Tobold's Blog
Sunday, August 09, 2009
Video games in German politics

A reader asked me to comment on the talk Dr. Richard Bartle did *not* hold at the Games Convention Online in Leipzig recently, and which he posted on his blog instead. It is a very sensible talk. But as you probably haven't followed German politics much, you might need some explanation of context.

In the last few years in Germany there have been two major school shooting incidents, in Erfurt and Winnenden. Both were committed by adolescent male students. Both students were players of shooter games, most notably Counterstrike. So in their usual brilliance a lot of German politicians came to the conclusion that "guns don't kill people, video games kill people", and proposed a general ban on "killer games" in Germany. Germany already has one of the world's strictest laws on depiction of violence in video games, with games regularly getting a less violent version for the German market, removing decapitation scenes and coloring blood green. There are also strict age restriction rules. But the politician's proposal is to completely ban first person shooters. In parallel to this there is a discussion in Germany on whether games like World of Warcraft are too addictive, should be restricted to adults, and should carry warning labels on the box, like cigarette boxes.

So, would Dr. Richard Bartle have been able to influence that discussion, if he had only been able to give that talk "to a room full of German politicians and journalists"? I don't think so. He just would have been the wrong man in the wrong venue to make a difference. Bartle being pro video games at the Games Convention Online would have made about as much of a splash as the pope announcing he is pro life at a catholic bishop's conference. The people you'd need to convince simply wouldn't have been present, and just would have ignored the news. His claim to fame (in his words) "I co-wrote the first of these [MMOs] back in 1978" means everyone can correctly predict his stance on the issue, and is thus likely to take his stance on it for granted.

In the end, the game that had a positive influence on German politics on video games turned out to be WAR, not MUD. The government responsible for politics on drugs and addiction had organized a conference in Berlin to talk about addiction from the internet and computer games. The issue of games like World of Warcraft are so addictive that legal measures have to be taken to protect the populace against them was discussed. Games company representatives were invited, but Blizzard didn't attend. So it was a public relations speaker of EA who ended up having the big influence, with an argument whose logic even politicians could follow: You can't predict whether a game will be so successful that it causes mass addiction on a scale like World of Warcraft. In a refreshing bout of honesty EA said that they did try to make a game as successful as WoW with WAR, by copying many of its elements, but it was a "glorious failure" (his words). Warhammer Online addiction is obviously not a big problem in Germany or elsewhere, so restricting access or putting warning labels on the game would have been useless.
Yes, on the whole this is a fair assessment. I saw my role as adding one more weight to the pro-games side of the scales, which while it wouldn't tip them in itself could perhaps have contributed modestly to the outcome.

In any case, I fell out of favour with German politicians last year when, sitting on a panel next to an MP before an audience containing several others, I told her that her idea to fund "good" games was only of propaganda value and would not result in games that were "good" in either sense of the word. They weren't so happy with me after that...

>His claim to fame (in his words) "I co-wrote the first of these [MMOs] back in 1978" means everyone can correctly predict his stance on the issue

Not necessarily. Do you know what Roy Trubshaw's views on the subject are?

Predictable: the pavlovian kneejerk of certain groups within the powers that be, connecting real-life violence to fictional/simulated violence in whatever medium, in order to facilitate their own agenda. Almost always combined with a horrifically patronising attitude, of which you would think/hope it died somewhere in the last century (when the chairman of the British filmcensors said it was OK for you and me to watch a certain film, but what about Joe Average?). Instead it seems to be back with a vengeance...
About video game violence; there was an episode of Penn & Teller Bullshit aired in the US recently which was quite interesting. It was on Youtube for a short while in better quality but was removed quickly. Now all I could find was this low quality version, still good to watch though:

In short, there is according to that show no real connection between game violence and real world violence.

Trust me, if you are at all interested in the game violence debate watch it.
I think a game considered as a flop that still has thousands of subscribers and is turning a profit most of us could only dream of does qualify as a "glorious" failure :).
I can't help but wonder why all those "concerned" politicians never seem to sturcturally work atstatisticaly defining what constiutes gaming addiction or collect real data regarding the effects of gaming rather than ride the waves of emotion after admittedly horrible incidents.
I think most politicians are used to "experts" having a vested interest.

Certainly here in the UK a discussion of whether sweets are bad for your teeth is likely to have a spokesperson from the British Dentists' Association and a spokesperson from a sugar company both of whom are professional PR people paid to be convincingly biased.

