War Crimes In Video Games

violent video gamesIt’s no secret that violence in video games has been a source of concern to many for some time now.  In addition to media watchdogs, family values groups, and consumer advocates, there are those who would claim that the proliferation and realistic nature of gore and violence in gaming is partly to blame for things like the school shootings at Columbine High, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook Elementary. And yet, after years of polarized debate, there seems to be no solid evidence tying the two together.

And in a move which is sure to polarize it even further and annoy the hell out of some gamers, a recent report from two Swiss Human-Rights organizations has gone a step further in asking for an end to video game violence. According to the report, released by Trial and Pro Juventute, there are some video games that depict war and battle actions that in real life would violate international human rights laws. In short, it is possible to commit war crimes in video games, a fact which has both groups worried about the message this sends.

Doesn't inspire confidence, does it?
Doesn’t inspire confidence, does it?

For the sake of research, the two groups selected 20 games – including Call of Duty 4, Metal Gear Solid 4, Far Cry 2, and several others – and had “young gamers” play the games as three attorneys watched to find actions in games that in real life would violate rules and regulations that govern armed conflict. The study attempted to determine if the acts gamers engage in while they play violent titles would “lead to violations of rules of international law, in particular International Humanitarian Law (IHL), basic norms of International Human Rights Law (IHRL), or International Criminal Law (ICL).”

After evaluating the 20 games, the group found that in many cases, “shooter” games failed to take into consideration international humanitarian law. In a statement, they expressed their conclusions as follows:

“The practically complete absence of rules or sanctions is nevertheless astonishing: civilians or protected objects such as churches or mosques can be attacked with impunity, in scenes portraying interrogations it is possible to torture, degrade or treat the prisoner inhumanely without being sanctioned for it and extrajudicial executions are simulated. At least a few games punish the killing of civilians or reward strategies that aim to prevent excessive damage.”

violence-in-video-gamesIn particular, Call of Duty 4 was pretty hard hit for its violations of many rules which any army would consider standard ROE. For example, the game violates several human-rights laws by allowing gamers to:

“attack civilian buildings with no limits in order to get rid of all the enemies present in the town who are on roof tops, open areas of the town, squares featuring statues, etc. Under IHL, the fact that combatants/fighters are present in a town does not make the entire town a military objective.”

Similarly, they took issue with the scene in which the games villain, Al-Asad is beaten for information and then executed once you are finished with him:

“[the] beating of Al-Asad amounts to torture or at least inhuman treatment, which are prohibited in any context, under any circumstances, whether in peace time or during armed conflict situations. Killing him amounts to an extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary execution as it falls outside the context of any legal framework.”

Similar evaluations were given to other games the groups evaluated. Naturally, they were quick to say that their study was not intended to “prohibit the games, to make them less violent or to turn them into IHL or IHRL training tools.” Instead, they say they want to work with developers to ensure that in the future, their games observe real-life human-rights laws.

In keeping with this, they recommended that developers make it clear to gamers that in any circumstance, human-rights violations cannot be allowed, even in a game setting. It also requested that, going forward, developers adhere to international human rights laws when they depict war or battle in a game. Ultimately, they hoped that their study would act as a sort of wake-up call for game developers to consider the kind of message they are sending to young people:

“It is regrettable that game producers hardly ever use this possibility to creatively incorporate the rules of international law or even representatives of such rules as specific elements in the course of the game. Pro Juventute and Trial call upon the producers of computer and video games to use their strong creativity and innovation for this purpose. It would mean a wasted opportunity if the virtual space transmitted the illusion of impunity for unlimited violence in armed conflicts.”

Personally, I think it’s a good thing they steered away from COD: Modern Warfare 2 and 3, where far worse violations take place. In the immediate sequel to MW, players have the option of taking part in a mass shooting in the Moscow Airport, where you are required (as an undercover member of a terrorist squad) to gun your way through civilians and security guards in order to advance the story. Can you say sicko shit?! Seriously, Infinity Ward, what the hell were you thinking?!

But alas, the question is one we all need to ask ourselves. These human rights groups specifically chose video games instead of movies because of their interactive nature and the fact that gamers are not mere passive observers, but active participants in the simulated violence they are witnessing. So really, does it make a difference that in this context, a person is seeing the death and destruction and war crimes from a 1st person POV? Or is this simply a case of more gratuitous entertainment that no one sane human being would try to emulate?

