I am a war criminal. I have played video games.
Two human rights organizations have conducted a study of video games. Do video games that simulate war allow players to commit war crimes? Can players kill civilians? Torture enemy units? Destroy property?
Their conclusion? War video games allow their players to commit war crimes.
The study condemned the games for violating laws by letting players kill civilians, torture captives and wantonly destroy homes and buildings.
In particular, the testers looked for how combatants who surrendered were treated, what happened to citizens caught up in war zones and whether damage to buildings was proportionate.
Some games did punish the killing of civilians and reward strategies that tried to limit the damage the conflict, said the study.
However, it said, many others allowed “protected objects” such as churches and mosques to be attacked; some depicted interrogations that involved torture or degradation and a few permitted summary executions.
Unfortunately, the human rights groups played only first-person shooters. The strategy games — like Civilization, like Age of Empires, like Rise of Nations — weren’t tested.
However, I can say from long experience with these games that I’m a Pol Pot. A Stalin. A Mao. I commit war crimes on a semi-frequent basis, as any of my after-action reports for Age of Empires III will attest.
I have wantonly killed civilians.
I have destroyed churches and mosques with impunity; I once laid siege to a town center in Age of Empires II so I could destroy the enemy’s church and take his relic, it was a battle like a medieval Stalingrad, and I had such a sense of satisfaction when his church fell and my squad of monks rushed in to grab the relic amidst the carnage.
I have refused my opponents’ surrenders, just so I can kill more of his units and destroy more of his infrastructure.
Torture? I can’t say I’ve ever tortured anyone in an Age of Empires game. No point, really.
I have dropped nukes in Civ, though. I have turned my enemies into radioactive glass. And I’ve liked it.
Killing civilians, razing towns to the ground, disproportionate warfare — these are all part-and-parcel of a strategy game. Of winning a strategy game. It doesn’t matter what you’re playing. It can be WarCraft or Command & Conquer.
Have I wished, at times, for other methods to win? Yes. I have.
But I also have to fight the war at hand. I am a cruel general. War is hell. I am a war criminal.