24
Feb
09

Video Games and the Geneva Conventions

Kotaku reports on some father who decided to only let his son play Call Of Duty if he reads the Geneva Conventions beforehand and follows them in the game. If he or his multiplayer friends don’t follow them, the game will be put away for a while. Strange but interesting idea to teach your kid some ethics. The comments to the article were partially interesting (especially them pointing out that it is against the Geneva Conventions to punish someone/a group for something another individual did) and they are making me think that somebody should make a (war) game like that, where you are actually encouraged to be good or to reflect on how a war should be fought, if at all.

One idea could be to sign an agreement in the game before it starts, like, the “[Game Title] Conventions”:

() I agree to not attack medics
() I agree to not harm prisoners of war
() I agree to not harm civilians
etc.

And then you have to cross them off, and if you don’t agree not to attack medics, then in return the warring nations (i.e. your opponents) will attack your medics, too, or kill your friends if they are taken prisoner, or harm your family if they get to them. So the game will get harder if you don’t obey any rules. And if you do sign the agreement and you do attack medics anyway or civilians, then you will be put on trial after the war is over and potentially put in prison.

Also, you could invent some scenarios that make players question whether or not to follow an order. Make people aware that obedience to authority is not imperative (anyone remember the Milgram Experiment?). Of course, this is difficult in a game where you are mostly automatically following “authority” because that is what leads you through the story. You have missions to complete, not because you submit to authority but because otherwise you can’t finish the game. So I suppose in a game these situations can mostly just be created by giving you a choice, which makes you – more than is the case in reality? – aware that you actually HAVE a choice. So the only way to circumvent this would be to not tell the player that he has a choice. Which, in turn, would make him feel a lot LESS like he has a choice than would be the case in reality, because we’ve played video games forever, and the fact that the game only continues after you’ve completed every step of your mission statement is just the most normal thing in the world (compare Learned Helplessness?). Compromise: Show a disclaimer at the beginning of the game that it is your duty to disobey unlawful orders. :)

Bioshock had the element of being “good” or “evil” a bit, too, of course, although the reward was a bit too evident (even if you don’t harvest the Little Sisters, you still get a lot of Adam because they are so grateful). Then again, for me, I always do the good thing anyway because I feel such empathy for all those virtual characters. That’s also why I was always so nice to the replicants in Blade Runner, too. And why I don’t start wars in Civilization. And why I always accept the side quests in Morrowind. :)

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