The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been forced to explicitly deny that players of video games that simulate warfare could be guilty of committing war crimes.
The Red Cross recently discussed video games and their relationship with international humanitarian laws (IHL) at its 31st International Conference.
According to reports, the committee also discussed whether war crimes standards should apply to the virtual victims of war video games.
Taken to its most extreme conclusion, it was speculated that players who violated human rights laws in simulated games could theoretically be guilty of a crime.
But now the ICRC has clarified its stance, saying that the rules on armed conflict will not apply to virtual acts of brutality.
"Serious violations of the laws of war can only be committed in real-life situations, not in video games," the ICRC said in a lengthy statement.
Explaining its interest in video games, the ICRC said that it believes simulations of war can influence the perception of real life conflict.
"In real life, armed forces are subject to the laws of armed conflict," the ICRC said. "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."
It added: "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 organisation."
The Red Cross also said that it may work with the video games industry to promote the representation of IHL in video games, but that it occasionally provides a similar role for makers of comics, filmmakers and writers too.
"(We)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."
However, at least one member of the Red Cross has said that a soldier trained to violate human rights laws using video games could still be prosecuted - and so could their commanding officer.
Theoretically, then, video games could still land soldiers in legal difficulty even without a real bullet being fired.
Christian Rouffaer, head of the ICRC’s international humanitarian law and videogames project, said: “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.”
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