Salida dear readers,
my name is Jim aka "OpiumHerz" and as some of you may already guess by that nickname: I am german. With the blog series "The worst thing about censorship is ███████ " I want to simply give you a little insight in videogame censorhsip, which is still pretty much alive and kicking here in Germany (but I won't restrict myself to Germany exklusively). I'll try to post entries at least all two weeks or so. Feel free to comment for suggestions, corrections or critique and let's get started with: a little look into how the system works and what are problematic topics in games.
So, as said before, the USK rates a game. If you want to have your game in german store shelves it NEEDS to be rated, otherwise it will be treated as a potentially illegal item and it simply won't sell. Of course the companies try to get a rating as low as possible as those will sell more and thus the proverbial scissors are used. Many games are simply censored in advance because a publisher doesn't want to even risk that the game won't come through the USK. This might be because having a game checked costs about 1000 Euros. So if you, for example, give them a game to check and don't get the desired rating or no rating at all, you have to edit your game and then pay once more. That is, by the way, the only known fix guideline in the system. As I explained before the members of the boards are always chosen at random. Combine this with the fact that we have not fixed guidelines for ratings (there are no rules that say for example "Blood in the game, at least 12+ rating") and you have the perfect recipe for some bullshit. Especially since the USK will only give suggestions as for what the reasons for the (not) rating were. They will, however, not say something along the lines of "If you remove those 3 corpses in Room 7 you are good to go".
As an example for this: "Gears of War" was indexed, which over here came as no surprise. However it was a surprise that "Gears of War 3" (Microsoft didn't bother to even try getting part 2 through) came through with an 18+ rating here - without any censorship. Same goes for "Judgement". Now it is normal that what we consider violent changes over the years, but there wasn't really such a leap between Gears 1 and Gears 3. Too bad once a game is indexed it stays indexed for 25 years minimum (at least in normal cases, there are some examples). This randomness happens all the time, but it's not necessarily the USK's fault - at least not always. As I said before, many publishers censor their games here preemptively, because they fear they won't get a desired rating.
While one can see that the USK is opening up more and more to adult themes in videogames there are some things that the USK simply does not like. Glorifying violence is the most obvious one. If a game makes violence look cool, especially gory or has something like finishers - that's never a good thing. Rewards for violence are also never good. The "Mercenaries" bonus games from the "Resident Evil"-series are suffering from censorship ever since and were rendered de facto unplayable, because the rewards for kills were removed. Since those games are time trials and the rewards for kills were also bonus seconds for this mode... yeah, you can see where that leads to. Sometimes the publishers even go so far to remove things like headshots from statistics in a game.
Even worse is vigilantism. "Max Payne" is the perfect example here. Since MP was a quite violent game for it's time there was a special german version (although never released). It was censored in points of violence. Molotovs, for example, were smoke bombs that would simply stun enemies and not let them burn to death, screaming. The reason it was never released is simple: it wouldn't have come through anyway because of the story. Since Max is a vigilante and his crusade is shown as something righteous in the end it glorified the vigilantism. The movie "The Punisher" with Thomas Jane was censored here for the exact same reasons. Not only was violence removed, but also a little speech where the Punisher explains why he acts instead of the law. It justified his acts while also essentially stating that the polics was unable to do their job. Not cool with the movie raters here.
Also a reason for censorship are Nazis. As you can surely understand people here react kinda twitchy to that topic - especially the older generations. Symbols from the Nazis must not be shown in videogames - at all. The reason is that these symbols may be shown in art - that's why the Indiana Jones movies are dandy here - but videogames are not considered art in Germany. So games that contain Nazi symbols like Swastikas or the SS-Symbol have to be retouched. Some games go even so far to remove the word "Nazis" completly. In "Return to Castle Wolfenstein" you are fighting "The Wolves" in the german version, while Dirk Devlin's aka "The Saboteur" 's only enemy were "the Germans". Some argue that especially wordings like in "The Saboteur" are unfair generalizations towards those who fought against the Nazis but the topic is still a VERY hot iron around here that can't be touched so easily.
So yeah, these are the three big mommas of censorship:
3. Nazi stuff
Violence, of course, is the most prevalent. But because of the randomly created boards within the USK you can't really find a good ground. It is simply impossible for a publisher to know what will be okay and what not, because it is so dependent on subjective factors. Rockstar for example had to fight with teeth and claws for a "GTA IV" rating. They finally got it through a little trick: the USK didn't give a rating, but the BPjM said they won't index it. Since they wouldn't index it, the USK was kinda forced to give a rating. The game was not index-worthy, so they that meant it was rate-worthy. "GTA IV" was finally released with an "18+" rating without any censorship.
But, to be fair, we have come a long way. About 15 years ago it was enough to have "human like" enemies in a game to be censored or indexed. Games like "Command & Conquer" or "Half Life" had robot soldiers in the german version. "Soldier of Fortune II" is an especially notorious example: the whole story was moved into a parallel universe where everybody was a robot. The censorhsip for "Half Life" becamse really problematic with the release of "Counter Strike" on the other hand. If you shot someone in the german version they sat down and shook their head - and I'm dead fucking serious with this. Now in the main game that was just silly, but not a problem. In "Counter Strike" however it became problematic because it became hard to tell if an enemy was already out of the game or just ducking at a certain distance. Something publishers liked to do back then was also color blood green. If it's green they are aliens or something, not humans - so it's fine.
Today practices like these are not common any more - and thank god for that. Nonetheless: violence is still a very sensitive topic around here. We are not as liberal with it as the americans (but then again we don't run amok when you see a nipple somewhere, so I consider this a karmatic compensation).
But even more ridiculous is what some publisher is doing to protect the german youth from those evil, violent games. More on that in the next blog.