Red Cross has been weighing this question for a couple of years. We've got Bernard Barrett of the International Committee of the Red Cross with us now. He joins us from Geneva. Thanks so much for being with us.

BERNARD BARRETT: My pleasure.

SIMON: Give us an example, if you could, of the kind of scene that you'd find in a video game that violates the Geneva Convention.

BARRETT: Well, we are looking at some very basic notions. We're not going to get into all the fine technicalities of the Geneva Conventions. But things like deliberately killing civilians or shooting at ambulances or hospitals or doctors or mistreating prisoners, torture, things like that.

SIMON: So, for example, somebody - I hate to use the term - player in the game harms civilians, some kind of price could be exacted from the score?

BARRETT: Actually, there are games which do that now. In one game, for example, a company that we've worked with, if you start shooing indiscriminately at civilians, someone from your own side may start shooting at you.

SIMON: And have you or other officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross spoken with video game producers?

BARRETT: Yes, we have. We haven't canvassed all video game producers. There are a couple of companies that we've worked with in particular. We approach them, and in some cases they have approached us asking for advice. And in one case, we said, hey, would you like to incorporate this in your game? They thought it was a wonderful idea, so we sat down with them and explained some of the basic concerns and maybe some ways that they might want to approach it.

SIMON: If video games reflect the fact that the rules of war are often flouted, doesn't just reflect what happens in life?

BARRETT: It may reflect what happens in life. At the same time, because they are flouted, we can't throw up our hands and say it's useless. You know, anything is allowable under war. We have to keep insisting on that and we have to keep pushing the notion that there are laws, even in war, and that they must be respected.

SIMON: And, Mr. Barrett, I'm sure there's some people listening who might find this very interesting but say but, you know, why doesn't the ICRC do more about Syria?

BARRETT: Well, we are doing a lot about Syria. It is our biggest operation right now. I mean, this is not a huge expenditure or effort on part in terms of (unintelligible) and video games. We've got a unit that specializes in working with the military, with armed forces, with armed rebel groups, talking about the laws of war and trying to encourage respect. And this is - a few of the people in that unit who took an interest in video games and said, hey, maybe we should look at this as a possible way. Because we know a lot of military off-duty play video games and a lot of young men and women who are likely to be recruited play video games. And it's also an opportunity to desensitize the general public so that they can tell their leaders, whether it be military or political, that's not acceptable or that is acceptable.

SIMON: Bernard Barrett of the International Committee of the Red Cross speaking from Geneva. Thanks very much for being with us.

BARRETT: It was my pleasure.

SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.