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:
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.
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:
- Use of symbols of unconstitutional organizations: § 86a StGB
- Insulting the state and its symbols: § 90a StGB
- Sedition: § 130 StGB
- Incite to Crime: Penal Code § 130a
- Depiction of violence: § 131 StGB
- Dissemination of violence or animal pornographic publications: § 184a StGB
- Dissemination, acquisition and possession of child pornographic publications: § 184b StGB
- Insult: § 185 StGB
- Slander: § 187 StGB
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:
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!