DOOM, Deutschland and the violent video game fallacy

As a twelve-year-old, my life consisted of watching re-runs of What’s Happening, planning my wedding to Justin Timberlake, and playing unhealthy amounts of Grand Theft Auto and DOOM.  Then came the tragic 1999 shootings at Columbine High; sparking a heated debate about the role of violent video games in the actions of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, both players of my favourite game, DOOM. My parents used it as an excuse to pull the plug on my pixelated carnage. The link between video games and violent shootings was raised again after the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, and more recently, the Anders Breivik killing spree in Norway.

Germany, known for having a stringent videogame market, restricted the sale of DOOM and DOOM II to select adult video stores back in 1994. Both games were named on the official “List of Media Harmful to Young People.” Games on the list  cannot be “sold, advertised, or displayed to minors in the country”, putting them in the same category as pornography.

After seventeen years of restrictions, the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons (Bundesprufstelle) has decided to lift restrictions on the videogame after an appeal from Bethesda Softworks, which owns DOOM. The change was made because of advances in the quality of graphics in videogames, rather than a concern about preserving free speech.

While it might seem silly to think that games like DOOM, with its hilariously bad graphics and hideous Martians on bad stereoids could actually stir a player’s dormant killer, some nations have taken measures based on the assumption that playing such games could lead to violent behaviour. The shootings in Norway led a major retailer to pull violent video games from their stores, viewing the murders as a negative effect of playing such games.  Gore might be more realistic in today’s games, but much like graphic images in film or books, restricting the sale of such items would not change the outcome of such tragedies. What leads someone like Breivik to kill cannot be reduced to his hateful blogging or his love for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

If you are under sixteen and in Germany, purchasing either video game is still restricted. While the US Supreme Court ruled that a California law on the sale of violent video games to children violated the First Amendment, it does not appear that Germany will be taking the same measures any time soon. Luckily, the game can be easily found online, probably because we all passed it around on floppy disks in the 90s. Happy playing!

War game may contain traces of violence

Call of Duty is one of the biggest video games titles out there. In fact, it’s new edition: Modern Warfare 2, is expected to be one of the biggest selling games ever.

Call of Duty games are about war: hence, they tend to be, well, a bit violent. Because they’re war games. And war is violent. This revalation appears to have only just come to Labour MP Keith Vaz, who told the Daily Mail: “I am absolutely shocked by the level of violence in this game and am particularly concerned about how realistic the game itself looks.”

So far, so knee-jerk. But Vaz’s Labour colleague, Tom Watson MP, has reacted angrily to Vaz’s standpoint, and immediately set up a Facebook group called “Gamer’s Voice”, announcing: “Are you sick of UK newspapers and (my fellow) politicians beating up on gaming? So am I. The truth is, UK gamers need their own pressure group. I want to help you start one up.”

Keith Vaz is clearly shocked — shocked! — by games about war being a bit violent. Tom Watson’s clearly sick – sick! – of contrived outrage against games and gamers.

But who’s right? Only one way to find out…