‘Violent’ video games: ban or self-regulation?
Responding to Commissioner Frattini’s concerns over "violent video games" the video game industry has defended the EU's voluntary and independent certification system.
Suggested policy responses range from an outright ban to stricter self-regulatory measures and labelling than those already in place.
The issue was brought into sharp focus on 20 November 2006 when a German teenager, Sebastian Bosse, 18, stormed his former school, Geschwister Scholl in Emsdetten near the Dutch border, and wounded around 32 people with a firearm before committing suicide by shooting himself.
A study, conducted in 2000 by Craig A. Anderson from the University of Missouri in Columbia and Karen E. Dill of Lenoir-Rhyne College, suggested that "exposure to violent video games will increase aggresive behaviour...in both the long and short term".
However, the 2005 findings of researchers Dmitri Williams, a professor of speech communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Marko Skoric, a lecturer at the School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, appear to contradict the commissioner's position and "did not support the assertion that a violent game will cause substantial increases in real-world aggression".
On 14 November 2006, Commissioner Frattini, in a letter to member states' interior ministers, declared: "One of the latest games recently available on the European market relates to a young girl being submitted to psychological and physical violence. This has shocked me profoundly for its obscene cruelty and brutality." In this context, Frattini has proposed "a first-exchange of views on this issue with the objective of identifying the possible scope for complementary national- and European-level activities in this regard, including issues such as awareness raising, the labelling of such games and selling to minors", further suggesting "if relevant, a public-private partnership".
In response, Commission Vice-President Franco Frattini told EurActiv: "I respect researchers' point of views and opinions, however I strongly believe that video games reaching high peaks of violence and aggressiveness (such as killing people walking down a street or burning a girl alive) do not have a positive impact on children's education."
Spokesman Friso Roscam Abbing added: "What we are sure about is that certain kinds of video games or computer programmes can have a very bad impact on teenagers. The vice-president's decision to write a letter to his fellow European ministers is not an overreaction to a "normal phenomenon" - it is a 'pro-action', vis à vis a worrying trend that calls for a frank and open debate at European level."
The game to which Frattini referred was The Rule of Rose, for Sony's PlayStation 2 console, but a Sony Computer Entertainment Europe spokesman stood firm on the European ratings system, in place since April 2003. He told Euractiv: "The way that games certification works in Europe is that we have an independent and voluntary ratings code…called the Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) system and it has been well received by its intended users, such as parents and educators. All games released are thus subject to ratings ranging from 3+ to 18+ – no retailer would touch an unrated game. The reason we have a voluntary scheme is to take into account cultural differences between member states – just because someone doesn’t like a particular title does not mean that the system is at fault. Furthermore, as The Rule of Rose has not yet been released in Europe, it would appear that Vice-President Frattini made his comments without having been briefed on PEGI’s work."
The German teenager who stormed his former school, Sebastian Bosse, was allegedly a fan of violent computer games; politicians have subsequently called for them to be restricted or banned.
"These are completely irresponsible and should have no place in our society," said Edmund Stoiber, a senior conservative ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
However Dieter Wiefelspuetz, a senior lawmaker in the centre-left Social Democrats who make up the other half of Merkel's coalition, was more cautious, warning against a "blanket, knee-jerk reaction".
Commissioner Frattini has recommended a focused informal meeting in the margins of the forthcoming Justice and Home Affairs Council in Brussels on 5-6 December 2006.
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