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German angst in the run up to Gamescom

Christoph Holowaty looks at local media outrage surrounding this week's Gamescom conference

With all eyes focused on Gamescom this week, editor of Germany, Christoph Holowaty, takes a look at the nation's anxiety over violent content, and the local media's reaction to the glorification of war at Europe's biggest video game fair.

Hysteria is an interesting, albeit frightening affair. Minimal things can trigger a butterfly effect. I am not talking of the current rioting in the streets of Britain, but in the games business, particularly in Germany, where we have to be constantly aware of the peace movement and cultural sensitivity.

It should be generally known that the sensitivity of the German media to social impact is focused not primarily on sexuality, but on violence. The general cliché of the German is hardworking, efficient and punctual, and as lovers we clearly fall back behind the passionate Italians or the fiery French. But when it comes to violence, Germans, as the recent past proves, have unequivocal competence.

Is hysteria now our very own German trait, along with diligence, punctuality and drinking habits?

Press a large-calibre water gun into a German's hands, and soon enough ideas about world domination will enter into his brain. Give a German a club, and there remains a risk that he opens his marauding in the direction of Paris - at least this seems to be the understanding of a significant portion of German youth advocates and politicians.

How else can we explain the German policy of indexing and banning games, which is unmatched all over the world. During the mid-nineties youth protection almost got out of hand. When the legendary turn-based strategy game Panzer General was released in 1994, the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons (BPjM) received in all seriousness an indexing request. The accusation was not based on the graphically abstract happenings on the battlefield, but on the content of the manual. In the tutorial, in which the reader should first play a simple mission of "Fall Weiss", it read: "Attack Poland". Argument of the applicant: This is the solicitation of an offensive war. To prevent an imminent uprising of young computer game fans, publisher Mindscape changed the manual and published the game in Germany legally with great success and without provoking a border war in the east.

Today, the youth guards, politicians and critical media seem to approach the subject more relaxed: Both Gears of War 3 and Rage will be released uncut in Germany and are freely available for adults - an unthinkable action many years ago.

But days before Gamescom - which, as the largest games fair in the world, is a source of great the pride to the German people - sceptics fell back into old habits. One bone of contention was the advertising for World of Tanks on trams in Cologne. It is said that local travellers had complained about something the press labelled as "glorification of war". The operator did not withdraw the advertising, but eagerly reassured the worried that they will not commit this capital sin next year.

"We will be looking at an early stage in the future on what is advertised on the cars," KVB spokesman Franz Wolf Ramien told the Koelner Stadt Anzeiger. "We will no longer permit a similar war-glorifying advertisement in the future." (Even here in Germany, the official age rating of the game is 12+).

Nevertheless, local German politicians switched on to the media-oriented debate, and discovered that EA will display an original MiG 21 fighter at its booth at Gamescom. While RTL Television sympathised with the MiG as a "focal point of the exhibition", local TV station WDR, governed by public law, struck a sour note on the issue.

"I think it's not good at all, that there is a platform for advertising with fighter jets and thus enables a trivialisation of war games," said Kirsten Jahn, member of the Green Party, into the microphones of the TV station. "This fighter has never been constructed to apply to games, but to kill people - and that's the frightening thing about the matter. It has crossed a boundary between what young people should see and what not." Significantly, the WDR broadcast the headline "Too much war at Gamescom". Interestingly, these naysayers are entirely positive towards movie advertisements and content of films such as like Inglorious Basterds and Top Gun.

Is hysteria now our very own German trait, along with diligence, punctuality and drinking habits?

There are a few ways to get media attention. Be sexy. Be incapable. Be embarrassing. Or simply give the audience a fright

I do not think so. Look at the Norwegian retail chain that pulled World of Warcraft and other games from the shelves because a killer was distantly connected to these products. The lesson is this: Fear is international. And it is a symptom of our modern media landscape. There was never a time in human history in which there was a myriad of news channels and a comparable overload of information. There has never been so many people who can come through innumerable news channels to the public. This huge number of news channels develops an incredible hunger for content. Maybe it is possible to find an unpolished diamond on a TV talent show but at least as important as the real talents are the incompetent morons who are granted access to media, those that consider themselves important for whatever reason. And the competition among them is getting tough.

So there are a few ways to get media attention. Be sexy. Be incapable. Be embarrassing. Or simply give the audience a fright. The latter seems to be the core competence of politicians, church representatives and youth guards. And thanks to German angst they now have a slice of media attention.

Welcome to Cologne. Welcome to Gamescom.

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Christoph Holowaty avatar
Christoph Holowaty: Christoph Holowaty started the German edition of GamesIndustry in 2010. With over twenty years experience in journalism and the video game business, he was the original founder of MCV in 1995. At Computec Media he had multiple roles such as Co-Editor of PC Games and Chief Reporter for all Computec magazines and websites.
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