GH

Advanced Warfare and the ICRC

Let’s face it, last year’s push by the ICRC to integrate law of war training into video games didn’t result in an industry earthquake. First person shooters are still about shooting people with exotic weapons, and being heckled by impossibly-good thirteen year olds as they murder you repeatedly in online multiplayer. To combat this, the ICRC recently launched a design competition to get people to integrate medical evacuations into ARMA 3.

Should the ICRC be in the business of video game design? Maybe, maybe not. Then again, should Dave Anthony, the director and writer of Call of Duty, be in the think tank business? Given the reaction to his talk by national security journalists and scholars, the answer to that question is ‘maybe not’ (and that’s being polite). Still, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare just dropped, which is this year’s slab of super-insane FPS mayhem, this time with added robots. It even comes replete with a live action trailer, which neatly melds exactly where the series (and genre, for that matter) is going: a first person Hollywood film with you, the player, as the super soldier solving all problems with bullets and high explosives.

Let’s face it, last year’s push by the ICRC to integrate law of war training into video games didn’t result in an industry earthquake. First person shooters are still about shooting people with exotic weapons, and being heckled by impossibly-good thirteen year olds as they murder you repeatedly in online multiplayer. To combat this, the ICRC recently launched a design competition to get people to integrate medical evacuations into ARMA 3.

Should the ICRC be in the business of video game design? Maybe, maybe not. Then again, should Dave Anthony, the director and writer of Call of Duty, be in the think tank business? Given the reaction to his talk by national security journalists and scholars, the answer to that question is ‘maybe not’ (and that’s being polite). Still, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare just dropped, which is this year’s slab of super-insane FPS mayhem, this time with added robots. It even comes replete with a live action trailer, which neatly melds exactly where the series (and genre, for that matter) is going: a first person Hollywood film with you, the player, as the super soldier solving all problems with bullets and high explosives. It’s a bit like Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days meets Commando:

So. I guess the question is: did Call of Duty pay the remotest bit of attention to the ICRC? Here’s the trailer’s international humanitarian law highlights:

Jean Pictet’s Use of Force Continuum (0:02)

Okay, maybe punching someone through a concrete column with an exoskeleton that can also punch through blast doors and tear doors from armoured personnel carriers isn’t the minimum use of force, but it’s probably less lethal than being shot with the big gun that the video companion/soldier/gun bro is carrying on his back. Let’s skip over the fact that you, the player/viewer, just got punched in the face by one of these exoskeletons and managed to stand back up immediately. Given that the absolute minimum use of force isn’t even a requirement of IHL, it’s a pretty good start.

ICRC Rating: Overly-idealised classical peacekeeping mission/10

Frag Grenade? Naah. (0:19)

At this point, it’s almost like Activision are playing to the audience. Yes, you, the protagonist, could have thrown a fragmentation grenade down a hallway in the middle of a firefight, but instead you pressed a button and turned it into a nice little sensor instead. Let’s ignore the unit cost of a combined sensor/grenade for a second, and bask in the lack of explosions and death as you jump to safety instead of killing people.

ICRC Rating: So does that grenade work like a cluster bomblet now?/10

Positive ID Means I Can Crash Your Truck Into Civilian Houses (0:30)

Okay, so asides from the fact that it’s difficult to assess the military necessity attached to destroying a logistics vehicle in the 2 seconds between landing on it after a 10 storey fall and reaching the driver’s cab by gecko-crawling along its side, this is the first time that Advanced Warfare really sticks two fingers up at the ICRC. I mean, okay, crashing a truck by shooting out the tyre is pretty bad-ass, but since you’re sent flying into the middle a residential zone as a result of the truck flying off the road, it’s safe to assume that Player 1 didn’t assess the likelihood of civilian casualties and damage to non-military objects that would result from their use of force. Since the driver doesn’t appear armed, it’s not like this was immediate self-defence, either.

ICRC Rating: Well, at least it’s not No Russian/10

Gratuitous Model Inserted to Help Sell Game About Killing People (0:37)

I have no idea if the ICRC would be pissed off at this. I can’t think of any infraction of international law, either. Still, it’s offensive to anyone with half a brain, and undermines any/all claims to mature adult legitimacy that Activision randomly attaches to a game series which, after all, is basically about killing people in new and exotic ways. And no, the lame goat-joke doesn’t make it okay, either.

ICRC Rating: Bored eye-roll/10

I Hope Someone Article-36’d That Drone Swarm (0:45)

Okay, back to unreality. So, here we’ve got a drone swarm displaying autonomous/emergent self-regulating behaviour. Is there a ‘human on the loop’? Has someone programmed them to understand international law? It’s a veritable NGO field day, right there. At best, all we can say right now is that, wait for it, ‘states must address major humanitarian, ethical challenges’ before unleashing a horde of armed robots to lay waste to a random neighbourhood.

ICRC Rating: Pretty sure that’s goddamn illegal, even for a robot/10

Well, I Distinguished Between the Window and the Roof (0:50)

Let’s just say that the fundamental IHL principle of distinction means that blind-firing into a random person’s skylight isn’t okay, even if you don’t kill anyone in the process.

ICRC Rating: Are you ISIS?/10

Fighting in Built Up Areas (1:05)

Let’s face it, any use of high explosives in civilian areas is going to look like a war crime to someone, but whoever is shelling the gun bro soldier twins at this point is just asking for a one way ticket to the International Criminal Court.

ICRC Rating: See you in court/10

Meh, Who Needs Civilian Infrastructure Anyway? (1:10)

Destroying civilian infrastructure is the kind of thing that results in letters to the UN Security Council. Needless to say, it hardly looks proportional, but then again, who’s to judge? At least you’re not calling it in. It’s stuff like this which makes the ICRC write reports about increasing respect for IHL.

ICRC Rating: Grozny/10

Final Tally

For a minute and a half of video, the Advanced Warfare ad revels in the Dude-Bro-Awesome destruction that accompanies breaches of the most fundamental principles of international humanitarian law. Maybe next year Activision will ship a game that features a realistic amount of IHL compliance. Probably not, though.