Bringing the battlefield into the classroom: using video games to teach and assess international humanitarian law

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The graphic and widespread atrocities committed during conflicts around the world and broadcast across 24/7 news and social media has made war never feel so close and the powerlessness of law so real. This raises difficulties in engaging students in real-life decision-making quadaries where military necessity meets legalism, as well as fundamental ethical questions about the use of realistic, yet explicit, imagery in the classroom. Governments are increasingly turning to military simulations to safely transfer knowledge and skills to their cadets. Virtual simulations can enable students to develop new real-time skills and responsibility to resolve challenging scenarios in light of the rules of international humanitarian law.

The School of Law at Queen’s University Belfast has developed a series of innovative computer scenarios based on the Arma3 open world tactical war simulator. To bring the battlefield into the classroom, we have developed a detailed fictional internal armed conflict between the Government forces of the island of Altis and a non-state armed group, overseen by UN peacekeepers and civilian humanitarian agencies. A variety of formative scenarios (addressing issues such as cluster munitions and landmines) were developed to familiarise the students with the factual scenario and the computer technology. Subsequently, students engaged in a summative assessment based teaching their legal understanding in the face of increasingly challenging conflict situations, in particular grey-zones where legal argument can justify seeming morally wrongful acts during war.

This paper discusses our use of computer-based learning for students for IHL, and for them to experience the messy and challenging reality of real-time responses to humanitarian legal dilemmas, within the confines of a safe and respectful learning platform. This paper examines both the learning objectives of this project, and the project development cycle – from the initial proposal to its implementation in class, as well as positing the benefits and drawbacks in integrating technology and games into the legal teaching environment, reflecting on the emerging and traditional pedogology in this area.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalThe Law Teacher
Early online date10 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • International Humanitarian Law, Pedagogy, Technology


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