Photo/IllutrationStudents play a war simulation game during a class at Osaka University of Economics and Law in Yao, Osaka Prefecture, in May. (Hiroyuki Maegawa)

  • Photo/Illustraion

YAO, Osaka Prefecture--In this war simulation, running and gunning won't be enough, and an attack on a civilian means "game over."

The Osaka University of Economics and Law here unleashed 18 juniors on a simulated battlefield in late May to teach them international rules of engagement.

The international law seminar, incorporating a computer game called "Arma3 Laws of War," is designed to have students think about the meaning of humanitarian laws established by the international community through great sacrifices.

Laws that apply to international combat, such as prohibitions on attacking civilians or injured enemy combatants, are reflected in the game.

The title was produced by Bohemia Interactive, a European game maker based mainly in the Czech Republic, and was overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), headquartered in Geneva.

The ICRC focused on the fact that the gaming population has reached 1.8 billion people around the world, a quarter of the human population. After forming a special team, including former soldiers, in 2012, it urged game companies to produce a title that reflected the fact that war crimes are punished in the real world and Bohemia Interactive responded to the request.

The ICRC praised the result, saying it is significant for gamers to become aware of international humanitarian laws, such as activities that are forbidden, by receiving penalties in the game.

According to the ICRC, the international humanitarian law is a set of rules that seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. It spells out the protection of persons who are not or are no longer involved in hostilities, treatment of prisoners of war, and restricts the means and methods of warfare.

"This game does well to raise awareness of international humanitarian laws," said Keisuke Minai, 33, an assistant professor of the university who runs the seminar and specializes in armed conflict law.

Rina Higuchi, 21, a student who participated in the seminar, said: “I enjoy the game, but I can play it because I'm in a classroom in a peaceful country like Japan.

"I was made to think about the law, as I learned that civilians are not eligible for protection if they are armed," she added, citing the conflict in Syria as an example.

Minai stressed the importance of learning about the existence of international rules of engagement.

"Some people may think that you can do anything in war because there are no rules, but that's not true," he said. "Japanese people tend to think war is a matter for other countries to deal with because Japan is peaceful now. But it is important for Japanese students to learn about international humanitarian laws created through tremendous sacrifices."

Minai spent time interviewing students who attended the seminar last year. He found that those who could imagine real-life battle situations and feel sympathy toward soldiers through the game were able to better understand humanitarian laws. His paper on the subject will appear in a professional journal to be published by the Cornell University law school this year.