2 minute readInternational

Fantasy or reality?

You may have seen some of the recent news coverage and discussions online about how the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has raised the issue of how — or even if — the laws of armed conflict should apply in virtual settings such as war-related video games.

There are many facets to this discussion and quite a bit of commentary flying around the internet. Even though the American Red Cross is a separate organization from the ICRC, a number of questions and comments are coming our way, and we wanted to address some of them:

Why is the ICRC even getting into this issue?

In real life, armed forces are subject to the laws of armed conflict. Video games simulating the experience of armed forces have the potential to raise awareness of the rules that those forces must comply with. This is one of the things that interests the ICRC. The fact is that some video games already take into account how real-life military personnel are trained to behave in conflict situations.

Part of the ICRC’s mission is to promote respect for international humanitarian law – also known as the law of armed conflict – and universal humanitarian principles. That means the ICRC spends time educating people around the world and raising awareness abou the rules of war.

So the ICRC’s long history and expertise in matters relating to armed conflict gives them a place to weigh in on this issue.

Some media coverage says that certain virtual acts by video game characters could amount to serious violations of the law of armed conflict. Is this the stance of the Red Cross?

Of course not. Serious violations of the laws of war can only be committed in real-life situations, not in video games. Nobody suggests that gamers would be the target of war crimes prosecution.

Doesn’t the ICRC have better things to do like dealing with real issues of armed conflict?
Real-life armed conflict and its humanitarian consequences are in fact the primary concern of the ICRC.

With its roughly 12,000 staff, the ICRC carries out humanitarian activities in situations of armed violence all over the world. It is often the first organization to arrive on the scene when conflict erupts and to attend to the needs of people detained, displaced or otherwise affected. It also strives to bring about improved compliance with the law of armed conflict and contribute to creating an environment conducive to respect for the dignity of people affected by armed conflicts.

How is the ICRC different from the American Red Cross?

While both are part of the global Red Cross and Red Crescent network, they are two different organizations. The American Red Cross is a humanitarian organization based in the US, whose mission is to help people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. The ICRC is an independent organization providing humanitarian protection and assistance for victims of war and armed violence

What is the stance of the American Red Cross on this issue?

We think that it’s healthy to promote the discussion around international humanitarian law and the rules of war. In fact, earlier this year the American Red Cross conducted a survey that revealed that 59% of youth aged 12-17 believe there are times when it is acceptable to torture the enemy. 41% even believe that it is sometimes acceptable to torture American soldiers. At the same time, the survey showed that 80% of young people believe that more education about the rules of war is important. This could be one way to start that discussion and begin that education process.

We have seen a lot of comments and opinions on the social web – and we’re open to hearing more.

Feel free to post your comments here on our blog. Over the next several days, we’ll be listening. All we ask is that you keep it clean and keep it civil. We’ll try to answer as many questions as we can and we’ll also point the ICRC to our site so they can see what you think.

If you want to know more about the ICRC, visit http://www.icrc.org/eng/ To learn more about international humanitarian law and the rules of war visit our website at www.redcross.org/ehl.


join the conversation.

We encourage you to comment on this blog. All viewpoints are welcome, but please be constructive. We reserve the right to make editorial decisions regarding submitted comments, including but not limited to removal of comments. The comments are moderated, so you may have to be a tiny bit patient in waiting to see them. We will review and post them as promptly as possible during regular business hours (Monday through Friday, 9:00 – 5:00). Please read our full comment policy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. While educating and bringing information to the masses is encouraged there has to be a line drawn between mandating practices of video games and real world situations. Video games are an assortment of particles on the screen and forcing developers to account for war situations is ludicrous and stifles innovation.

    While it’s going to be debated forever whether or not games are harmful or educate children improperly there is no reason to push your issue to developers. They are not educators nor are they parents, they develop games. The fact that this has been raised as an opportunity to educate you have to keep you focus on things you control. This isn’t one, my advice is to let it go and search for other productive means to share your story.

  2. Hi Paul, this is Jennifer – I am the Manager of the IHL Dissemination Unit at the American Red Cross. Great that the discussion has started. I totally agree that there has to be line drawn betwen video games and reality and real violations of the laws of war can only be committed in the real world, not on computer screens.

    The problem is that the media coverage on this issue has caused a lot of confusion and the misperception that the ICRC is pushing for legislation mandating that IHL be respected in games. We’re certainly not taking a stand on whether games are harmful – all we want to do is get people talking about the issue because we think that a dialogue on what matters is an important part of education on IHL.

  3. Arif – If you are asking if we are only trying to garner attention and money from this particular post, I can tell you that that is absolutely not true – the purpose of this blog is to find discussion topics related to the Red Cross mission and to engage our audience on these topics. Our priority is to talk about the issues that intersect what you care about and what we do as a humanitarian organization.

  4. As mentioned earlier, developers are not parents or educators in performing the primary function of creating games. With this, I agree. Where I have an issue is in the ever improving technology which developers are using to create more and more realistic war games. It is my position, that developers who seek to create these life like character games should also consider the reality of war and as such the rules of war should apply.

