Despite this, the view that violent videogames were a key contributor to this tragedy is far from limited to the Aktionsbündnis Amoklauf Winnenden in Germany. Following the Winnenden shooting a number of retailers stopped stocking 18+ games as a socio-political statement, without any legal imperative to do so. Then, in June 2009, Germany's interior ministers proposed a ban on all violent videogames to be discussed in the Bundestag. Was this an act of political point-scoring in the aftermath of a tragedy? Perhaps. But the strength and spread of Germany's antagonism towards violent videogames is more powerful and enduring than mere electioneering allows for.
While American gamers have grown used to camera-hungry hysterics clambering over one another to draw causal links between school homicide and videogames, in Germany the anti-videogame movement has a more pervasive, persuasive tone. And this reveals itself in the countries' complex age rating system, which goes further than any other to ensure that unsuitable videogames don't get into the hands of unsuitable players. So with such strict controls in place, why the public hand-wringing? Is it mere misguided accusation, or is there a tenable failing in the system?
Age of Consent
With not one but three tiers of adult classification for violent videogames and movies, Germany's age-rating system demands some explanation. Here's Wolters to clarify: "Games submitted to the USK, which are deemed able to affect the growth of young people, receive an 18+ certificate. These titles can be advertised anywhere and sold openly in any shop to adults. The game might be entirely uncut (as for example with GTAIV), or it may have been cut to a certain degree to secure the rating.
"Next we have games that are deemed able to endanger the growth of children. These are denied an age rating and, in most cases, indexed by the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons (BPjM). Games without a rating may not be advertised, reviewed, or displayed openly in shops. However, it is entirely legal to publish them, to sell them and to buy them in Germany, usually from under the counter.
"In addition to these two tiers of adult videogame, there's a third category, those that include 'horrible or inhuman violence against humans in terms of § 131 of the German criminal code'. These titles, such as Manhunt and Condemned, are fully banned from public availablity. While possession of these prohibited games is not punishable, their distribution, public display or sale can result in a prison sentence."
To outsiders this can seem like a convoluted system, adult games distinguished from one another by fuzzy boundaries that will no doubt cause yet more confusion to onlookers. For example, how on earth does the USK distinguish between a violent game that can adversely affect the growth or young person and one that endangers healthy development? "These undefined legal concepts have to be interpreted by the consultants during the evaluation of the game," agrees Wolters. "During this evaluation the game is judged in its entirety and we'll then approach the game's publisher with a list of the problematic scenes in order to give them a chance to edit them in the hope of securing an 18+ rating. Many publishers will try to do this as indexed games are prohibited from advertising, review and public display, and are only saleable on the quiet."