Since 2012 the International Committee on the Red Cross has worked closely with the game developer Bohemia Interactive to explore new ways to spread messages about International Humanitarian Law (IHL). The ICRC has offered its perspective on how to integrate certain elements of IHL into the award-winning Arma series of video games, which allow over 3.2 million gamers to experience realistic war scenarios. This year, Bohemia Interactive has worked in consultation with the ICRC to produce the “Arma 3 Laws of War DLC,” an add-on to the popular game Arma 3, which features a fictional humanitarian organization and will familiarize gamers with the laws of war. In this “Join the Conversation”, Christian Rouffaer, Head of Virtual Reality at the ICRC, discusses the collaboration with Bohemia Interactive and work of the ICRC on video games.

How does the ICRC view violent video games and war games in particular?

We are not part of the debate on violence in video games. As in real life – we don’t comment on why people are fighting. Instead, we insist on our strict neutrality and impartiality in armed conflicts and focus on reminding fighters about their obligations under International Humanitarian Law. With video games, our goal is not to spoil the fun, but rather to expose players to an extra layer of complexity present in war – to let them learn more about the roles and responsibilities of real soldiers when it comes to IHL.

This is where our collaboration with Bohemia Interactive comes in: their team has always been interested in offering gamers a realistic view of armed conflict.

How did the partnership with Bohemia get started and what excites you about the collaboration?

The partnership started in 2012. We reached out to the Bohemia team because we noticed that Arma 2 gameplay already included several key elements of IHL. For example, in Arma you cannot just shoot civilians without consequences.

Personally, as a gamer and former army officer, I was very keen to see how the ICRC could support the development of games that are more true to life in acknowledging the importance of IHL. Bohemia was incredibly open to discussions on the topic, and they were actually the ones to approach us on the new DLC. To me, that is a clear sign that IHL and video games are not at odds – especially for gaming studios that are serious about providing a realistic experience to their gamers.

How was the ICRC involved in supporting the development of the Arma 3 Laws of War DLC?

Our support for the DLC was really technical – we made our specialists available to provide insights on not only the laws of armed conflict, but also to consult on the effects of anti-personnel or anti-tank mines, unexploded ordinance, cluster munitions, and so on. Basically, anything we could do to enhance realism and ensure that the game was faithful to IHL.

 

Why target gamers to talk about international humanitarian law?

I think the ICRC is getting serious about targeting gamers because the world of video games has evolved as well. There are now 1.8 billion gamers in the world, almost a quarter of the world’s population. Unlike the stereotype that gamers are all teenage boys, the average gamer is 35 years old. Perhaps surprising to some, only 56% of gamers are men. As video games have become mainstream entertainment, we know that gamers are also army officers, CEOs of companies, or lawyers. The ICRC too has had to evolve and tap into this growing trend, which we see as a unique opportunity to reach millions of people to familiarize them with IHL.

How can games like Arma 3 help the ICRC spread its message?

Spreading humanitarian messages through video games is not a new concept – in fact, we received an email from an old ICRC delegate who proposed to work on IHL and video games as early as 1996. Back then, gaming was not seen as serious, so the idea was never picked up – but things have changed.

We don’t want war games like Arma 3 to become boring training courses in IHL, but we do want to help gaming studios see how to integrate very complex legal rules into their games without ruining the fun. The goal is to enhance the realism and show that split-second decisions by soldiers can have dire consequences. If gamers learn about IHL and the work of the ICRC along the way, that’s a great added value.

So, how many hours have you played on Arma 3?

Between work and on my personal account, I’ve got over 2223 hours logged!