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Splinter Cell
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Violence? No, thanks!
Counter-StrikeIt can be considered a tragedy by itself that politicians and associations only fall into a state of blind activism when it's basically too late. Nearly two months have passed since the events took place in Erfurt, two months that were marked by a heated discussion about violence in the media and particularly in computer games. On their desperate hunt for the triggering effect in Robert Steinhaeuser's life, it came in handy for the politicians - especially during their election campaign - that the action game Counter-Strike was found on his hard drive. That could certainly be no coincidence, and almost immediately newspapers and TV channels brought far-fetched reports on "killer games" in which blood flowed freely and innocent civilians fell prey to the slaughtering PC gamer - who cares for reality? It's surprising enough that, despite such fairy tales and increasing pressure from politicians, the German authority "Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Schriften" (BpjS) kept a level head and didn't ban the popular Counter-Strike on 16 May, 2002.
The politicians:
Quake 3 ArenaThe German chancellor thought it the completely wrong signal not to ban Counter-Strike, but when asked by GameStar what game he had played last, he walked away without giving a comment. It is this very ignorance of most politicians with regard to the issue they have to decide about that is met with mounting outrage by gamers. Once more, they are turned into the nation's scapegoats, as if playing alone sparks off their innate criminal energies. But also scientists and sociologists cannot come to an agreement whether extensive gaming leads to brutalization and social isolation, or enhances the player's cognitive abilities. However, there are more and more voices from politicians and economists alike that remind everyone involved of giving the issue a more differentiated approach. It would be pointless to blame computer games alone for the events unfolding in Erfurt, since also aspects such as social environment or education need to be taken into account. And many conceded that the television and most notably the news showed horror pictures even during the afternoon hours that exceeded an appropiate level for children.
The economy:
Max PayneThe latest amendment of the law for the protection of the youth puts computer games on a par with other media like videos, requiring them to be rated before they can be released. The BpjS will be given more responsibilities, and even for media not officially banned but which shed a positive light on war-like or violent actions, advertising and selling becomes increasingly difficult. Games specially customized for the German market are likely to become the rule rather than an exception - or they won't be published at all like the German version of Max Payne. It's all the more astonishing, therefore, that the Bertelsmann AG has now announced to take all sorts of violent games out of their portfolio, the tightened laws notwithstanding. As managing director Thomas Middelhof said, he felt a "deep-rooted dislike" of all games that rewarded killing as success, although he knew about the economic potential of this genre. He also promoted an initiative of media, parents and teachers alike against the display of violence, while pointing out the problems the Internet causes in this context as a uncontrollable source for violent games and rabble-rousing music.
The message:
NOLF 2If you like, you can view Bertelsmann's decision as some sort of altruistic step to make the world a better place, but it's more likely a different way of making PR. Apart from the delicate task of categorising the games as ourtight violent and still acceptable, such actions can only lead to tangible results if all software dealers agree to take the same measures. But if they aren't bound to do so by the law, such uniformity will remain an illusion - maybe luckily so, with the border between protection of the youth and censorship blurring. What's more, it seems somewhat ironic that Bertelsmann, of all companies, wants to embark on an initiative against the display of violence, since it was the privately owned channel RTL (which belongs to the Bertelsmann group) that was one of the first to televise a so-called re-enactment of the Erfurt events...
What should be taken into consideration is that only one quarter of all published games can be allocated to the action genre, with merely a fraction belonging to the sub-genre of first-person shooters. Much ado about nothing, therefore? It would seem so, at least where the vast majority of the peacefully playing gaming community is concerned. Protection of the youth is undoubtedly a good thing, but neither politicians nor economists seem to have a premade solution up their sleeves. Maybe the current debate helps, though, to spread responsibilty to other kinds of media as well, such as television, music or newspapers, even though we will have to wait until after the federal elections this September before discussing the issue in a more sophisticated manner. Until then, we will have to endure more than one rash outcry from politicians. But crying out loud does not necessarily mean that you're right.
© 06-28-2002 by CE