Source: news.cnet.com

COD: Modern Warfare 2

Welcome back to my ongoing series of video game reviews! Today, picking up from where I left off last time, is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Having just completed the entire series, I felt it was time to pay tribute to this series and tackle all that was right and wrong with it.

With COD: Modern Warfare, Infinity Ward essentially established a new standard of online gaming and first person shooters. Combining the best in AI’s, graphics, and gaming platforms, this game also had the honor of being the most high-profile “modern” first-person shooter of all time.

Prior to this, all the big name FPSs were either set in WWII or in the future, being either based in historical recreations or science fiction. Hence what was so interesting about this game, it incorporated up-to-date weaponry, tactics, and a storyline that boasted a great deal of socio-political speculation.

And much like the last one, it had its high and low points, which I shall get into now…

Plot Summary:
modern-warfare-russThe game picks up 5 years after the event of the first game (roughly 2016). According to General Shepherd, one the game’s pivotal characters, Russia has fallen to the ultra-nationalists and Imran Zakhaev is now considered a national hero, despite the fact that he very nearly unleashed WWIII on the populace. Meanwhile, a terrorist by the name of Makarov continues to fight Zakhaev’s fight, hoping to trigger another major conflict which will make his nation to force to be reckoned with once more.

The game opens with a Ranger Battalion in Afghanistan, where you are part of an attack (led by General Shepherd) into a contested town controlled by insurgents. After fighting your way across a destroyed bridge, you are required to fight your way to the center of town and clear a school which the insurgents are using as their forwards base. Upon completion, Shepherd alerts your character (PFC Allen) that you are being transferred to the CIA to do an undercover mission.

MW2_afghanistanNote: As I’m sure I’ve mentioned at least twice before, this entire mission was inspired by Generation Kill, specifically the footage of the 1st Recon’s assault on Nasariya and their passage through the town of Muwafaqiyah where Fedayeen were using a school as a fire base.

At the same time, Capt. John “Soap” McTavish has been promoted and is now the leader of the new international anti-terrorism squad known as Task Force 141. No mention is given as to the whereabouts of Captain Price, and given what happened in the last game, it appears as though he might be dead.

MW2_siberiaYour character for this portion of the campaign is Garry “Roach” Sanderon, another FNG with a delightfully absurd call sign. While the Marines are in Afghanistan, you and Captain Price are busy breaking into a Russian airbase in Siberia hoping to obtain the Attack Characterization System (ACS) module from a downed American satellite. After retrieving it, you and McTavish are forced to beat a hasty retreat using snowmobiles.

What follows next is the part of the game that warrants the big advisory at the beginning and which gamers have the option of skipping if they so choose. This inolves part of Allen’s “undercover assignment” where he witnesses first-hand Makarov’s monstrosity as he leads an assault on Moscow’s International Airport, where he and his thugs murder countless civilians with US-made guns.

When that’s over, Makarov shoots Allen (aka. you) and leaves him there for dead, knowing that the thousands of spent shell casings and the body of an American will make it look like the US perpetrated the attack. My advice: skip this mission! It’s gratuitous and frankly creepy. For the life of my I can’t imagine who thought putting this borderline psycho shit in would be entertaining or fun.

Immediately afterwards, Task Force 141 is dispatched to Rio de Janeiro to hunt down the weapons dealer who supplied Makarov. This takes you and your team through the “favella”, Rio’s most notoriously violent neighborhoods, where you are shot at by the local “militia”. Once you have your man, he indicates that he doesn’t know where Makarov is, but that there is one man he hates and fears more than anyone, and who just happens to be languishing in a gulag on the Kamchatka peninsula.

Meanwhile, back in the US, Russian forces get the drop on the Northeastern Seaboard. Having cracked the ACS, they are able to pass into US airspace without Norad noticing, and begin landing paratroopers and armored forces in Virginia, New York, and Washington DC. The second major thread in the game now opens, where you play as Pvt. James Ramirez, an Army Ranger in West Virginia who’s unit is deployed to a suburb to thwart a Russian attack and protect a HVI (high-value individual) who’s chopper was shot down.

