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You’re a War Criminal

Steve Watts | 20 Dec 2011 16:00
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Even discounting those, however, the study did find several valid examples. In both Resistance: Fall of Man and Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway, the players fight within churches, which are protected under IHL as cultural heritage buildings. Civilian property is generally protected under IHL, so the wide array of destructible environments in Battlefield: Bad Company were a violation as well. The first Modern Warfare was actually commended in the report for showing consequences; during the AC-130 sequence, you would fail the mission for firing upon a church.

Call of Duty: World at War, allowed the use of flamethrowers on enemy soldiers who were only a short distance away, violating the 1907 Hague Regulations against unnecessary suffering.

Modern Warfare's follow-up, Call of Duty: World at War, allowed the use of flamethrowers on enemy soldiers who were only a short distance away, violating the 1907 Hague Regulations against unnecessary suffering. It's important to note that these regulations were in place during World War II, when the game takes place.

One of the most common instances of war crimes' depiction in games is finishing off an enemy after he's been injured. Videogames tend to treat combatants in very binary roles: they're either a threat, or they're dead. In reality, an enemy who is incapacitated or has laid down their arms has surrendered, and they aren't to be harmed. In fact, injured enemy combatants should be given medical attention. Shooting an incapacitated or unarmed enemy is a blatant violation of humanitarian law.

Since the report was published, even more games have presented their own sets of IHL violations. The well-publicized civilian massacre "No Russian" in Modern Warfare 2 is likely the most egregious example, but the player also assists in a plan to launch a nuclear weapon near a populated area of Washington DC. Much of the fighting in Modern Warfare 3 takes place in civilian-populated areas as well, and at one point the combat takes place in a church. If we assume science-fiction futures to still abide by the Geneva Conventions, Rico's cold-blooded execution of the Helghan emperor in Killzone 2 was a clear violation as well.

This is in stark contrast to movies, which rarely show our heroes engaged in war crimes. When a character does commit IHL violations in war films, it's usually treated as a dark turning point for the character. When Willard shoots an injured survivor in Apocalypse Now, it's used as a critique in the interest of the larger narrative. When US soldiers gun down surrendering Germans in Saving Private Ryan, it's an egregious offense that shows the depersonalization of war. Very rarely is a war crime treated as light-hearted, humorous, or even necessary, as it sometimes is in videogames.

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