  5. I’m 13 years old and play war-related games, such as the call of duty franchise. While i might be more informed on the laws of armed conflict, since my father is a veteran and often talks with me about the current issues of the world, many kids my age (Not all) really don’t understand how different real war is from a video game. So when they play a game and that’s all they know about war, that’s the only thing that’s giving them an idea of what its like. My father has been speaking to me about war since before I started playing video games, so my first ideas I personally formed about war were from a someone who had been through it, rather than from an unreal video game.
    While I’m obviously not against violent video games, i believe there isn’t enough understanding of what war really is in many young adult’s minds. My standpoint on real rules of war being violated in video games? I’m not against it, but maybe something should be said within the game? Maybe a struggle between morally right and wrong with an ingame character, allowing the player to take a stance?

    “It is well that war is so terrible. We should grow too fond of it.”
    -Robert E. Lee

  6. Are you kidding me!!!! There is a real Holocaust going on overseas in the middle east with the killing of innocent children and other real world things going on that should essential to the meaning of the Red Cross to help in need. But you are worrying about something as trivial as video games. I am a gamer myself and I can tell you I have fought for my country and never killed anyone and never will unless they give me a reason in self defense. It is how the parents teach there kids not the games they play. This is also Fake emphasizing the work FAKE and we know this. So what your saying war movies and reenactments of war fall under this as well? As a gamer you can bet if this proceeds I will not support the red cross in future donations. I have been a supporter in the past.

  7. The problem is that the US and its pentagon to name but one (there are many more) flagrantly ignores a lot of the rules of war, and is not getting much critique for it from partners either, and in fact they didn’t even sign the complete Geneva convention treaty but only part of it I understand, and often argue that the rules don’t apply for one reason or another when it’s not convenient to have rules.
    So to make out in games that these rules are applied would be rather unrealistic and confusing you could say, and you could argue it was more important to push to have them be applied in real life.

    However if you have a whole generation not even aware of the existence of rules then it makes sense that the ICRC seeks to somehow remedy that, but if you apply rules like that in games you connect games more to real life and the message also becomes that war is a game, so then you lose as much as you gain.

    All in all I think it’s best for red cross organizations to stay out of such issues as an organization and stick to the bare helping people, and if members want to bring up that argument they are better off joining other organizations that are better suited for a wider scope and raise the discussion there.

  8. William, this is Jennifer from ARC again – totally agree with you that what we really care about is getting people to know first of all that these rules exist in times of war and why they make a difference in the real world.

    As you say, if a whole generation doesn’t even know that these rules exist, we still have a lot of work to do. The great thing about this discussion is that more people are learning that there are rules even in times of war and most importantly, why they matter in the real world where war has real consequences.

  9. Ok I’m man enough to admitting that I am wrong about the regular Red Cross being involved I read this on another site and was steaming. I see that you are not responsible for this but this issue still makes me mad. Yes I agree that the worlds youth needs to be trained and taught the wright and wrongs that is in this world. Video games does not make a bad person its how that person was brought up. And yes people can always become a better person. But its like saying oh the gun killed that person what how could a gun kill that person by itself. You need the person to pull the trigger. Then the argument could be said well if that person wouldn’t of had the gun it would not have been the issue. But if someone wanted to do the crime they would have gotten any weapon they wanted.

  10. Video game crimes? Virtual violations of ROE?
    Will the ICRC begin a campaign to monitor and quell thought-crimes next year too? Give me a break. Whatever bureaucrat had THIS much time on their hands should be handed a mop, and never be trusted with any responsibility ever again.
    As far as “rules of war” goes, until both sides adhere to these “rules”, there are effectively no rules. It’s folly to think the lawless and brutal will somehow, suddenly “see the light”, and begin to follow any rules of conduct.

  11. JBrenn – I’m sorry that this may not have been more clear in the post, but I’d like to stress again that the ICRC is not by any means heading a campaign to monitor gamers or video game makers right now. This is just a conversation topic for now. Thanks for your input!

  12. JBrenn – Jennifer from American Red Cross – your second point kind of asks why bother having law in the first place if not everyone is going to respect it. IHL provide protections in the most difficult of circumstances…i.e. in times of real, not virtual war – for those who aren’t participating in the conflict and tries to limit suffering for victims. Sure, enforcement is never perfect and violations occur, but there are consequences, just like when laws are broken right here at home. The world is certainly not a perfect place, but as the saying goes, “a law that is often broken is better than no law at all”.

    Also, it’s normally violations of IHL that make the news and the media doesn’t report every time IHL is respected or applied…even if imperfect, the rules of war protect and help millions of people throughout the world affected by war.

  13. “…but I’d like to stress again that the ICRC is not by any means heading a campaign to monitor gamers or video game makers RIGHT NOW.” [emphasis mine]

    Meaning you’re gauging public response to this nonsense before you make the decision to embark on such a campaign. Just so everyone’s clear about that. No thank you.

  14. Julie – We are certainly taking feedback and gauging response in an effort to better understand public reaction and to provide feedback to the ICRC, but it is not meant to lead to a campaign to monitor gamers or video game makers. Perhaps my use of the words “right now” was misleading or easy to misinterpret, but it was not meant to suggest that this is only a temporary thing.

  15. Just wanted to follow up on some of the great discussion here. Part of why the issue came up at all was that the games are sometimes similar to training. Some were first developed that way. Now they are just fantasy. And like Chris says, they are fake.

    The history is fascinating though. And games are still used by the military for training, and for treatment.