2002 was an interesting year. The Allied forces were in Afghanistan and (unwisely) trying to get stuck into Iraq as well; the World Cup was held in Japan and South Korea, eventually being won by Brazil; Joe Strummer, Dudley Moore and Spike Milligan all died (the former quite unexpectedly). In videogaming, Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City were the top grossing games of the year. In Greece, an unexpected attack on the gaming community was about to happen.
Before Greece’s financial problems and their hosting of the Olympics (including their amazing win in the European Championships
) in 2004, the country hadn’t really seen much (internationally) newsworthy stuff happen to them, since, I don’t know, the fall of the military junta in 1974. To me at the time, Greece was a holiday destination, and had a football team that couldn’t even score in the World Cup finals stage.
Illegal gambling has been a problem in Greece for a long while, and whilst the leading political party at the time, PASOK, had promised to crack down on this, the last thing they wanted was one of their own to go about doing it. Sadly, that was exactly what happened. One Mr. Chrisanthakopoulos MP made the foolish mistake of stepping towards a poker machine in an illegal gambling joint without knowing a video camera was being trained on him. It wouldn’t be fair to just accuse this person only for the events that introduced this law, since this led to several other MPs being named and shamed. The video evidence, however, was shown on television, fuelling debate. The Prime Minister had to act with the public pressure on and ruled the MP out of the party.
On July 30, in further response to the situation, Law 3037/2002
was drafted in. In trying to ban the illegal gambling, it ended up also prohibiting the use of any form of game software. Every platform, from console to mobile was affected. Not only that, the law even applied to private use; you play games at home? The Greek government had now deemed you a criminal.
As Dan Faber
pointed out at the time, Greek politicians not being able to tell the difference between videogames and illegal gambling programs wasn’t the only error they would make. Prime Minister Costas Simitis was quoted being all for the opportunities created by technology, so he’d have to be brought up on that matter and eat his words. As well as this, the Olympics were coming up, and the police would be getting very busy trying to crack down on games-playing visitors from around the world (did I mention the law applied to foreigners as well?). There would be little time to catch real criminals!
The effects were immediate. The businesses wanting to start or continue to work with their LAN centres found it very difficult to build any trade
. Police raids took care of any that decided to ignore the legislation
The good news was that in the same year, a Greek judge decided
this law was a pure case of douchebaggery, and decided to throw it out. This was swiftly followed by the European Union who, in spite of all the stupid laws they make up, believed the law was too much against the idea of trade with other EU nations, as well as putting in place procedures that would go further than the aims intended by it. Gamers could all breathe a sigh of relief.
The only other issue is that the Greek government still wanted to curtail all this illegal gambling, so it kept amending the law in the hopes that was better, submitted it to the EU, only to have it slapped back on their desk. The government has kept doing this up to last year…only for this year’s recession to provide a way back for low-price gaming and gambling machines
Admit it, it was a messed up situation videogaming could have done without. LAN centres out of business, putting a hobby in jeopardy for several months, eight years of a government striving to stop illegal gambling, only to backtrack and have economic conditions putting well-intentioned plans on hold and wasting valuable administration time….you couldn’t make it up. But it serves as a reminder that when certain laws are introduced, they can have a wide-ranging effect that covers other areas, impacting on freedoms and things we all too often take for granted. This threat was only brief…thank goodness that the Greeks can join in our pastime with the rest of us.