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Combat games disrespect war laws, report claims

Virtual troops should play by the same rules real ones do

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Videogames should respect the real-world rules governing wars, a report has concluded, following research into how many videogames break them.

A study of 20 titles, including many from the Call of Duty and Tom Clancy series, carried out by Pro Juvenile – an organisation which aims to protect kids from unlimited videogame violence - and Trial, which fights to prevent people who commit war crimes getting away with it, found that most of the games contained “elements that violate... international standards”.

The two bodies used specialists in international humanitarian law to identify videogame violations, the most frequent being a disregard for “the legal principles of distinction and proportionality” – dropping 1000 bombs on crowded town just to kill one sniper, for example.

Intentionally directing attacks against civilians and religious buildings are two other war law no-nos that often appeared in the 20 videogames, the organisations claimed. Cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and/or torture cropped up frequently too.

Some of the 20 titles examined did, however, “incorporate rules that encourage the gamer to respect human rights and international humanitarian law”.

Pro Juvenile and Trial are particularly worried about the alleged violations within videogames because war games – unlike books or films - require the player to take an active role. Many are increasingly used by the military as training tools, the report added.

Both bodies called for videogame developers to avoid creating in-game situations that lead to violations of recognised laws regulating armed conflicts.

“It would mean a wasted opportunity if the virtual space transmitted the illusion of impunity for unlimited violence in armed conflicts,” the report concluded.

The full report Playing by the Rules: Applying International Humanitarian Law to Video and Computer Games is available to view online (PDF) now. ®

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