There's been another discussion about 'Killerspiele' (killer games) going on yesterday as a TV magazine which I usually like very much showed how easy it was for kids to get those games (rated for people 16 and above or 18). They also claimed the ratings set by the USK in Germany (a control instance the games industry has set up to rate the games according to the German rating system, the FSK is doing the same for movies) are too low because of what is shown.
Now, as I already pointed out in my post about "Jaws Unleashed", I really do think certain games don't belong in the hands of children. But the problem here is not the game as a such, but the rather lax way especially electronic markets (MediaMarkt and Saturn are the two most renown in Germany) and shopping centres handle the ratings. If they really asked for the age of the buyer - provided it's not obvious as with a 60-year-old - and demanded to see some sort of ID when they're not sure, the problem of kids being able to buy the stuff would be solved.
The next point I'm trying to make here is that parents ought to check on what their kids play at home. The USK-ratings are shown on the package of every game for PC or console. A simple look at the symbol (white for rating 0, yellow for rating 6, green for rating 12, blue for rating 16 and a very visible red for rating 18) would be sufficient. In addition the rating is on every CD or DVD as well (and games on floppy disk are extinct by now).
About the quality of the rating the USK does: I'm still not sure whether the ratings are always perfect, but logic dictates they can't be - just as with other media. But I'm quite sure - unlike the magazine I watched yesterday - that the ratings go conform with the guidelines of the German laws. Those might have changed over the years, you just have to watch TV to realize that. A lot of movies and series shown around eight p.m. or even in the afternoon would not have been shown there about a decade ago. Our limits for violence or sex have changed - maybe because of the media, maybe because of the changes in society. It seems that the editors of the magazine have either not grasped that fact or don't want to accept it.
What I always hate about features like the one I saw yesterday is that they use terms like 'Killerspiele' just because they know it will freak out those who don't play video games and therefore have no idea about the many different kinds of games which exist. Those who play games themselves are not fazed by it, of cause, even though they might get as pissed as I do.
A lot of the journalists in Germany also don't seem to realize how many things the computer games industry does to make sure a title can be launched in Germany. While we're not their most important market (that's the United States followed closely by Japan, two markets with less inhibitions as far as violence is concerned), we're important enough so they usually do change game contents if they deem it necessary - like eliminating Nazi symbols in games about World War II, even though you usually fight against the Nazis there.
And I really get the idea that the guidelines of the law are interpreted quite differently close to election or after bad news. A very funny example for this is the game "Unreal Tournament" (the first one, there are two more by now). It was launched - if I remember it correctly - in 1998 and did get a '16'-rating. As it is often the case the game was soon sold in bundles - usually with the game "Unreal" which had the same engine, but was more focused on single-player-gaming - and spread quite widely, because the engine allowed for good multi-player-gaming and the only real rival ("Quake III") was on the index in Germany already. This was, you have to remember, the time when LAN-parties became popular and people were always looking for good multi-player-games. Two years later, after a massacre at a German school and close to election, the game was put on the index as well. By then it had been sold innumerable times and could be downloaded (illegally) from the internet. In essence, the game could no longer be kept from teenagers - and it probably wouldn't have been put on the index either, had it not been for the fact that most people voting in Germany do not have an interest in computer games and are easy to catch by telling them a candidate or party wants to protect them and their children from dangerous games. In my eyes that's a cheap way to get votes.
And we'll never manage to get the people to really understand about the positive and negative aspects of computer games while magazines (on TV or in print or online) are not willing to do a real job of research for their articles.