Under Virtual Influence German Retailer Takes Violent Video Games off Shelves

Following a horrific school shooting, German retailer Galeria Kaufhof has decided to pull violent video games from its shelves. A political debate on instituting an outright ban has also erupted.

German retail chain Galeria Kaufhof is pulling violent video games from its shelves. Beginning in April, the company announced this week, games with 18-plus ratings will no longer be sold in its department stores. Kaufhof's decision comes in the wake of a horrific school shooting in the southern German town of Winnenden earlier this month.

Tim K. spent the night before his violent rampage playing the 18-plus video game  Far Cry 2 .

Tim K. spent the night before his violent rampage playing the 18-plus video game Far Cry 2.

On March 11, 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer shot 12 people to death at the Albertville secondary school -- including nine pupils -- before killing three more during his escape attempt. Investigators say the teenager was fond of playing "Counter Strike" and had played "Far Cry 2" on the night before his brutal rampage. Both games are considered excessively violent and cannot be sold to anyone under the age of 18.

Although there is a current political discussion taking place in Germany about the merits of a general ban on violent video games, the company this week acted on its own.

"These inhumane things should be taken off the market as fast as possible," the interior minister for the state of Hesse, Volder Bouffier of the conservative Christian Democrats, told the Neuen Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper. The politician called for a blanket ban on the creation and sales of so-called "killer games".

It's an opinion shared by Joachim Hermann, the conservative interior minister of the state of Bavaria. "We must finally muster the courage to ban the most brutal games," Hermann told the daily Münchner Merkur. "It's not a question of media and artistic freedom anymore."

Others criticized efforts to implement a nanny state solution. Germany's business-friendly Free Democrats declared that such a ban wouldn't solve the problem. "Instead of supporting a ban, we should be working to strengthen parental responsibility and media awareness," said Wolfgang Greilich, the party's domestic affairs pointman. Another party official accused conservatives with Bavaria's Christian Social Union party of taking political advantage of the situation with "aimless activism" to ban games.

The debate over whether violent video games are dangerous to society has simmered for years, and definitive research linking them with crimes is lacking. But law enforcement officials believe there is a connection.

"It's well known that, in every case of school shootings, the perpetrator has exhibited a pronounced proclivity towards playing violent videogames," Heini Schmitt, the head of the police federation of Hessen told a regional radio station. "The means and ways in which these people commit crimes sometimes bares a striking resemblance to those of their virtual role models."

Germany already has one of the strictest ratings systems for violent games in Europe. The video game company Sega hasn't even applied in Germany to sell its recently released "fight to the death" Wii game Mad World, which requires players to mimic physically violent motions like carving out an opponent's heart with a chainsaw.

Still, there is resistance to increased vigilance and some German gamers are incensed by Kaufhof's decision.

"I think (Kaufhof's) decision is a complete overreaction that borders on impulsive hysteria," Stepan Reichart, managing director at the German video game developers association G.A.M.E. told Reuters.

cew -- with wires


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