After fighting off several waves, your unit is redeployed to Arcadia where you are tasked with retrieving another HVI who turns out to have been killed by Russian special forces. With assaults happening all along the Seaboard, the Russians are getting the upper hand on US forces by capturing key personnel, locations and intelligence.

MW2_gulagOver in Kamchatka, you and Task Force 141 assault the gulag and fight your way through defenders and Soviet-era electrical systems to find prisoner 141, the man who Makarov apparently wants dead. When you arrive at his cell, it turns out to be Captain Price, who is alive after all. He and McTavish have a brief reunion which is cut short as the Navy begins bombarding the gulag early to cover your escape.

Back in the US, you and your Ranger unit are redeployed to Washington DC which has become a smoking ruin. Your mission is to fight your way through the federal buildings on Capitol Hill and retake them from the attacking Russians. The fight takes you from the trenches, through the White House, and finally into the air. After your chopper is shot down, you find yourself cornered and about to be overrun…At the same time, Price makes contact with General Shepherd and proposes a bold plan. With Price alongside, you and Task Force 141 assault a Russian sub base not far from the gulag and seize control of a Russian missile sub. Though the plan is not altogether clear, you and McTavish manage to provide cover for Price long enough for him to get aboard the Russian sub, where he promptly unleashes a nuke bound for Washington DC! The nuke flies into orbit above the city, where it is detonated, taking out the ISS and unleashing a massive EMP.

Inside the city, the EMP knocks every piece of electronic equipment in the area, crippling the Russian assault. You and your unit, which had been cornered seconds before, now must run and find cover as countless jets and choppers come crashing down around you.

Once you resupply, you are tasked with advancing on Whiskey Hotel (aka. WH, for White House) and retake it in one last, desperate assault. Once this is done, you are notified by radio that the USAF is conducting “Hammer Down”, an emergency air assault that will level all capitol buildings that are still in enemy hands. You are then forced to run to the roof and pop green smoke to indicate that the White House is in friendly hands.

MW2_estate2With Washington DC saved, Shepherd is hailed a hero for his foresight in predicting that a war was coming. He is given a “blank check” and declares that he is going to use every cent reigning Makarov in. With this in mind, Task Force 141 splits into two forces, with Price and McTavish checking an aircraft boneyard in Afghanistan while you and the rest are deployed to a safehouse in Kazakhstan.

After taking down the house and downloading Makarov’s computer files, you are intercepted by an air rescue, where General Shepherd himself comes out and shoots you! He then shoots Ghost and his men dispatch the rest of your squad, leaving your burning remains in a ditch as he takes the files and flies off.

MW2_safehouseOver in Afghanistan, Price and McTavish get the words that Shepherd has killed the others and realize he’s been playing them all along. With Makarov’s information now in his hands, he’s effectively cleaning house and making sure he doesn’t get caught so the war can proceed.

At the same time, Shepherd’s forces are descending on the boneyard, looking to kill you and Makarov at the same time. After fighting your way the edge, you are rescued by an old friend – McTavish’s Russian contact Nikolai. Price is also able to contact Makarov and obtain the location of Price’s base in Afghanistan.

As McTavish, you and Price now assault Shepherd’s base and take down its defenders. After a lengthy chase, you manage to corner Shepherd and fight it out; unfortunately he gets a hold of your knife and stabs you in the stomach with it. Producing his gun, he explains his motivations.

MW2_shepherd_baseApparently, he was in command of the Marine assault force that was supposed to take down Al-Asad and lost 30,000 men when Zakhaev’s forces detonated the nuke. His bitterness inspired him to start a war in the hopes of shocking America out of its complacency, which he feels he’s now done. As he puts it, “tomorrow there will be no shortage of volunteers, no shortage of patriots.”

Before he can shoot you though, Price tackles Shepherd and the two begin to fight it out. Shepherd eventually gets the upper hand on Price, and you are forced to pull the knife out of your chest and toss into Shepherd’s face, killing him instantly. Nikolai then shows up with a chopper, in defiance of Price’s order that this be a “one way trip”, and he and Price begin to carry you (McTavish) aboard. The game ends with Nikolai warning you that everyone is now out to get you, but that he knows a safe place to put down and get medical help.

