Banned Videogames in Germany

Avatar image for nethlem
Nethlem

825

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

#1  Edited By Nethlem

Hello there!

I guess most people around follow the GB news, so this topic might sound familiar to most people with the latest bit of news on Doom:
http://www.giantbomb.com/news/17-years-after-it-was-banned-teenagers-can-now-buy-doom-in-germany/3637/


That piece has gone trough quite a bit of gaming news media by now, and sadly most english speaking news-media are getting it totaly wrong.



But i'm not here to point fingers and go "you all suck", no to the contrary. Because there is a reason many news media are getting it wrong, heck even many german gamers and small german blog's didn't get this message right at all and understood/reported it the wrong way.

The reason is simply that these whole rating, indexing, banning and regulating structures over here are so complex and far reaching between different goverment and non-goverment institutions that it's allways a huge undertaking to understand who is doing what by who's authority and for what reasons. Most german people don't even know that most of this is happening anyway or how often it's happening (that's the nice thing about censorship, you can't miss something you never knew existed in the first place, so you never notice somebody prevented you from seeing it).


Like i said, even most german gamers don't understand the situation completly, so i don't blame anyone. That's why i'm here, i want to shed some light on the situation as a gamer over here. I tried to do that at first in the comments for the article, but quickly realized that the topic is way to complex for such an small and unorganized space. So i decided to take it to the forums! It's gonna be a longer read and english is not my native language (in case you haven't notice) so either bare with me or get out now! ;)



First i'm gonna make a very bold claim: Doom has never been banned in germany.

It has been put on the "Index" and lately it has been removed from said Index, that is everything that's happened.


So what's the difference? Does stuff actually get banned in germany? What is this "Index"?



To answer these questions you have to understand that over here in germany we have all kinds of goverment institutions rating/regulating/banning different media (i guess even more so then other countries). But for now let's stick to the three worst offenders:

The USK (Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle/Entertaimentsoftware Selfregulation), which basicly rates all kinds of Software that's for entertaiment, edutaiment or similiar use. They are the ones rating our videogames over here in germany.

The FSK (Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle der Filmwirtschaft/Voluntary Self Regulation of the Movie Industry), they rate all kinds of movies over here.

And finnaly:

The BPjM (Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien/Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons) or as the english speaking internet now likes to call them "Bundesprufstelle". This one is a special one as it's a direct subordinate to the ministry of familiar affairs.


What usually happens is that when somebody wants to sell a game/movie in germany he has to get it rated. Depending on what he want's to sell he's gonna send it to the USK (Game) or the FSK (Movie) along with a fee for them rating it, i believe for games that's around 5000€. 
Now they are gonna give this game/movie one of these ratings: Ages 0+, 6+, 12+, 16+ and 18+ 
These ratings are mandatory so they can carry quite some weight, if a game/movie get's one of these it's out in the clear and it can be openly sold and advertised. A game that got an USK/FSK seal can't be banned/indexed anymore! (This is a new regulation and i'm gonna explain later why it's an good one)


Now the problem starts when the USK or FSK see something they don't like and they consider harmfull for minors, so harmfull that minors shouldn't even know it exists. Like porn... or doom.. or.. half life... 
In that case they contact the BPjM, actually basicly anybody from a goverment body/agency can contact the BPjM and go "Hey look at THIS! i think minors shouldn't be able to see that!" and the BPjM will take a look at it. At this point the game/movie is allready on an Index (there are two different ones, see we don't want to make this  too easy to understand!) it's basicly on an "Hey we know you might be evil, but we are not sure yet!" index. This is only possible when the movie/game doesn't have an USK/FSK rating yet! If it's rated, it's usually in the clear.
 
But if your product doesn't have a rating yet it will be stuck with them,  until the BPjM reviews the actual thing. Which obviously takes quite some time during that time the product hovers in an state of "Can't sell it now, maybe we can sell it later or maybe we have to trash all of it" and then the BPjM decides if it's harmfull for the youth and should be indexed (so it will be put on the real serious index) or if it's okay and can just get an USK/FSK rating of 18+ OR if the thing is actually breaking any law's that warrant an real banning.

 
If the BPjM decides the thing is "children scaring" bad but not "lawbreaking ban it" bad it's gonna be put on the "real index", so at this point the game/movie has basicly the publicity potential of an hardcore porn DVD. You are not allowed to openly sell or advertise these games/movies. You can only sell them under the counter, heck you can't even advertise that you are offering indexed games you have to depend on customers asking you about specific games. Because of that most retailers don't have indexed games at all in germany, especially not the big electronic retailers.


