While game developers have to deal with legal issues all the time, it’s usually not because they have violated the Geneva Conventions. But that’s just what Introversion, the developers behind Prison Architect, recently found out they’d accidentally done.
You know that red cross you see on all the health packs in countless action games? It turns out that’s not just a generic symbol. Use of that symbol is protected by the International Committee of the Red Cross, a 150-year-old organization under the Geneva Conventions. You know, the one movies are always referencing whenever a power-hungry villain wants to do something inhuman.
Introversion received an email from the British Red Cross notifying them of their violation of the convention, as reported by PC Gamer:
“My immediate reason for writing is that it has been brought to our attention that in your game ‘Prison Architect’ a red cross emblem is displayed on vehicles,” it reads. “Those responsible may be unaware that use of the red cross emblem is restricted under the Geneva Conventions for the Protection of War Victims of 12 August 1949, and that unauthorised use of this sign in the United Kingdom is an offence under the Geneva Conventions Act 1957.”
In a way, Introversion’s violation shows just how effective the Red Cross’ use and management of the symbol has been through the years.
It’s everywhere you look
“In my mind… the red cross is the universal symbol for health packs… anything to do with healing in video games,” said Chris Delay of Introversion while speaking to PC Gamer. “I’m sure there are red crosses on Doom health packs from 20 years ago.”
Delay’s not alone – just about any gamer would think the same thing, as would just about anyone in western culture. The red cross means healing, safety, and medical attention. It’s an instant point of recognition for billions of people.
When designers are creating video games, they have to communicate tons of information to players very quickly. We need to be able to identify small objects on the screen in the blink of an eye. Designers use common symbols to connect their game to information we already know. Dollar signs and gold coins are money. Red barrels are explosive.
Unfortunately, some of the most common symbols are trademarked, and the Red Cross just happens to be one of them. Dozens of games use the red cross symbol, so it’s a bit weird that Prison Architecht, a relatively small game compared to some other violators was called out. PC Gamer notes, though, that in the United Kingdom, where Introversion is based, the Geneva Conventions are incorporated into British law. It may simply be easier to go after Introversion than it is those other companies.