Summary:
I don’t imagine I need to say that this installment in the series has some kick-ass gameplay, but screw it, I still want to! It has kick-ass gameplay! In fact, when it comes to shear badassery, this game has got the first one beat. In addition to more and better guns for yourself, there are also some very cool added features. These include more claymores and the use of Stinger Missiles, but also Sentry guns, laser guided heavy weapons fire from armored vehicles, and even Predator drone strikes. This last aspect is especially cool, as you get to do overwatch on a target and then fire Hellfire missiles at targets.

In terms of the weapons you have access to, there are the usual M4’s, SAWs and M16’s that are standard US Army issue, but also SCARs, sniper rifles with thermal sights, FAMAS’, USAS-12 shotguns, and Steyr AUG’s. But in addition, the Russians also boast some new and impressive gear which you can use too. Of these, my favorites are the Tavor assault rifle and the Striker shotgun. There’s nothing like automatic shotgun fire to make you feel like a bad ass mutha!

And of course, all these features extend into the multiplayer realm which is even bigger, badder, and more detailed than the last. But even if you’re not feeling the mulitplayer community, there is the new Special Ops feature where you get the best of both world, the ability to conduct missions and earn points, but still as a single player. And I can attest that most of these missions, though some are hard as hell, are also fun as hell. And in many ways, they preview things which comes up in the third installments (such as Juggernauts).

As for the downsides… Well, in that respect, this game was much like the first. The storyline seems a bit unrealistic, and is kind of confusing in terms of who’s doing what and for whom. For instance, you’ve got Makarov who represents a continuation of Zakhaev’s agenda, but seems to be operating outside the realm of normal politics. Didn’t they say that the Ultra-nationalists took power? Why then is this man killing his own people? Isn’t that what you do when your kind is NOT in power? Or is he really that desperate for a nuclear war to take place?

And second, Shepherd’s motivations seem a bit flaccid. I get that he’s pissed about the loss of so many Marines int he first game, though they seem to have padded the body count because by my reckoning, most of the Marines got out. They had plenty of warning, but your own chopper turns back to rescue a downed pilot, hence why you die. Still, even if the body count is 30 or 30,000, risking total war with Russia seems like a bad way to stoke the fires of patriotism. As anybody is well aware, Cold War or not, any large-scale confrontation between the US and Russia would still involve their nuclear arsenals, and nobody would be walking away from that fight in one piece!

And another thing, so was he working with Makarov all along or just taking advantage of the man’s actions? This is never made clear. On the one hand, it was Shepherd who assigned Allen to infiltrate their group, so Shepherd DID give them the American body that they left behind to implicate the US. But at the same time, he is openly trying to track the guy down and have him killed, but quietly so the world won’t know the entire war is based on a lie. So what is it then? A collaboration between enemies, or two equally malevolent forces that just had happened to collide?

I for one would prefer the latter interpretation because it would be a fitting commentary on the “War on Terror”. In fact, throughout the game you have quotes from Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, the ones which are notorious for being stupid or questionable, which flash across the screen when you die. In that war, we saw a neo-conservative agenda colliding with a Salafist agenda, where two mortal enemies were effectively feeding off each other to the point that some openly suggested collusion. Of course there was no real evidence to suggest such a thing, but it was interesting to note just how much George W and Osama Bin Laden benefited from each others presence.

Ah, but the biggest bone of contention with this game comes in the form of its controversy. In fact, this is such a big subtopic that it deserves its own heading…

Controversy:
For obvious reasons, the shoot-up scene involving the Moscow International Airport caused quite a stir in the gaming and consumer community. Why, many asked, was it necessary to include a scene where the player is forced to take part in what can only be described as Columbine-like behavior? I for one could not believe my eyes the first time I played this game and didn’t realize I could skip the whole thing. Who, I wondered, would actually want to play this mission? Was it really such a good idea to include it all, even if the option was there to skip it? Why not say that it happened between missions?

And would it be at all farfetched to think that some psycho person, who just happened to play the mission, might get the idea to shoot up a crowded public space? The scenes are far too visceral and real, which I found disturbing since the game makers would have had to do their homework on something like this, taking into account how crowded areas are death traps once armed men begin firing automatic weapons, how panicked crowds tend to bunch up, and how they become especially vulnerable when they all run into a bottleneck and become easy targets.

