6 Common Things You Do In Video Games (That Are War Crimes)
Military-themed video games get more and more frighteningly realistic with each generation, to the point where we're honestly a little taken aback whenever we take a pee break and there isn't a ticker-tape parade waiting for us in the bathroom. That said, there's still one thing franchises like Call Of Duty and Medal Of Honor need to nix before they can be completely faithful to reality: all of the goddamn war crimes they force your hero to commit.
Sure, you probably already guessed that getting high, poorly rapping DMX songs into your headset, and murdering your own teammates wouldn't fly in the real military. But many "serious" game elements which we take for granted are about as illegal. Starting with:
Taking Hostages (Splinter Cell, Call Of Duty: Black Ops)
There's nothing quite like the thrill that comes with sneaking behind an enemy, grabbing him by the neck, and watching as his comrades are forced to resist the urge to turn you into a pulpy bandolier whilst you drag him wherever the hell you want. You know what they say: The world is your oyster when you have a hostage.
You can also do this in video games, apparently.
"No! Not Charlie the Suicide Bomber! He's retiring tomorrow, you monster!"
In Splinter Cell, it's impossible to progress through the game without snatching several unwitting guards from the shadows and forcing them to give up information, open doors, ward off attacks, or simply allow you to smell their necks. Meanwhile, in Call Of Duty: Black Ops, you're told to board a boat, snatch an enemy soldier, and use their gun to wipe out his fellows, safe in the knowledge that your new human sweater is absorbing every bullet fired at you. There was probably a less dickish way of doing this, but that wouldn't have looked so fucking awesome ...
Your friend seems to be enjoying it a little too much.
... or have been so illegal. As you'll see in this article, pretty much all the cool shit you can do in video games breaks some kind of international law.
The taking of hostages -- even if done for reasons like "not dying" -- violates both the International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages (duh) and the Geneva Conventions. In both, the main argument is that by incapacitating an enemy enough to be able to take him hostage, you've rendered him harmless (or "hors de combat"), yet are still forcing him to participate in hostilities against his will. If you're gonna do that, then you might as well send soldiers into combat with kittens attached to their body armor, and that's a slippery slope we don't want to go down.
"But wait," you might say in the comments section, "both of those examples are from games in which you play as black ops, so they can't be charged with war crimes!" Firstly, in Black Ops, your character is part of MAC-V SOG, a special operations unit created by the government to fuck up the Vietcong, making him (legally speaking) a fully-fledged combatant. Secondly, in Splinter Cell, you work for the NSA, again making you a member of the armed forces involved in combat. Thirdly, *fart noise*. Hope that clears things up.
Disguising Yourself As An Enemy Soldier (Call Of Duty, Sniper Elite, Medal Of Honor)
It's a classic trope of popular culture that whenever an enemy fortress needs to be infiltrated, the heroes will simply sidle up to some guards, steal their uniforms, and ... well, fuck everything up as badly as if they hadn't bothered to do all that. Still, it's the thought that counts.
The "try on several pants until you find one that fits" mini-games are rather fun, though.
In games such as Modern Warfare, Black Ops, Medal Of Honor, and Sniper Elite, that thought will definitely count -- towards the time you'll be spending in an off-the-books detention facility, that is. It isn't often mentioned, but disguising yourself as an enemy soldier for anything other than sabotage/espionage purposes is one of the worst things you can do. In fact, it was one of the first laws made governing wartime behavior, written back in the years when shooting someone without providing five days' notice was considered "ungentlemanly."
In Medal Of Honor and Sniper Elite, you're told to don enemy uniforms in order to get close to assassination targets. Likewise, in Modern Warfare, you and your team of hard-nosed professional killers have to take over an enemy outpost, don their clothes, and use their confusion at how their friends miraculously grew mutton chops to slaughter an entire convoy of vehicles.
"That's what you get for wearing white kicks with a black track suit, asshole."
It gets decidedly more complicated in Black Ops, however. You and your allies have to steal some uniforms to infiltrate a cosmodrome and sabotage a shuttle launch. Which would be, uh, fine ... if the game didn't follow it up with several hundred shootouts and a fuckton of explosions. Although to be fair, it'd be a bit weird if your colleagues downed tools mid-battle and started stripping, so we might let this one slide.
Indiscriminately Blowing Up Everything (Call Of Duty, Battlefield)
One of the biggest draws that modern-day war shooters use to separate gamers from their hard-earned money is "destructible environments." After all, what's the point of turning an enemy army into a fine mist with a photorealistic machine gun if the walls don't break?
The best part: You don't have to pick up the Legos afterward.
In both Call Of Duty and Battlefield, you're able to shoot and blow up a whole range of scenery, including statues, vacant houses, and religious buildings. In Call Of Duty 4, you even hover above a town pouring bullets into everything that breathes. Just like soldiers do in a real war, right? Yeah, if they're assholes. When towns are occupied by enemy soldiers, that doesn't mean you can indiscriminately fire on whatever building you fancy. Because, surprise, you might kill a whole bunch of civilians if you do so. And the same rules also apply to the aforementioned statues, vacant houses, and religious buildings; if it isn't a military objective, you don't have carte blanche to go all Michael Bay on it.
