One of the developers of the military sim Arma has commented on the Red Cross’ recent criticism regarding realism in video games.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) recently announced in a release titled ‘Video games and the law of war’ that it had begun to work with developers to more accurately depict military conflicts.
The organisation’s aim is to halt what it sees as the possible trivialisation of serious matters, such as war crimes and “the law of armed conflict.”
“Games should include virtual consequences for people's actions and decisions. Gamers should be rewarded for respecting the law of armed conflict and there should be virtual penalties for serious violations of the law of armed conflict, in other words war crimes,” stated the post.
"The rules on the use of force in armed conflict should be applied to video games that portray realistic battlefield scenes, in the same way that the laws of physics are applied.”
One of the developers that the ICRC is working with is Bohemia Interactive, known for the highly realistic military simulator game series Operation Flashpoint and Arma. The latest iteration of Arma – Arma 3 – was recently released on PC.
Ivan Buchta, one of the developers at Bohemia, told PCR that for many developers the absence of the rules of military engagement can be due to the extra time and monetary costs.
“The necessity to keep the rules simple and avoid adding extra features may arise from design decisions as well as from production needs: adding extra rules means a lot more work for the dev team and QA,” Buchta explained.
“This increases the costs, thus the developers tend to avoid inventing extra obstacles standing between them and a completed game.”
Even Arma, considered by many gamers to be one of the most realistic depictions of battlefield combat available, has to restrain from complete realism in order to keep players interested.
“Of course we do [have] many compromises, and I dare say that every feature in the Arma series is abstracted and simplified,” said Buchta.
“Obviously, there are several reasons for that: the player should ‘have fun’ without rigorous military training, the engine has technological limits and we don't have an unlimited amount of time and manpower to fully simulate all aspects of reality.”
“Instead, we focus on the authentic experience and provide gamers with streamlined tools to have the fun they seek, which still means hundreds of features we need to address in our development.”
Richard Barclay, Head of Marketing at Excalibur Publishing, which has published the war games Korea: Theatre of War 3 and IL-2 Sturmovik, agreed with Buchta’s comments that players might struggle to find enjoyment in a fully realistic experience.
"I suppose in real terms if you’re looking to provide a play experience that's as realistic as possible, then possibly [you would look to introduce what the ICRC is suggesting], but then you could do a lot of other things to make the experience more realistic, none of which are particularly nice," he said.
Discussing the difficulty of implementing the ICRC’s proposed additions, Buchta added that one of the ICRC’s main criticisms – that civilians are often absent from virtual combat scenarios, while in reality battles can take place across crowded cities and areas – may struggle to be resolved until technology could provide the resources necessary.
“Every AI entity including civilians is simulated, therefore we [have already] had to come up with scenario scripting techniques in order to make sandbox-oriented missions run more efficiently,” he said.
“[Though] we are far from handling hundreds of combatants and thousands of non-combatants as in real life, the idea of involving more focus on collateral damage and adequate use of force in our gameplay is tempting, and Arma 3 can definitely deliver a convincing abstraction of what might happen in real life.”