 
Doom has been hit by this, it has been put on the Index. And it's not just doom, it's thousands of movies and video games that are on the index. There are ways getting these games, you can import them legaly from the UK, you can buy them online and so on. But you can forget about buying any of these at an store in your city. And ordering them from an german online store comes with an hefty delivery price tag (you have to pay extra as you have to ID yourself to the guy delivering the guy). Also publishers are sometimes enforcing the censored versions on german users even when they imported the uncensored version, they also like to lock out german users from DLC for games that are on the german index (Gears of War DLC beeing a popular example).
 
It's basicly a huge load of annoying issues, but it is legal to own, buy, sell, import, export or publish these games as long as you follow the restrictions.   
Now the real fun starts when the BPjM thinks something is so bad that it's breaking law's, we have quite a few laws for these cases: 
 

 
So we got basicly everything covered, but you should take a closer look at §131 StGB, Depiction of Violence it deserves special mention because of this law most videogames get actually banned:
 

Section 131 Representation of Violence

(1) Whoever, in relation to writings (Section 11 subsection (3)), which describe cruel or otherwise inhuman acts of violence against human beings in a manner which expresses a glorification or rendering harmless of such acts of violence or which represents the cruel or inhuman aspects of the event in a manner which injures human dignity:

1. disseminates them;

2. publicly displays, posts, presents, or otherwise makes them accessible;

3. offers, gives or makes them accessible to a person under eighteen years; or

4. produces, obtains, supplies, stocks, offers, announces, commends, undertakes to import or export them, in order to use them or copies obtained from them within the meaning of numbers 1 through 3 or facilitate such use by another,

shall be punished with imprisonment for not more than one year or a fine.

(2) Whoever disseminates a presentation of the content indicated in subsection (1) by radio, shall be similarly punished.

(3) Subsections (1) and (2) shall not apply if the act serves as reporting about current or historical events.

(4) Subsection (1), number 3 shall not be applicable if the person authorized to care for the person acts.



Remember: Right now we are assuming the BPjM didn't like our game/movie and thinks it's so bad it's breaking one of these law's.
They will sent your movie/game along with an explanation to an State's Prosecutor and that guy will then decide about the fate of your product. If the judge rules against you, you might suddenly find yourself in an situation of owning a ton of german localized games/movies who's sale is actually banned in germany and will get you into jail. The problem is that everything is depending on that one judge, how HE interprets the above text and how his general opinion torwards the medium is. He might be the biggest Mario-Nerd or Grossman's little brother thinking of CoD as an "Murder Simulator". 

 
If he rules against you, your game/movie is really banned, and not just exiled to the porn stand of your local DVD joint like putting it on an index does.
But even banned games are not that "forbidden", yes you can't legaly import, buy, or sell them. Yet you are allowed to own and play them, there won't be a squad of german police special forces busting trough your window when you play Manhunt over here in germany.
At least with violent content, when it's about nazi content you can expect to get into alot of trouble, if the police is gonna find a copy of Hitler's "Mein Kampf" with you then you will get into problems. 
 
 
But these are the basics, we kinda have two different kinds of "banned" over here. The long long long long list of indexed games and the actually very short list of really banned games:
  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_banned_video_games#Germany
These games are actually banned, trying to sell them on ebay in germany can get you into ALOT of legal trouble when somebody cares enough (you also get into trouble for selling indexed games on ebay, but it's "less" trouble). Doom has never been among them, doom has only been on the Index.
 
 
 
 
Thanks for sticking around this long and reading, even tho the whole post is a complete mess. This is my first time using the GB forum editor and tbh i don't really get it yet my formating is all over the place and it looks ugly.
I still hope that people could understand and enjoy my little write up and appreciate this little insight into another culture's handling of videogames! At least i know that i'm allways interested into little insights like this.
 
Have a nice day and ask away if you want to know anything!
Avatar image for video_game_king
Video_Game_King

36564

Forum Posts

59080

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 54

User Lists: 14

#2  Edited By Video_Game_King

Wow, that's actually a pretty in-depth look at how German ratings work. At the end of the day, though, I'm glad that Germany decided to outlaw furries :P.

Avatar image for marz
Marz

6095

Forum Posts

755

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 5

User Lists: 11

#3  Edited By Marz

good read, but i always thought doom 2 was banned because of the Nazi level and it had swastikas on the wall.   Did they get a new version or something with those levels removed?