The weird thing is that Call Of Duty 4 does acknowledge the protection afforded to religious buildings in wartime -- you can straight-up fail one mission by firing on a church. It seems they stopped reading the rulebook there.
"Actually, your character is a Highlander and thus can't fight on sacred ground."
That's still not as bad as what you're tasked with destroying in Battlefield 4: a goddamn dam. If you're successful, the dam ruptures and floods the region, which means that the enemies who were coming to kill you drown. In sadder news, however, you're returning home to a war crimes trial, because your explosion-boner also caused the deaths of every civilian living downstream.
Giving No Quarter (Call Of Duty, Battlefield, Medal Of Honor, Every Shooting Game Ever)
To paraphrase a famous quote, the object of war shooters isn't to die for your country -- it's to make the other guy die for his. That's why games have levels in which the main objective isn't anything more complex than "clear the area" or "eliminate all enemies." Forgot to put a bullet through one guy? Whoops, gonna have to go back and redo it.
"Better shoot my teammates too, just to be safe."
If you do this correctly in a game, you get an achievement. If you do it in real life, on the other hand, the only thing you unlock is the ability to get court-martialed.
It's a big no-no to enter a war zone with the intention of murdering everything in your path. On the face of it, that's odd because ... well, guns don't shoot out puppies, do they? Or least, they don't yet (we're still waiting on the patent for the "pup-action shotgun"). Whilst it's a given that one or two or 47 enemies will die, it's expected that soldiers will show mercy to anyone who requires it, whether that's because they're injured, surrendering, or otherwise incapacitated. This is what is referred to in military circles as "not being a total psychopath."
"To be fair, by the time we noticed the white flags, they had mostly turned red."
Movies and games have taught us that declaring that you don't give a damn about mercy or giving your enemies "quarter" makes you a badass. In reality, it makes you sound like you're a murdering dick -- the only known cure for which is a long spell in prison.
Using Poison Gas, Cluster Bombs, Or Flamethrowers (World In Conflict, Call Of Duty, Battlefield)
OK, let's say you don't take any hostages, steal any clothes, shoot any important buildings, or kill anyone who didn't absolutely have to die. Now you should be safe from-- Hold up, you used what to kill those guys?! Yeah, that counts, too.
In Call Of Duty: World At War you can temporarily disorient enemies with grenades full of something called "Tabun Gas." That's a real chemical, and most importantly, it's an insanely toxic nerve gas that can kill within minutes and was outlawed in 1899. And while no one over 14 expects gritty realism from Grand Theft Auto V, there's a part in which you use another poisonous gas to rob a jewelry store. Screw a six-star wanted level; that should have resulted in the United Nations trying to park a tank up your butt.
Which explains why the working title was Domestic Terrorism Simulator 2013.
Gases aren't the only thing proving that these games are full of shit. Remember when we told you about how flamethrowers are totally legal (if a little shitty)? That's true, except for when you use them to set enemies alight. Let's not forget: Flamethrowers were only supposed to be used on the battlefield for clearing out bunkers and trenches through oxygen deprivation. Using one as a weapon falls under the rules outlawing weapons which cause superfluous suffering. So the guy who recorded this sick compilation is basically serving like 5,000 years:
Not Burying The Dead (Call Of Duty, Battlefield, Medal Of Honor)
You've survived a gunfight of insane proportions. The good news is that your enemies are all dead. The bad news? Unless you're playing a game in which the bodies melt away, you better have packed a shovel, or else you're about to commit a war crime.
Not what we meant, but we're guessing that the courts frown on that, too.
After a battle has finished, it's the responsibility of any remaining combatants (of either side) to search the battlefield for bodies and arrange for them to be "disposed of in a respectful manner" -- i.e. buried. Moreover, after this has been done, the burials have to be recorded in order to allow the body of Generic German Soldier Model 2587 to be recovered and reunited with his video game family, whatever they may be.
"It's your husband ... I'm sorry."
And then there's the legality of what you've probably done with the survivors of those gunfights. In an early level of Call Of Duty: World At War, you're presented with the option of shooting two wounded enemy soldiers (you're even handed a rifle with which to do it), while a later level gives you the option of massacring a group of surrendering enemies. If you followed through on either, then guess what? If an enemy is unable to fight due to an injury, or is attempting to surrender, it's a war crime to shoot them on the spot. Because again, "no quarter" isn't really a thing. You can't even claim innocence because it's World War II and Gary Oldman told you to do it; that shit has been illegal for almost a century.
Anyway, we can't wait for the next entry in the series, Call Of Duty: Nuremberg Adventures.
When he isn't ruining video games with his legal justice warrioring, Adam likes to talk about dumb conspiracy theories and rock music. You can also contact him via email.
Also check out 5 Video Games That Took 'Realism' Way Too Far, and The Problem With Realism in Modern Video Games.
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