Thursday, January 25, 2007

Still discussion, still pointless

I've written a lot about the discussion whether or not to ban 'Killerspiele' from German shops. I've also pointed out already why I think the whole discussion is pointless for me. But nevertheless, before I launch a new chapter of this "Neverending Story", I'll give you a short overview to the topic on the whole.

After several murders committed by young men in Germany, the politicians have - again - found an easy scapegoat: the computer game, or rather the kind of computer game they refer to as 'Killerspiele'. Of course, there's a lot of different kinds of games out there and the games the politicians refer to usually belong to a group known as 'ego-shooters'. The name also gives a basic description of the games: there's a lot of shooting and you do it from an ego-perspective. In addition to those games, some other games which feature violence and a lot of free will (meaning a lot of different means for a player to solve a problem) are also seen as 'Killerspiele'.

What I find most infuriating about the discussion is not simply saying "they owned certain games and because of that they killed those people" - even though that is rubbish, too, from my point of view - but the fact that most politicians and journalists who talk and write about the bad influence those games have on the player have never in their lives played one of those games or talked seriously to a person playing them. It's pretty much like a deep-sea fish talking about the vision an eagle has from it's highest place in the sky. The fish might just grasp the fact that there is a place where there's more than just darkness, it might even grasp the fact that there is a place without water, but it surely can't understand what feeling it is to soar through the skies, carried by the wind, and watching the earth (or the ocean) deep underneath you.

But back to the topic. Apart from those talking about banning those games from German shops (or forcing them to put up something like the '18'-section of video rentals in Germany, where you can get very violent and pornographic movies) who don't know what they are talking about, the whole idea of banning computer games and even declaring them illegal is rubbish. First of all there is no clear line between a normal computer game and a 'Killerspiel'. It's defined in a certain way, but the definition leaves a lot of space for interpretation. Second most of those games aren't produced in Germany or specifically for Germans, so why should anybody outside my home country be interested in such a law? We are a large market for this kind of electronic entertainment, but neither the largest nor the one with most producers in our own country. We are important, but not important enough for the big companies to change the design of their games just because of us.

There hasn't been much actual output of this discussion recently in German media and I'm not sure whether it's a good or a bad sign (whether this means the politicians and journalists have left the topic behind or whether there's some plotting going on). Nevertheless I've read a couple of interviews with various people concerning computer games done by a games magazine. There were a couple of politicians, a teacher and head of an association of teachers and even a psychologist. The only person trying to see the whole topic without the usual 'tunnel vision' of computer game = 'Killerspiel' was the psychologist who pointed out that in the long run it's not proven whether or not playing violent games makes the player more violent. The others all were following the usual lead.

This (together with the fact that the "World of WarCraft"-Add-On "The Burning Crusade" came out this week - and no, I'm not playing this online game at all) reminded me of an "p.m."-article ("p.m." is a magazine for science and social topics) about "World of WarCraft" published a couple of months ago. The article was surprisingly positive - but that wasn't a real surprise, as the journalist writing it was a player himself. Of course, the 'real' specialists for all kinds of behaviour could not let this pass unnoticed. The very next magazine featured an article countering all the positive aspects of playing an online game the other one had mentioned (like building up the ability to work in a team, positive experiences like having success and influence on the world around you and so on). The man writing it might be a specialist for behaviour (and I rather hope he is, for his own sake and for his ability to keep his current job), but he knew next to nothing about computer games. I hadn't even finished the first paragraph of his article before finding the first two or three mistakes. Of course, I couldn't take the whole article seriously after that ... but I doubt many people reading the magazine have my vast knowledge about computer games.

And that's what I hate most about this biased reporting: those who don't know anything about the topic get a very wrong and, in this case, very negative picture.

I was very tempted to counter this article by writing my very first and a very long letter to the editor, just to put the mistakes right, but I didn't do it. In hindsight it probably was a mistake, I should have done it. Others were doing it, so the put all those letters together in the next edition, but cleverly started with those of people seeing computer games as something positive and putting the negative letters in towards the end. That's a very simple rhetoric trick (it's so simple, I actually learned it in German class at school), because most people will remember best what they read or saw last. So when building up a list of arguments, you start with the weakest argument and build up to the strongest. And if you want to publish another negative article without obviously doing so, you start with the positive aspects and finish with the negative ones...

Again, I saw through it, but I doubt a lot of the other readers did. That's pissing me off to no end as well.

I didn't write anything really new in this post and I know it, but I don't want to let this discussion go into hiding like most magazines do at the moment, so I at least wanted to recycle some facts and keep the topic on my mind ... and those of my readers - if there is somebody out there reading this (my counter at least suggests it).

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