Swiss Study Documents War Crimes Committed In 19 Games

Two Swiss organisations have examined 19 games (including "Metal Gear Soldier 4") for their compliance with/flouting of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), and while their intent is serious, the way they hold these games to IRL IHL gets a little wacky.

The study, "Playing By the Rules" was undertaken by Pro Juventute, a Swiss children's rights group, and Track Impunity Always (TRIAL), which is concerned with international criminal justice. Their report provides a legal analysis of the conduct enabled by the games.

Rather than play the games themselves, the two groups sent expert observers to watch serious gamers play through and then note the egregious acts they saw. Here's what they had to say about Battlefield: Bad Company.

In the scenes, there seems to be no assessment of proportionality in the attacks realised in civilian areas and we do not know whether precautionary measures were taken to minimize civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects. However, in a real life situation, one is often confronted with similar circumstances: regular armed forces and irregular armed groups are very unlikely to give any information about the planning of the preparation of military operations to international organisations or human rights bodies. Without such information, it is difficult to establish that a military operation was not proportional, in particular whether the attacker took all the precautionary measures necessary to avoid, and in any event to minimize incidental loss or civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects."

In addition to the extensive destruction, some of the scenes portray the members of "Bad Company" taking gold and "treasures" found in the civilian houses they have just destroyed. Upon obtaining them, the players get points. These actions amount to pillage, which is strictly prohibited under IHL and thus have also been labelled as "strong". This illegal action is confirmed in one of the scenes where you can hear a member saying that "Pillaging is an old war tradition." Pillage is considered as a war crime both in international and non- international armed conflicts.

I'm thinking that asking the goons of Bad Company to take precautionary measures for anything would be a little like talking to a cardboard box. It's also amusing to me that a basic, nonviolent scavenging mechanic rates a "strong" violation of international law (which it would be, if it occurred in real life) and is called out as a war crime.

Anyway, the study had a number of recommendations. Among them is a call for clearly defined rules of engagement.

It would be very useful if developers would incorporate more specific rules on how to conduct an operation in their games, in terms of the weapons allowed, the behaviour allowed, the military targets sought, the degree of collateral damage permitted, etc. 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.

If you want to dive into more killjoy gasbaggery about Modern Warfare, World at War and - Jesus, True Crime Streets of L.A. is in here? Who did they find to play that? Anyway, you can grab your copy of the report here [pdf.]

Fighting Fair: International Humanitarian Law As Applied to Games [Game Politics]


    In their report, section 2.1.6 COD4 violations, you can tell that they have not actually played these games, because they confuse an AC-130 with a helicopter.

    Ah... Metal Gear Soldier 4...

    Who needs accuracy in a report anyway?
    Certainly not people who play Metal Gear Soldier 4...

    I'm surprised Clam of Duty: Modern Welfare didn't make the list.

    ...A war that is governed by HUMANE rules is an oxymoron.

    Sometimes I think this IHL is only made so that one side appears more benevolent than others (Re: Axis & Allies). It's there to keep their own soldiers in check and not really for the benefit of whoever it is they are invading.

    But that's a topic for another place and time.

    Although I think the idea that all games should be forced to completely and accurately follow IHL is a very naive one and is not something games should be forced to implement. I would be interested in a game that gave players a choice to follow these guidelines or not, forcing them to make the same choices as many people in the military.

    Soon instead of Football Manager, it'll be Wartime Manager: Where you have to manage a war whilst being in compliance with international human rights laws; ensure your troops don't loot corpses; reduce collateral damage and loss of life and; provide troops with support that is proportional to their needs and the dangers they face.

      You joke, but that would actually sell lol

        Indeed. It actually sounds kinda fun.

    I had an idea for a shooting game a while back, where you would buy your ammo at the ammo shop and on certain types of ammunition would have a visual tag that says "BANNED BY GENEVA CODE" on them. (such as SLR rounds - that tumble inside the body, bounce around of bones and are absolutely horrible - their use today very, very much a violation of international law )

    This tag makes the game true to international law - but doesn't stop the player's fun. Quite possibly those game items banned by geneva code would be the most popular ones.

      I should have pointed out this is even truer to life, because the restrictions are stated - and very quickly ignored by militants (players in this case) who don't respect the international bodies enough to abide by the rules.

    Who freakin' cares. This study was a waste of money, time and effort. If these fools devoted their time to something more worthwhile as opposed to trying to write a serious report on how you score points in a video game, then the we'd all be happier.

    I find it interesting that this was done by the Swiss... what with their recent military history and all.

    Also... how many countries are actually signatories to that treaty? I'd be willing to bet that most of the protagonists countries of origin aren't.

      Yes but if anyone know how to be 'safe' during a war, it's them.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now