Does playing shooters make you a war criminal?

Well, obviously not because it doesn’t involve killing actual real people. However the International Red Cross has recently been discussing video games, and you could be excused for thinking that the they wanted to take several zillion CoD players to tribunal from reading the news headlines.

Fortunately for common sense, delegates at the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Red Crescent actually published a Q+A about their debate about video games. I think it makes interesting reading and explains why they felt it was part of their remit.

Truth is, the jury is still out on the effect videogaming has on young people. We know that video games in the past have been used as military recruiting techniques and to ‘harden’ new recruits to protect them from the stresses of combat. Games have not historically been focussed on showing the downsides to war, because that’s not as fun as shooting nazis.

But given that moral choices in gaming have become quite fashionable in the RPG arena, would it really be so bad if those choices were more widely flagged up in shooters too? Sure, choose to flout the Geneva Conventions if you want (do zombies even have human rights?), but at least the game dialogue should reflect that choice. Maybe even let players have more of a choice. I am sure I’ll enjoy the heck out of playing a darkside sith warrior, and I’m pretty sure the empire don’t bother with any of that Geneva Convention nonsense, but at least I’ll know they’re darkside choices …

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6 thoughts on “Does playing shooters make you a war criminal?

  1. It’s interesting actually, because FPS’s have, as their stories developed, tended to go for consequence rather than choice whereas RPG’s have tended to go for choice over consequence.

    The terrible things you do tend to result in terrible things happening because you did terrible thing whereas RPG’s tend to offer you achoice but limit the consequence to maintain playability.

    In the infamous russian massacre scene in Modern Warfare 2 for example, you have to do a terrible thing and the way the game plays out is based on the terrible thing you did. In RPG’s, you’d get a choice but it’d be a choice between getting a russian dude in your party or getting the fell blade Ruskibane and that is the last we’ll hear of that, generally.

  2. Andrew Neill on the Daily Politics also launched into video games a few weeks ago. His “balanced” panel consisted on a journalist who wasn’t fussed either way, some nutter who believes video games are essentially murder and himself who’s pretty close to the latter viewpoint. It was pretty depressing watching when one considers these people are “opinion leaders”.

  3. I think I’ll just be rehashing stuff that has already been said a million times over. The “effect on young people” metric they are looking for shouldn’t exist because a lot of these games that depict graphic violence and/or theatres of war are rated 18. Now, if parents choose to allow their children to play these games when they are not of the appropriate age then any consequences are on the heads of the parents. I know there are lots of different arguments that run around the net but I believe that any body who is age appropriate and of sound mind and judgement can play these games and not be a real life sociopath. The same as Rock n’ Roll in the 50’s and 60’s video games are just the modern beatstick for people to blame the “corruption of youth” on. I’m sure once my children get to my age, there’ll be something else that finds itself under the same vehement condemnation.

  4. Personally I am extremely uncomfortable with having any character I play in any video game act in a way that I would find morally unacceptable if I had to do it myself. I formed my moral ethos long before video games even existed, though.

    I would never play any video game that replicated in a violent way any real-world event that still stands within the lifetime of anyone who might be alive and have lived through it, or had parents or grandparents who lived through it. Not, obviously, because I worry that it would affect my own moral choices in a similar real-life situation, but because it would be in extremely poor taste.

  5. There’s something to be said for moral realism, and to the extent that games approximate art and literature as a reflection of the world, it need not be wrong or tasteless of them to include the uglier things that do happen in life. The key is whether or not the immorality is dramatically justified as distinct from cynically trolling for controversy or trying to force an edgy atmosphere.

    That said, I’d certainly respect an FPS that, past a certain point of indiscriminate carnage, would haul you before a court martial or an ICC, or have your subordinate soldiers decide that fragging your maniacally homicidal self is the lesser of two evils.

    I’m close to Bhagpuss in my RPG preferences – I can enjoy being an actor playing a villain, but at the end of the day, my most cherished and memorable characters are those that approximate my own ethics. Forget violent jollies; one of the funner aspects of an RPG is indulging in a consequence-free orgy of unrestrained white-knightery and goodness, something regrettably impractical in real life.

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