Is there a place for the laws of armed conflict in video games?

08-12-2011 FAQ

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement recently discussed the implications of video games that simulate real-war situations and the opportunities the games may present for spreading knowledge of the laws of armed conflict. Some questions and answers on this subject are provided below.

Why is the ICRC interested in video games that simulate real warfare?

The ICRC is interested in issues relating to video games of this type, i.e. games simulating warfare where players face choices just like on a real battlefield.

In real life, armed forces are subject to the laws of armed conflict. Video games simulating the experience of armed forces therefore have the potential to raise awareness of the rules that those forces must comply with whenever they engage in armed conflict – this is one of the things that interests the ICRC. As a matter of fact, certain video games already take into account how real-life military personnel are trained to behave in conflict situations.

Part of the ICRC's mandate, conferred on it by States, is to promote respect for international humanitarian law – also known as the law of armed conflict – and universal humanitarian principles. Given this mandate and the ICRC's long history and expertise in matters relating to armed conflict, the development of these games is clearly of interest to the organization.

A few media reported that certain virtual acts performed by characters in video games could amount to serious violations of the law of armed conflict. Is this correct?

No. Serious violations of the laws of war can only be committed in real-life situations, not in video games.

Does the ICRC work with video-game developers to make sure the law of armed conflict features in certain games?

The ICRC has expressed its readiness to engage in a dialogue with the video gaming industry in order to explore the place of humanitarian rules in games. The ICRC welcomes the fact that certain video games on war-related themes already take the law of armed conflict into account.

Shouldn't the ICRC be primarily concerned with real-life warfare?

Absolutely, and real-life armed conflict and its humanitarian consequences are in fact its primary concern.

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 thereby contribute to creating an environment conducive to respect for the dignity of persons affected.

Why does the ICRC show interest in video games but not, for example, in books, comics, TV series or films?

The ICRC is occasionally approached by filmmakers or authors who want to portray its activities in past or present armed conflicts. It has thus had contacts with various segments of the entertainment world beyond the developers of video games. The ICRC is not interested in all video games – only in those simulating armed conflict. Some of these games are being designed and produced by the same companies developing simulated battlefields for the training of armed forces.

What was said on this subject at the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent?

The 31st International Conference met in November 2011 in Geneva with the overall objective of strengthening international humanitarian law and humanitarian action. In a side event, participants also explored the role that the law of armed conflict plays, or does not play, in simulations of war. They considered various ways in which the rules applicable in armed conflict could feature in simulations. The side event was an informal discussion; no resolution or plan of action was adopted.