It's a major part of political life in democracy that many of the people at the heart of the political system are being paid to push some particular viewpoint.
Its funny that in the UK we dont see these arguments that often about random gun killings, is it because all our politicians are pyscho's or is it that since the banning of buying handguns in the UK after the shootings in Dunblane, there hasnt been another random shooting spree as we see elsewere. This isnt to say there isn't gun violence but its mainly to do with crime. Hence the politians dont have random shootings to blame on video games, but instead they blame them for all the knive crime :) i wonder what they would blame next if we then ban all knives?
I think politicians everywhere are eager to jump on the bandwagon of blaming video games (or anything else) as the cause for bad things. If you think about it, politicians are the exact people who claim that their policies will help people, and make life better.

If there is still crime/murder/violence in society, it must be caused by things that they can't give them the power to control video games and whatever else, so that they can fix it. It has less to do with them actually believing that some kid played too much Counterstrike and decided to go and shoot some people, and more to do with using the act of violence as a springboard to give them more power, albeit over video games.

As to whether video games make you violent, its a common misuse of logic. Of course they don't turn a child into a cold-blooded murderer.

But a cold-blooded murderer may gravitate towards violent games where they can, in a way, act out their already existent violent tendencies. Reactionaries are just going to, incorrectly, point out that the kid played a game that involved guns, and that the kid ultimately used guns, as if one caused the other.

They always ignore the millions of people who play violent video games who would never do the same thing. Why? Because it doesn't generate news or get attention.
I wonder if I go buy a Katana and murder every single small wildlife creature outside my house, Will a politician blame that on my addiction to FF11? Since I'm reenacting what my Samurai does?

Ultimately it falls upon the individual for making the choice to pick up a gun and kill people. Ive heard this same sorry excuse for years, and whats funny, is the people I know who are most violent don't TOUCH video games... (just my experience.
Living in a Muslim country in South East Asia, there's already alot of censorship of games, videos, movies, internet and even in magazines like Times, Newsweek (black marker pens!!).

Having visited Germany many times, there's more violence on TV than there are in video games. Probably more than I care to look at.

Targetting video games doesn't fix the main problem i.e. parents bringing up their kids. -_-
I read on gamepolitics that crytek was going to leave if the violent games ban was passed.

Isn't this the same country that is famous for shiza porn and public nudity? Not trying to be snarky but I don't think that Germany should hold the moral majority on video games.

I would like to see them strip the video game selection of all the games that contain killing, shooting, stabbing, smacking, blowing up, jumping on top of, dropping something on top of and kicking.

Time to bring back pong.
Isn't this the same country that is famous for ... porn and public nudity?

Actually it is the US who is the world's biggest producer and consumer of porn. But you are right that things like nudist beaches and topless sunbathing even in a city park are more acceptable in Germany than in the US. And while extreme violence is banned from TV, soft porn can be shown at late hours.

Of course that is a huge and very different discussion which is more harmful for children: Showing sex or showing violence. German public opinion is that while you should keep both away from young children, at some point during adolescense children should learn about sex. After all, parents generally *do* want their children to have sex at some future point in their lives, but they probably *don't* want their children to kill anyone at any time.
Well, gun violence was around long before video games. Too often, politicans forget to analyze what is the cause and what is the effect. Violent people may be predisposed to play violent games but not all players of violent games are violent people.

Politicans are concerned with image and the idea of "doing something" to make a change for "progress". As most of them are lawyers, their idea of fixing problems is to legislate the fixes. However, banning or forcing changes on violent games will only reduce market share and not crime, due to the lack of cause and effect being properly identified, as noted above.

Problems with violence are usually rooted in an individual lacking social supports and choosing violent solutions to their problems. A more correct response from German politicians should be to foster community and family support (more in step with treating the cause) of all individuals to ensure none is left to their own violent means.

But for them to do that, it would require wholesale cultural change and undertaking a long process without quick, tangible results. Rather than let their image suffer in the long run, they choose a scapegoat (the gaming industry) for political expediency. Problem solved...not!
Actually Tobold, you are correct, this is about young children. And I do agree that impressionable young minds should be "protected" to some degree.

In the US we slap labels on things and leave it up to the parents to govern what content they buy for their children. Why can't the Germans use the same method?

Banning violent games will be as effective as the prohibition was in the 1920's-30's.

I do not disagree with their reasoning, I disagree with their methods. But I do like your post, thanks for taking the time to answer Tobold.
Oh, there are labels on the boxes, just like in the US. Problem is that both violent video games and porn are increasingly distributed via the internet, often in the form of pirated copies. There are no warning labels on Bittorrent, and if there were, they would just raise interest.
Some of the worst acts of violence were committed over a thousand years ago. In fact I'd argue video games decrease violence, because you are taking out your aggression on the game, rather then in real life. Probably violent people flock to violent games (naturally).
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