Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

International humanitarian law and electronic gaming

While this recently-published report by Pro Juvente and TRIAL isn’t really about the use of simulations for peacebuilding, it does intersect the topic enough that I’ll stretch the PaxSims mandate and post it anyway. Moreover, I’m enough of an academic and a geek to find the material interesting:

Frida Castillo, Playing by the Rules: Applying International Humanitarian Law to Video and Computer Games (Geneva: Pro Juventute and TRIAL: Track Impunity Always, October 2009).

In computer and videogames, violence is often shown and the players become “virtually violent”. While much research has been done on the effect of such games on the players and their environment, little research exists on whether, if they were committed in real life, violent acts in games would lead to violations of rules of international law, in particular International Humanitarian Law (IHL), basic norms of International Human Rights Law (IHRL) or International Criminal Law (ICL).

Pro Juventute Switzerland and TRIAL (Track Impunity Always), a Swiss NGO assisting victims of grave violations of human rights and aiming at the promotion of international criminal law, have tested various computer and videogames for their compatibility with internationally valid and universally accepted rules of IHL and IHRL. The question they posed themselves was whether certain scenes and acts committed by players would constitute violations of international law if they were real, rather than virtual.

The selected games were played by young gamers under the auspice of Pro Juventute and TRIAL and the legal assessment of the critical scenes was done by three lawyers, particularly trained in the areas of IHL, IHRL and ICL. Professor Marco Sassóli from the University of Geneva, a well known expert in the area of IHL, supervised the legal analysis.

The aim of the study is to raise public awareness among developers and publishers of the games, as well as among authorities, educators and the media about virtually committed crimes in computer and videogames, and to engage in a dialogue with game producers and distributors on the idea of incorporating the essential rules of IHL and IHRL into their games which may, in turn, render them more varied, realistic and entertaining.

If I did teach an IHL course–which I don’t–it would be interesting to assign a fairly realistic military simulation of first person shooter, and have students prepare an IHL analysis of it—including those grey areas within existing IHL and the laws of war (regarding military proportionality, for example).

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