School shoot-out spurs debate on violent PC games

German policy makers are calling for stricter rules, if not an outright ban, on the distribution of violent software games

A long-simmering debate in Germany about banning violent computer games is burning again after an aloof teenager on Monday stormed his former high school, shot five people and later killed himself.

The disgruntled 18-year ex-pupil from Emsdetten, Germany, near the Dutch border, was described by students and teachers as a youth with no friends who liked guns and played violent computer shooting games.

The incident brought back memories of a shooting rampage in the eastern German city of Erfurt in 2002 when an alienated former pupil -- and computer games player -- shot 16 people, mostly teachers, and later himself.

It has also rekindled the simmering debate in Germany on whether violent computer games should be banned.

"The government is currently reviewing whether the current legislation for protecting minors needs to be revised and plans to announce its finding by the end of 2007," said a spokesman for the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. "The Emsdetten shootings will likely impact these discussions."

Family Affairs Minister Ursula von der Leyen addressed the German parliament earlier on Tuesday and has been holding talks with policy makers throughout the day, the ministry spokesman said.

The minister is expected to make a public announcement later in the evening.

Numerous politicians have expressed outrage over the school shootings and continued access to violent PC games.

Brandenburg state Interior Minister Jorg Schonbohm said in an interview with the German media that "killer games" encourage violent behavior and are contributing to an escalating rate of brutality among young people. The minister called the current practice of voluntary regulation by game publishers and distributors inadequate.

Lower Saxony Interior Minister Uwe Schunemann called for a ban on the distribution and development of violent computer games in Germany.

Dieter Wiefelsputz, a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and an expert on family policy, conceded that not everyone who plays such games "automatically becomes a mass murderer" but, like the ministers, also called for a ban on "killer games."

Wiefelsputz isn't alone in the SPD. A majority of members in his party have been lobbying for months for major changes in federal laws aimed at protecting minors, including an outright ban on violent computer games. And the opposition parties Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) agree that changes are necessary to the current laws governing entertainment software.

But members of the Green Party warned of putting all the blame on computer games. Volker Beck, a parliamentarian member of the Green Party, said young people need to acquire media competence and learn how to use computers, including PC games, in a sensible way.

Following the shoot-out in Erfurt, the German government revised its legislation on protecting minors, requiring, for instance, that all computer games and video movies be subject to a mandatory age-rating plan.

Some legislators are also calling on ISPs (Internet service providers) to take a more active role in controlling the information provided over their systems.

The Emsdetten teenager who killed himself used the Internet not only to inform a chat group of his shoot-out plans but also to purchase weapons, including guns and bombs, through a German weapons portal.

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John Blau

IDG News Service
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