Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: international humanitarian law

RFP: Serious game application to enhance Protection of Civilians (POC) in conflict

The Center for Civilians in Conflict is seeking proposals to produce a serious game (playable on smartphones and laptop computers) aimed at soldiers and/or civilian law enforcement. The goal is to improve the behaviour of these forces towards civilians in conflict zones. Scenario content will be provided by CIVIC.

Project Information 

CIVIC seeks concise and tailored proposals to design and develop a serious game (playable on smartphones and laptop computers) aimed at soldiers and/or law enforcement members. The goal is to improve these forces’ behavior towards civilians when they encounter them in zones of armed conflict or other situations of violence.  

To achieve this goal, the serious game will first put armed actors in the shoes of civilians trapped in conflict and thereby sensitize them to the various protection needs and rights civilians have. Topics to be incorporated in the gaming content can include: stigmatization of civilians, consequences suffered from a lack of applied distinction (by armed actors) between combatants and civilians, disproportionate use of force, conflict-related sexual violence, extortion, arbitrary arrest and detention, forced displacement, and suffering caused by excessive use of force by security forces in law enforcement contexts.  

The game will then permit the armed actors to practice modifications to their behaviors and actions so that they better respect the rights of civilians, such as when operating checkpoints, calling in for close air support or plan for civilian evacuations. The content for storyboard(s) and connected decision-making trees for the players to navigate through will be provided by CIVIC.  

CIVIC is a nonprofit organization. We welcome creative, effective and cost-sensitive proposals that take a Good/Better/Best approach.  

Project Description 

The serious game app in this project will support and strengthen the pedagogical teaching by CIVIC’s Nigeria team when engaging with the Nigerian military and other security forces to instill a Protection of Civilians (POC) mindset and practical POC reflexes towards civilians when they encounter them before, during, and after their operations. The serious game app will support and complement face-to-face analog or ‘face-to-face’ virtual training sessions (including scenario-based exercises) that CIVIC has been undertaking with the Nigerian security forces at various institutional levels. This serious game app will be the first for CIVIC. It should be developed with a view to potentially expand upon with ease, so as to include more protection issues and different storylines and avatars.      

By realistically immersing the player in Nigeria’s conflict contexts, the game seeks to sensitize Nigerian security forces to the protection challenges civilians face. The game will test the players’ understanding and recognition of the various dilemmas and vulnerabilities that different civilians face when trapped in conflict (e.g., children, women, the disabled, and the elderly). As a subsequent step, the game will instill different protection reflexes amongst the players to adapt their specific behavior as a security force member to avoid and/or mitigate civilian harm. The contractor will be expected to creatively think through how to provide interesting formats, including with engaging audio and visual support to meet the deliverables above. 

The game may be displayed on our website, shared with our donors, and used in presentations by staff to illustrate the variety of approaches CIVIC uses to influence the mindset and behavior of armed actors towards civilians. The selected contractor will be expected to work closely with CIVIC’s Senior Protection Advisor based out of Washington D.C as well as CIVIC’s Nigeria program team, particularly the Nigeria Country Director and Senior Military Advisor.  

You will find full details here. The deadline for proposals in 25 August 2020.

American Red Cross: Targeting the Laws of War with Video Games

51The American Red Cross is holding a symposium today in Washington DC on “Targeting the Laws of War with Video Games.” You can follow it live (12h00-13h45) online.

The $93 billion video game industry reaches massive audiences across every political and geographic boundary. Improvements in technology allow dozens of gamers to play hyper-realistic first-person shooters and other wartime simulations online. Young gamers routinely confront virtual situations in their living rooms previously only experienced by soldiers on the frontlines.

Yet, as the video game industry has grown, so too has its social consciousness. The Red Cross has been at the global forefront in the promotion of games for social good. Now, as new technologies emerge and gamers are confronted with new challenges, how can humanitarians partner with the gaming industry to promote awareness of the rules that govern the conduct of hostilities in armed conflicts?