See what I mean? It’s disturbing! It’s the kind of sick freak stuff that made me seriously question the sanity of the game makers and the nature of the game itself. Some will naturally argue that it’s just a game and therefore harmless, bad taste notwithstanding. But I’d say that given the numerous mass shootings that have taken place, not just recently, but all over the US in the past decade, that this was in horrible taste and just plain risky!

Others also questioned the mentality of showing Washington DC burning, with its many monuments shown scorched and even the White House itself burning and full of holes. Personally, I didn’t see the big deal here. I mean, if we’re going to penalize this game for displaying this kind of disaster porn that we’ll have to round up Rupert Emmerich and every other movie producer who’s ever destroyed landmarks in their films. There’s a reason people like this stuff, and it’s not because they secretly fantasize about seeing them destroyed.

If anything, it lends some urgency and a sense of emotional involvement to the story by showing them how things they know and love, or at the very least are familiar with, are being overrun and must be saved. Now that’s just me and I could be wrong, but I found this aspect of the game very cool! How many games allow you to fight in realistically-rendered environments of actual places? This was something that they intensified with the third one and I appreciated it there as well!

So that’s Modern Warfare 2, in a nutshell. Great game-play, exciting and intense, but containing some questionable content. It was a good thing that they stayed away from that for the third game, at least for the most part. Granted there was plenty of violence and they still had to issue the content warning for anyone playing it for the first time, but at least there weren’t any mass shootings where you’re the bad guy and are supposed to be taking part in it! Seriously, Infinity Ward, what were you thinking? Bad software developer!

Futuristic Guns (vol 3)

AICW VX3:
First up is the proposed Advanced Infantry Combat Weapon by Australia’s Metal Storm Ltd. Combining a 5.56mm assault rifle with MS patented stacked ammo caseless ammo grenade launcher, this weapon is truly futuristic! In fact, the concept is already catching on.

Since it is still in the prototype phase, none of these weapons have appeared in any sci-fi movies, television or games as examples of future weapons. Give it a few years…

CornerShot Gun:
Holy future Batman! Here we have the CornerShot, the weapon accessory invented by Lt. Col. Amos Golan of the Israeli Defense Forces. Though technically not a firearm per se, this impressive invention gives anyone the ability to look and shoot around corners.

Designed primarily for use by special forces and police units, mainly for terrorist and hostage situations, it is typically outfitted with pistols or other small handheld weapons. Already it has made numerous appearances, including the movies Wanted, Red, and Newsmakers (Goryachie Novosti), the tv shows CSI: Miami, Flashpoint and Standoff.

FAMAS:
The name stands for Fusil d’Assaut de la Manufacture d’Armes de Saint-Etienne, and it is the service rifle of the French military. Invented in 1978, it was one of the first rifles to utilize the bullpup design, joining such guns as the Steyr AUG. Its long term of service has also led to its wide representation in modern media.

These include the movies Rebellion, District B13, Behind Enemy Lines, Hotel Rwanda, Tomorrow Never Dies, the Taxi series and the tv show The Unit. In terms of videogames, there are too many to count, but the big names consist of Rainbow Six, Battlefield 2, Perfect Dark, Modern Warfare 2, War Inc. Battlezone, and Counterstrike.

FX-05 Xiuhcoatl:
The name literally translates as “fire serpent” in classic Nahuatl, a pretty fitting description for a modern assault rifle. Produced by CIADTIM (Center of Applied Research and Technology Development Military Industry), this weapon is currently in use with the Mexican army. Making its debut in 2006, this weapon incorporates a lot of modern design features and is similar in appearance to the HK G36 and XM8.

My apologies, I can find only two examples of this weapon being featured in the movie, television or gaming world, and that is Call of Juarez: The Cartel and Max Payne 3.

QLB-06:
No doubt about it, the People’s Republic of China has been producing some pretty funky weapons lately. Should we be worried over here across the sea? Well regardless, this next weapon is known as the QLB-06, an automatic 35mm grenade launcher. Serving extensively in the Chinese military and abroad, this weapon represents the next step in the direction of a portable, lightweight, infantry grenade launcher.

