It is one of those headlines that makes you stop and read again, is it not? After all, surely nobody is really suggesting that if you partake in an act of virtual violence within the digital realm of a video game that you should pay a very real world penalty and spend time in prison.
Well, actually, politicians in the Bavarian and Lower Saxony state governments within Germany are not only suggesting exactly that, but have drafted a new proposed law to cover the offence of, and I kid ye not, “cruel violence on humans or human looking characters’ within a video game.
Whether you are ‘promoting’ or ‘enacting’ such violence matters not, both players and programmers alike are covered by this draft, or should that be daft, proposal which could see the a punishment of as much as 12 months in jail for those found guilty.
As usual, it was a tragic incident that has been jumped upon for political gain that is at the heart of this, frankly, silly suggestion for a change in the law. Last month an 18 year old, self-confessed video-games fanatic called Sebastian Bosse stormed into his old school and, well perhaps all too predictably went postal and shot a 11 people (none fatally, thankfully) before turning the gun on himself in the small town of Emsdetten. Tragic enough in itself, but more so when a politician, in this case the Bavarian interior minister one Gunther Beckstein, seizes upon the tragedy and makes political capital from a statement saying that Bosse’s obsession with Counter Strike was behind the attack “it is absolutely beyond any doubt that such killer games desensitise unstable characters and can have a stimulating effect" were Beckstein’s exact words.
Yet nothing could be further from the truth, because it is absolutely in doubt as to whether such games lead directly to acts of real world violence. There has been no scientific research study, as opposed to research with an agenda, that shows such a link. And anyway, Germany is amongst the most draconian of countries when it comes to video game censorship laws already. In 2003, following another school shooting, the law was amended to ensure that games published in Germany had a lower level of violence than European or American versions.
Indeed, Counter Strike itself falls under this law and unlike the game that I have played here in the UK, if you play within German borders there is no blood to be seen gushing from bullet holes when wounded, there are no victims collapsing – they fade away instead. So the whole immersion in graphic representations of violence drives real world action theory would seem to be, if you will excuse the analogy, blown away before we start. Quite how banning first person shooters, beat ‘em ups and the like will solve the problem of an increasingly violent culture is beyond me.
Yet after that last shooting, public opinion has turned against violent video games in Germany, with 72% of people blaming it upon violent gaming, and 59% saying they would support a total ban on such games. No wonder, then, that the politicians have picked up on this knee-jerk reaction and are exploiting it for all it is worth.
Perhaps these people should be concentrating their anger and efforts on those games where there is a political or religious message behind the violence, which might suggest a more worrying trend and one that is far more likely to influence a young mind to go out and do the same than kicking some fictitious opposing army butt. Games such as Under Siege which puts Muslims in the position of the good guys, killing Western invaders. Games such as Left Behind: Eternal Forces where a ‘Christian’ defence force utters such things as ‘Praise the Lord’ before killing opponents and where health can be restored by prayer following a kill. Sure, graphical representations of violence may well be less than in Counter Strike, but that game does not come compete with religious instruction telling you that it is OK to kill. Counter Strike cannot be mistaken for anything other than entertainment, sick entertainment if you like but nothing more.
Now any game that glorifies religious violence, no matter which side of the religious fence you happen to sit, has to be a bad thing and one would have thought was much closer to home in Germany than many other countries given the whole post-holocaust rebuilding of the nation.