Join the American Red Cross and its partners for an exploration of everyday gameplay, and a conversation about how video games can educate players about the laws of war. Experience hands-on demonstrations and hear from leading industry experts. Panelists will address the integration of humanitarian rules into games simulating historical and contemporary armed conflicts, how socially conscious games can inspire change in attitude and behaviors, as well as censorship issues and freedom of speech protections for video games.

  • Lunch and event are free with registration but due to limited seating an  RSVP is necessary. 
  • Join the conversation on Twitter by using #roleplayingIHL 
  • Can’t attend in person?  Join the event online.

The latest discussions reflect a widespread recognition that when the International Committee of the Red Cross first raised this issue a few years ago it did so in a way that antagonized many gamers, confused the media, and didn’t effectively communicate the ICRC’s hopes and concerns about videogames and IHL.

You’ll find previous discussion of these issues at PAXsims here and here. See also the ICRC webpage on video games and law of war.

UPDATE: If you missed the presentations, you can still watch it here:

In addition, click the image below for a selection of tweets made during the workshop.


simulations miscellany, 12 November 2013


Some recent items on conflict simulations and serious games that might be of interest to our readers:

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At Foreign Policy magazine, Michael Peck asks “Should You Be Allowed to Use Chemical Weapons in a Video Game?

Your next Call of Duty game might be a bit less colorful — or less ethically challenged — if the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has its way. 

The ICRC is now asking video game publishers to incorporate the laws of war into their games. The organization makes clear that it is not calling for a ban on violence in video games, nor does it consider — contrary to earlier reports in 2011 — that war crimes in video games equate to real crimes. But it does want games to penalize players for violating the laws of war. “The ICRC is suggesting that as in real life, these games should include virtual consequences for people’s actions and decisions,” notes the Red Cross website. “Gamers should be rewarded for respecting the law of armed conflict and there should be virtual penalties for serious violations of the law of armed conflict, in other words war crimes.”

The ICRC fears that the next generation of soldiers will have their notions of ethical battlefield behavior shaped by video games. “Certain game scenarios could lead to a trivialization of serious violations of the law of armed conflict,” the organization says. “The fear is that eventually such illegal acts will be perceived as acceptable behavior.” Such virtual behavior includes “the use of torture, particularly in interrogation, deliberate attacks on civilians, the killing of prisoners or the wounded, attacks on medical personnel, facilities, and transport such as ambulances, or that anyone on the battlefield can be killed.”

How widespread the problem is can be seen in an article on game site Gameranx, which identified 10 egregious cases of war crimes in video games, such as executing wounded prisoners in Call of Duty 2, genocide in Gears of War 3, and using torture against captives in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

But the ICRC is not calling for removing war crimes from games, on the grounds that including them is actually educational, allowing players to make the same difficult choices that real combatants face. “We do not suggest that games be sanitized of all illegal acts,” ICRC spokesman Bernard Barrett said in an email to Foreign Policy. “Also, games must remain fun and challenging. A boring game is of little interest to the players, to the manufacturers or to us. We would prefer that players not be required to commit illegal acts to move to another level or be rewarded in some other way.”

For previous discussion of this issue at PAXsims, see here and here.

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Can a wargame spark a real war? It has long been known that a 1983 NATO military exercise named “Able Archer” caused some in the Soviet Union to fear an impending surprise attack. An article in The Observer reports on further evidence of how dangerous this all became:

Chilling new evidence that Britain and America came close to provoking the Soviet Union into launching a nuclear attack has emerged in former classified documents written at the height of the cold war.

Cabinet memos and briefing papers released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that a major war games exercise, Operation Able Archer, conducted in November 1983 by the US and its Nato allies was so realistic it made the Russians believe that a nuclear strike on its territory was a real possibility.

When intelligence filtered back to the Tory government on the Russians’ reaction to the exercise, the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, ordered her officials to lobby the Americans to make sure that such a mistake could never happen again. Anti-nuclear proliferation campaigners have credited the move with changing how the UK and the US thought about their relationship with the Soviet Union and beginning a thaw in relations between east and west.

