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Should Video Game Companies Be Penalized for Not Teaching War Law?

November 25, 2009

Jon recently blogged about humanitarian law and violence in video games. Last month two Swiss NGOs published a 46-page report on the topic, examining a number of popular game for their laws-of-war content, finding them lacking and proposing industry-wide norm change:

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.

So then a couple of days ago at Opinio Juris, Julian Ku weighed in on the report‘s findings and propositions:

Do we need international law requiring video game makers to follow international law in their video games? Sure, as long as this resulted in lucrative consulting gigs for law professors….

Well, the report does not actually propose game-makers ‘follow the law’ but rather ‘incorporate the law’ so that, for example, players who commit war crimes incur at least the risk of punishment.

The goal is not to prohibit the games, to make them less violent or to turn them into IHL or IHRL training tools. 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, namely IHRL and IHL.

At any rate, it certain strikes me that this is a candidate issue for a corporate social responsibility campaign. We ask companies to acknowledge and minimize negative externalities of their products with respect to the environment, public safety or health. Why not with video game content as well?

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Charli Carpenter is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate, 2006), Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights
Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (Columbia, 2010), and ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda-Setting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security (Cornell, 2014). Her main research interests include national security ethics, the protection of civilians, the laws of war, global agenda-setting, gender and political violence, humanitarian affairs, the role of information technology in human security, and the gap between intentions and outcomes among advocates of human security.