It's no secret that Germany has the largest video games market in Europe, and you can see those numbers reflected in the size of their gaming events. The Gamescom event in Cologne, for example, is massive. In fact, it's the biggest event of its kind. Last year the event attracted over 345,000 visitors. It is then surprising to discover that Germany is also one of the biggest and most thorough censors of #VideoGames worldwide.
That's right, developers are often forced to alter and cut out a lot of content from some of the biggest gaming titles that are sold in the country. This usually only boils down to the removal of some or all blood and gore, but often extends much further into the plot and content of the game itself.
How And Why Does Germany Censor Video Games?
Germany is, of course, not the only country that censors video games. However, the country has gained quite a reputation because it has consistently been the most strict censor in the world. All games that are planned to be sold there must go through a strict process of testing and classification.
In Germany, like in most countries, there is also a rating system. This is provided by the USK (Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body) and has five general ratings which range from white (O) to red (18). On top of that there is a final list, called the Index, which is where games can go if they are not submitted for review by the USK. For a game to be on the Index list it means that publishers will not be allowed to advertise the product at all in Germany—definitely a huge hit on profits.
The main reason for these procedures is to protect minors from harmful material, thus directly linking the social behavior of children and young adults with the games they play—an idea that has been the cause of much debate in Germany and elsewhere. Interestingly, films are not put through the same process of censorship as games because of their status as art in the country. So, how are games censored in Germany that films are not?
Removal Of Gore
There are many ways in which games sold in Germany are censored, but the most common is obviously with the removal of gore. Although gore is only a cosmetic element, it is still by and large a pretty big factor in determining our impact on the game world. If you snipe a guy from half way across the map, you do expect some blood to spurt out of his body. If this doesn't happen, then you'll be left wondering if you managed to kill your enemy or not.
Sometimes you'll find that a scene that is usually dripping with blood in the US version of a game will be relatively clean and mopped up in the German version. This can be most clearly seen—or not seen—in Grand Theft Auto 3 where blood has been completely removed. Other notable games that received the no-gore treatment were Call of Duty: Black Ops and Counter Strike.
Changes To Core Elements and Game Modes
It seems that if developers are criticized too much for specific elements of a game, such as the inclusion of gore or Nazi swastikas on zombies, then the easiest way to solve the problem is by removing the material altogether. In Call of Duty: World at War, for example, the now iconic and hugely popular Nazi Zombies game mode wasn't available for players in Germany. Of course, I can understand it when a game is deemed too full of blood and some of it needs to be cut out, but the removal of an entire game mode seems extreme. Though Germany are extremely strict with the inclusion of Nazi symbols in video games, including Hitler himself.
This removal of entire elements also carried over to Saints Row 3, in which players were unable to use pedestrians as human shields. In Grand Theft Auto 3, again, corpses didn't produce bundles of cash and in FIFA 13 team kits were altered so that betting company sponsors were removed. With the removal of game modes and elements, is it possible that the game that people buy isn't the game that the developers intended for them to play?
Another one of the most controversial changes to a game came in the form of robots in Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix. In this game, the USK must have told the developers that they couldn't allow it to be sold in Germany unless killing was completely removed. To solve this problem, Raven Software just removed all human enemies and replaced them with robots. Biological warfare was one of the key elements of its narrative, which the German censorship board also took exception to.
Removing Anything To Do With The Nazis
This is an official trailer for German audiences of Wolfenstein: The New Order, a game that is set in an alternate history in which the Nazis won the Second World War. In this version of the game, as you can see in the video above, all Nazi symbols and every reference of them were removed and replaced. The reason for this is because it is actually unconstitutional, and therefore illegal to display Nazi imagery on toys in Germany. From what I understand it is because they do not want the horror of the Nazis to be dumbed down at all.
Interestingly, Wolfenstein: The New Order, with its smooth, albeit heavily cut release, is actually an exception in the Wolfenstein franchise. Previous games, including the 2009 game Wolfenstein had very turbulent releases because of their references to the Nazis. In fact, the 1992 prequel called Wolfenstein 3D was completely banned in Germany. But perhaps things are changing. The German censorship board recently lifted the ban on Bethesda's Fallout 3!
What do you think about Germany's censorship laws? Should games exist free of censorship? Tell us your opinion in the comments section below!
Sources: [Dorkly Video]