Applying the Geneva Conventions to First Person Shooters?

esrbmI found this post from boingboing.net fascinating.  Long story short: A dad made an agreement with his son, that the son could play Call of Duty as long as he (and everyone on his team) promised to follow the Geneva Conventions in the course of game play.

I think it’s an example of a great parenting paired with a misunderstanding of how video games are played online.  On the plus side, this dad was able to tie his son’s gaming interest to a current issue of societal importance.  On the negative side, the agreement mischaracterizes the amount of control an individual playing the game actually has.

As a frequent player of the multiplayer versions of both Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: World at War, I can’t think of any instances where the Geneva Conventions would apply.  Your opponents are always armed, and a potential threat.  There is no opportunity in the game to take prisoners.  There are no civilians present.  Like many first person shooter games, there is no great moral complexity.  You either shoot at the enemy, or you get shot by the enemy. 

In the single player version of the game there are several cut scenes where game characters DO violate the Geneva conventions.  However, as a player, you have no ability to control how these scenes play out.  The games are rated “M” for Mature.

Reading this post, and the accompanying comments, brings out some really interesting questions.  How can parents get more involved in their children’s gaming hobby?  What can parents do to prepare their children for the rough and tumble world of the Internet and services like Xbox Live, where anonymous people can (and do) say hateful, offensive things?  As games become more rich in storytelling and more realistic visually, how can game developers use the medium to explore moral quandaries and decision making during game play?

~ by Mike on March 3, 2009.

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