The developers at Introversion Software were recently contacted by the British Red Cross over their illegal use of, you guessed it, a red cross symbol over a white background. It turns out that not only did the studio unknowingly break British law, they accidentally violated the Geneva Conventions.
It turns out that the widely used red cross symbol isn’t public domain after all, and its use is actually controlled by the International Committee of the Red Cross. According to a recent PC Gamer report, the committee made this very clear to the development team:
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. 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.
The reason for this strict control is that the red cross emblem is an internationally agreed symbol of protection during armed conflicts. 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.
If the red cross emblem or similar signs are used for other purposes, no matter how beneficial or inconsequential they may seem, the special significance of the emblem will be diminished. The red cross emblem or similar designs are not general signs of ambulances, health care, first aid, the nursing or medical profession, or similar matters. Moreover, they are not signs to be used for commercial purposes, such as for advertising campaigns or on products.
The developers’ reaction was predictably quite an annoyed one, as they were forced to update the game to remove the apparently improper use of the symbol.
Back in their Halo days, Destiny development studio Bungie implemented a similar symbol swap after using the red cross on Halo: Combat Evolved’s health packs, opting to use a red capital ‘H’ from Halo 2 onward.
Listen to Mark Morris and Chris Delay of Introversion Software explaining their slip-up in the video below.