Germans 16 and older can legally purchase and play the original — not blood-free — versions of Doom after a 17-year ban.
In 1994, the year Doom 2 was released — and a year after the debut game Doom was released — Germany banned the sale of these games, including Internet and mail-order sales. They were placed in the same category as pornography, meaning adults could own them, but had to purchase them from overseas retailers. It was illegal for minors to possess copies of the game.
Now, in 2011, the ban has been lifted. A lot has changed since this seminal first-person shooter went on the market. By now, Doom’s gore and violence seems cartoonish and mild compared to many other games — most of which still can’t be sold within Germany’s borders. Once a game makes the “index,” it remains there for 10 years, and only after that time can the game developer appeal the decision.
The agency responsible for rating and indexing such games is the German Federal Department for Media Harmful to Children, and being part of the agency’s index means:
1. It must not be sold, provided or otherwise made accessible to minors.
2. It must not be displayed where it can be seen by minors. This would, for example, include playing an indexed game in the presence of minors.
3. It must be sold only within a shop. Basically selling indexed titles per mail order is illegal, however it is permissible if the package may be handed over only to a specified adult person, who has to present ID.
4. It must not be rented out, except in a shop inaccessible to minors. This is why most video rentals in Germany are not accessible for minors – otherwise they would not be allowed to rent out certain horror (and adult) films.
5. It must not be imported by mail order. In this case even an adult buyer is subject to penalty.
6. It must not be advertised or announced in a place where the announcement or advertisement could be seen by minors.
7. If it is for one of the above six causes, production, acquiring, and holding in store are subject to penalty too.
It’s hard to tell exactly how this agency determines what is harmful to children — or what kinds of consequences it is trying to prevent by banning such games and other media. If, for example, Germany was hoping to prevent school shootings — since the Columbine High School massacre has been linked to Doom for example — then the ban wasn’t entirely successful.
In April 2002, Robert Steinhäuser fired a 9mm Glock 17 into the Gutenberg-Gymnasium in Erfurt, Germany. He killed 16 people and injured 7, then took his own life. In July 2003, Florian Klein brought a gun to school at Realschule II in Coburg, Germany. He shot a psychologist in the thigh as she tried to take his weapon, then shot himself to death. In March 2009, Tim Kretschmer opened fire at a secondary school in Winnenden, Baden-Württemberg, in southwestern Germany, ultimately killing 15 people and wounding 11 before turning the gun on himself.
Statistics from German police (PDF, see page 2) show that violent crime among young people was on the rise between 1984 and 1998 — and that there was a sharp increase after 1994, the year these games were banned.
Of course, we cannot say that restricting the sale of Doom games in Germany led to an increase in violent crime. Nor can we say that allowing them to minors would have prevented two mass shootings and a third attempt — or hundreds of other incidents. However, in the United States — where minors have had relatively free access to violent games — crime rates have decreased over time. Certainly it’s something to look at more closely.
Readers, what do you think of Germany’s approach to violent video games? Should the United States create a similar agency that reviews and restricts the sale of these games to teens (and adults)?