Relatively new to the international armaments scene, this weapons has been featured in a few video games, such as Operation Flashpoint 2, and Jagged Alliance: Back in Action.

Metal Storm:
This is like, shock and awe got together and made a psychotic baby! Known as Metal Storm, this prototype series of weaponry uses stacked ammunition and with electrochemical ignition. Taken together, these advancements allow for an unprecedented rate of fire. In this case, we have the four barrel 40 mm cannon, which is the most powerful and fastest repeating cannon in the existence right now!

Frontlines: Fuel of War, Command & Conquer Fallout, Shadowrun, and Splinter Cell Chaos Theory and was also featured on the television show Future Weapons. A fictional, forty barrel variant was also featured on the show CSI: Miami.

Micor Defense MD 50:
Here we have yet another example of a .50 cal sniper rifle, one which is a lot bigger than it looks! Built in the US, this weapon represents a new generation is firearms technology for special forces and elite sniper units.

I have to find an example of this one showing up on the public’s radar. My apologies, sometimes they just don’t show up in time for these posts.

UC -M21:
Ever seen a submachine gun that could fold up into a suitcase? I have… once… in a movie! And it was set in a futuristic setting, making this weapon a perfect fit. Based on an earlier model known as the Ares FMG (Folding Machine Gun), this weapon was developed in the 1980’s, apparently for the personal use of politicians, wealthy businessmen, and other people who were at a high risk for kidnapping.

As I said, this gun made an appearance in a futuristic movie, known as Robocop 2. It was also featured in the anime series Full Metal Panic and the video game Perfect Dark.

XM25 IAWS:
Grenade launchers seem to be somewhat of a theme for this particular post, and this one is nothing if not futuristic! Known as the IAWS, or Individual Airburst Weapon System, this weapon was produced by the same project that created the HK XM29 OICW. A semi-automatic launcher, it is capable of firing four 25mm grenades from a bullpup box magazine that is loaded at the rear.

Thus far, the XM25 has appeared in four major first-person shooters, including Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, Metal Gear Solid 4, Battlefield Play4Free, and Modern Warfare 3.

XM307 ACSW:
Wow, were it not for Metal Storm, I’d have saved the deadliest for last. Still, the XM307 was part of the US Army’s cancelled Advanced Crew Service Weapon (ACSW) project, intended to supplement or replace existing stocks of M2 heavy machine guns and Mark 19 grenade launchers. Combining the best aspects of a machine gun with a grenade launcher, this weapon is capable of firing 25mm rounds (the same as the XM25) at a rate of 250 rounds a minute.

Thus far, the XM307 has appeared in only two videogames, Battlefield: Bad Company and Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Wow! You’d think an automatic grenade launcher would have made more of an impact. Sorry, bad pun!

Okay, third installment and still more guns to go. In the meantime, check out this video of the Metal Storm arsenal in action. It’s so cool, it’s stupid, and a little scary…

Coming soon: Video game reviews!

A short while ago, I did a review on my top ten favorite nostalgic games. I might have mentioned somewhere in there that this was an intro to a new segment I was thinking of getting into: video game reviews! Well, I’ve decided to take the plunge. In the next few weeks and months, I’d like to do full reviews on the sci-fi video games that have made an impact on me over the years, or that I’ve just taken the time to enjoy.

I’ve prepared a tentative list below and would like to know if anyone has any games they’d like to add. Keep in mind two basic criteria: One, it should be a sci-fi or fantasy game, or at least something that’s mildly futuristic (which is how I justified adding Modern Warfare to this list). And two, it needs to be something I have or will be able to get my hands on in the near future. But anything’s possible given time, so just make your suggestions and I’ll let you know if I can or can’t find it!

Thanks you and happy gaming! Expect the first reviews soon 😉 *Note that the list is a mock-up and the actual reviews need not occur in that order.

  1. Knights of the Old Republic
  2. The Sith Lords
  3. Star Wars: Force Unleashed (I and II)
  4. Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri
  5. Halo (1, 2, 3)
  6. Starcraft (and Brood War)
  7. Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty
  8. Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
  9. Modern Warfare (1, 2 and 3)
  10. AVP (2010)
  11. Wing Commander (I, II, III)
  12. Wing Commander Privateer (1 and 2)