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When Inversion Games created Prison Architect, they knew that they were making a controversial game. In Prison Architect, you create your own prison and set your own rules that the prisoners have to follow. While this may glorify the failings of the prison system across developed nations, they weren’t expecting a notification from Red Cross, of all places, that they were violating the Geneva Conventions. Red Cross’s issue with the game is that the were improperly using a tiny, five-pixel red cross on the hoods of ambulances and on backpacks of paramedics; the red cross is an internationally protected symbol.
Developers Mark Morris and Chris Delay received an email from the British Red Cross about their improper use of the red cross system.
“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.”
Prior to receiving the email, neither Delay nor Morris believed they were breaking a law, one that is very serious.
“In my mind that the red cross is the universal symbol for health packs and health add-ons—anything to do with healing in video games,” Delay says. “I’m sure there are red crosses on Doom health packs from 20 years ago.”
The email then explained how Delay and Marks were breaking the law.
“The reason for this strict control is that the red cross emblem is an internationally agreed symbol of protection during armed conflicts,” the email continues. “It is used to safeguard the wounded and sick and those who seek to help them in a totally neutral and impartial way, and can save lives.”
Introversion Games wasn’t the first developer to draw attention from the Red Cross. In 2006, David Pratt of the Canadian Red Cross sent a letter to a law firm representing video game developers about the misuse of the Red Cross symbol.
“Our philosophy is that there’s no emblem abuse that’s too small to report because you have to try to get them all, which is a practically impossible task—but one thing we saw with the video games industry is that it has a huge reach, especially with young people,” Pratt said in an interview with Shacknews.
Delay and Marks made a quick fix of the situation: they turned the cross from red to green, which took all of five seconds.
“It’s not worth taking the stand,” Morris said. “You have to pick your battles.”