The papers were obtained by Peter Burt, director of the Nuclear Information Service (NIS), an organisation that campaigns against nuclear proliferation, who said that the documents showed just how risky the cold war became for both sides.

“These papers document a pivotal moment in modern history – the point at which an alarmed Thatcher government realised that the cold war had to be brought to an end and began the process of persuading its American allies likewise,” he said.

“The Cold War is sometimes described as a stable ‘balance of power’ between east and west, but the Able Archer story shows that it was in fact a shockingly dangerous period when the world came to the brink of a nuclear catastrophe on more than one occasion.”

The Observer piece doesn’t really add anything we didn’t know, however—indeed, there is even a Wikipedia entry on the exercise. It also doesn’t mention the glitch in the Soviet early warning system that, on 26 September 1983, gave a false warning of a US nuclear missile launch against the USSR. Fortunately the Soviet officer on duty at the time violated protocol and waited for further evidence, rather than immediately passing on the warning to already nervous superiors.

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Wondering how Bayesian inference can help you understand Iranian nuclear negotiations with the P5+1? Harry Hale discusses the issue at Arms Control Wonk:

Life can be modeled as a tree of future events with branches that will be realized with different probabilities.  Each branch can be thought of as forked paths in the forest.  Each branch in the past or the future relates to other branches.

Bayesian inference offers a method to relate the conditional probability of a certain branch to the probabilities of other branches.  This can be a useful tool in improving the odds of achieving a desired result.  I have applied such a tool to the Iranian nuclear negotiating portfolio, looking at the situation from the perspective of the P5+1 negotiation team (a tree created from Iran’s perspective would have different nodes and primary goals).  It is simple in concept, yet surprising in results.  This tool, which I have modeled in Excel spreadsheet form, can help to realize the implications of various decisions on the ultimate outcome: an Iran with or without “the Bomb.”

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In a forthcoming article in International Studies Perspectives, Emre Hatipoglu, Meltem Müftüler-Baç, and Teri Murphy discuss “Insights from a Multi-Day, Multi-Stage, Multi-Issue Simulation on Cyprus.”

This article reviews experiences from a large-scale student simulation, which concluded the Istanbul Conference on Mediation: Enhancing Peace through Mediation that took place in February 2012. We share insights on two unique aspects of the simulation. First, the paper examines a rare case where the simulation crossed paths with real life: a number of the impersonated officials (and offices) including the president of the General Assembly of the UN, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, and the Director of the Policy and Mediation Division of the UN Department of Political Affairs were in the audience and shared their impressions. Second, the setup of the simulation was more complex than its typical in-class counterparts. Our insights from this multi-day, multi-stage, and multi-issue simulation can inform colleagues who plan to run larger scale simulations. Besides sharing experiences on a number of logistical points, we especially draw attention to the constructive role facilitators can play in augmenting the learning benefits accruing to the students from simulations.

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Coming soon to PAXsims: a review of another volume in GMT Games “COIN series,” Cuba Libre.

Should the rules of war be included in computer games?

As the BBC reports, the International Committee of the Red Cross would like video game manufacturers to make their games more compliant with international humanitarian law:

The Red Cross wants to have a greater influence in the virtual world of battlefields.

The aid organisation is arguing that as virtual war games are becoming close to reality, the rules of war should be included.

It claims games such as Medal of Honour, or Call of Duty should make sure that actions which could be war crimes are not rewarded with victory in a virtual battle.

In the report, Bohemia Interactive—maker of the Arma series of realistic first-person shooters—notes that they have already have in-game penalties for inappropriate use of force. (Many of the scenarios in the Arma series also deal with stabilization operations, humanitarian intervention, and similar issues.)

For previous PAXsims coverage of this issue see:



Virtual military training and international humanitarian law

According to piece by Michael Peck at Wired’s Danger Room blog, the ICRC has been considering the international humanitarian implications of military simulation- and game-based training:

The International Committee of the Red Cross, based in Geneva, is pondering whether the violence in video games violates international law. Lest anyone fear that UN helicopters are going to swoop down and confiscate their PS3, ICRC spokesman Bijan Frederic Farnoudi emphasized that so far, the issue has only been a side discussion during a recent ICRC conference. Farnoudi says no formal ICRC recommendation is planned at this time, but the organization is contact with the game industry and will be publishing a Q&A on its Web site.