Avatar image for nethlem
Nethlem

825

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

#4  Edited By Nethlem

Haha, well it's not really about furries :D
But i'm still constantly editing, i've left out too many little details and didn't make much sense at some parts.
Hope it's a better read now (who knows how often i'm gonna end up editing this thing).
 
The real fun about this it's just scratching the surface. Many of our TV shows from the US are heavily censored, they even cut scenes out of Conan (the kid's anime show) on TV, they do that with many other anime and cartoons too.
Consumers have been trying to keep track of all the cuts, they happen on TV with movies and series. On DVD and BluRay releases (the sell you the uncut version later) and even on state financed TV (every household is forced to pay a fee for state media) when they show stuff.
But people build sites like http://www.schnittberichte.com/ (googletranslate sadly won't work?) to keep track all of this. They make detailed reports of all the differences between  the versions, pretty entertaining read often :)
 
In the beginning the website even got hosted in germany, but then the german goverment preassured them to an foreign server because of "youth protection regulations". That's how crazy this whole situation is over here...
Some crazy guys over here still believe they could rate every game on the internet to protect our youth!
 
 
It's really embrassing it the end, it's our "europäischer sonderweg" as usual, because most other EU countries are using the PEGI system. And that's imho that far superior system,
 in terms of rating games and informing consumers quickly about the kind of content inside the game. Even the ESRB does a great job! Just our german special system totaly sucks... we could do with the removal of the BPjM and less harsh ratings on games in general.
This is happening right now with games like DNF and GoW3 getting released uncensored. I guess there's finally some lobby money finding it's way to the right people!
 
@Marz:  It could be that it just slipped trough, because when these games end up on the index it's been really difficult to get any kind of information about them back then (internet not been what it's today). So nobody filed a complaint, in addition the ratings/index/banning system worked differently back then to a certain degree. Or maybe me and the wikipedia article are full of shit and Doom2 is actually banned as in "Beschlagnahmt" because of these levels, haven't bothered to google it yet ;)

Avatar image for lazyturtle
lazyturtle

1301

Forum Posts

79

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 7

User Lists: 1

#5  Edited By lazyturtle

Wow..and people in the USA bitch about our bureaucracy...

Avatar image for grumbel
Grumbel

1010

Forum Posts

12

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 96

User Lists: 2

#6  Edited By Grumbel
@lazyturtle said:

Wow..and people in the USA bitch about our bureaucracy...

In practice it's really not that different. The major difference is simply that German rules are enforced by law, while American rules are enforced by the retailers/console makers. Another big difference is that Germans are more strict on violent and less strict on nudity. Thus for example we got the uncensored version of Fahrenheit and nobody cared about GTA Hot Coffee thing,  while the US had to censored to avoid AO rating. There are of course much more games with violence then with nudity issues, thus you see much more censorship over here in Germany then the US. That aside it's essentially boils down to this:
 
  • USK  does what the ESRB does in the US
  • An AO rating has similar consequences as getting a game indexed in Germany (i.e. can't sell it in the regular places and not publish it on a console), thus everybody tries to avoid that rating
  • full banning exist in Germany, but is rarely used for regular games and media (i.e. mostly just for Nazi stuff with a few exceptions such as Dead Rising 1)
BTW: Something people like to forget: Banning isn't a German-only thing, it exist in the USA as well and is used for material decided to be "obscene" (see Max Hardcore). Also regular porn in the US is regulated by the law, not just by the retailers.
Avatar image for nethlem
Nethlem

825

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

#7  Edited By Nethlem

Great points Grumbel! I really would have liked to add something along these lines of "these laws might sounds strange, but most western countries have similiar laws in some way" to the law part because it's true.
We germans are just special with § 131StGB and the violence part, also switzerland recently passed an similiar law afaik.
 
But many countries "censor" to a certain degree and have strange worded law's to help them with it...

Avatar image for lazyturtle
lazyturtle

1301

Forum Posts

79

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 7

User Lists: 1

#8  Edited By lazyturtle
@Grumbel said:
In practice it's really not that different. The major difference is simply that German rules are enforced by law, while American rules are enforced by the retailers/console makers.
This is what makes it truly different. You could make an unrated game with any content you want (I think the Max Force thing was child porn). You might have trouble distributing it, but you could make it and sell it. The rating agency is also a private corporation who can set arbitrary rules (watch This Film is Not Yet Rated for more info), whereas you've got a government agency..they've got specific, and more important CLEAR rules. 
  
I mean the end result is the same, though as you said we're more anti-sex and Europeans are more anti-violence.
Avatar image for grumbel
Grumbel

1010

Forum Posts

12

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 96

User Lists: 2

#9  Edited By Grumbel