The ICRC discussion was spurred by the work of a couple of Swiss human rights groups: Pro Juventute and TRIAL, a legal organization that describes itself as putting “the law at the service of the victims of international crimes.” A 2009 report (.pdf) by these groups examined 21 video games, mostly first-person-shooters. They found numerous violations of international humanitarian, human rights and criminal law.

While the authors of the report say their goal is not to prohibit video games, “the message we want to send to developers and distributors of video games, particularly those portraying armed conflict scenarios, is that they should also portray the rules that apply to such conflicts in real life.”

But the more interesting question isn’t human rights violations in commercial games, but humans rights violations in Pentagon video games. As cash-strapped militaries switch from expensive live training to cheaper computer games, it is inevitable that accidentally or not, there will be a military training game that features illegal behavior (or behavior that some human rights group will complain is illegal).

When Danger Room asked about video games and war crimes, two U.S. Army spokesmen immediately reacted with laughter. And sure, the idea does sound ridiculous at first. But humor might be a just a little bit premature. Christian Rouffaer, head of the ICRC’s international humanitarian law and video games project, told Danger Room that while there is no law regulating military training methods, “a soldier trained on a computer or by any other means to shoot wounded enemy combatants would probably not be the only one to be prosecuted as it is primarily the responsibility of his commander to train, educate and to give him lawful orders.” In other words according to the ICRC, military training that violates the Geneva Conventions is still a crime — even if that training is virtual.

We’ve previously discussed the Pro Juventa/TRIAL report on PAXsims here.

Some of the comments on this at Wired are already suggesting that the ICRC is misguided (for example, “Did the IIRC hire PR folks who previously worked for PETA?,” “And Europe and the UN wonder why they are not taken seriously,” and “News flash, ICRC:  Video games are FAKE!”) However, I think it is important to underscore (as Michael does in the article) that the ICRC is only at a very preliminary stage in considering this. Moreover, the ICRC is absolutely right.

The observance of international humanitarian law is not just a question of the decisions taken by individual soldiers on the battlefield. It is even more so about command responsibility, and the obligation of military and political leaderships to make clear what is permissible and impermissible in the context of military operations. Training is a key part of this. If you want soldiers to make appropriate moral and legal decisions in warfighting situations, their obligations need to be clearly laid out to them. Moreover, it needs to be communicated that these obligations are imperatives, and are not to be forgotten when it seems convenient to do so. Integrating those lessons into regular training (rather than simply a brief humanitarian and legal obligations lecture alone) is by far the most effective way of ingraining IHL-compliant combat responses.

In my own brief experience of military service many years ago, it was clearly drilled into us that all conduct needed to be in compliance with international humanitarian law—and, what’s more, I was legally obligated to disobey an order from a superior officer if it violated IHL. There was no “I was just obeying orders” wiggle-room, or “it depends on circumstances.”

If my former drill instructor could make that point crystal clear, surely virtual, video, and game-based training ought to be able to follow a similar standard. We certainly wouldn’t tolerate law enforcement training software that implied it was OK to falsify evidence, or medical training software that encouraged medical students to violate the Hippocratic oath. Military training, real or virtual or otherwise, is the same—it is a simple matter of promoting and inculcating professional standards.

The ICRC, moreover, has a particular and generally recognized role in promoting and monitoring compliance with international humanitarian law. In flagging these issues, the organization is doing exactly what the international community expects of it.

(picture at top: the I-JTAC TRS Proof-of-Concept Dome)


Since the piece in Wired appeared, there has been some additional coverage of the issue that suggests the ICRC is interested more generally in encouraging game manufacturers to include IHL compliance in entertainment video games (see, for example, the report on Kotaku). This is a rather different issue than the use of videogames for military training purposes. However, popularizing issues of IHL by reaching out to gaming companies also makes sense, in light of the ICRC’s general role of promoting great public knowledge of the subject.

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