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Germany

Politicians swap policy for play at legislative gaming party

Politicians playing shoot-'em-up games or virtual tennis is an unusual sight. But organizers of the German parliament's first LAN party wanted the politicians to be familiar with the video games that influence lawmaking.

A man sits in front of a monitor displaying a shooter game

German lawmakers have been getting acquainted with gaming

Video games - especially violent, first-person-shooter games - are not something many politicians spend a lot of time playing. And yet it's the members of parliament who write the laws affecting those games.

A woman plays Counter Strike at a LAN party

At LAN parties people play computer games together

Enter the parliamentary LAN party. LAN is an abbreviation for Local Area Network. LAN parties involve multiple computers and gaming consoles, sometimes hundreds of them, networked together for the purpose of playing games communally. They are somewhat paradoxical in a hobby that is widely considered anti-social, since the purpose is to bring gamers together in the same location.

This week the very first parliamentary LAN party featuring more than 20 different PC and console games came to parliament, giving Germany's lawmakers a chance to try out the games themselves.

Putting the controller in politicians' hands

"It's an impression I've had since I entered parliament that some of my colleagues haven't had the opportunity yet to play computer games, but we have to make decisions in this area too," said Jimmy Schulz, one of the organizers of the even and a member of the Bundestag for the economically liberal Free Democrats (FDP). "It might be a good idea for them to see what fascination young people develop for such games and get a better understanding of what we have to decide on in the future."

Former Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries playing a tennis video game

Zypries prepares to return the ball in virtual tennis

While former Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries of the center-left Social Democrats tried out motion-sensor-controlled tennis, FDP member Burkhardt Müller-Sönksen got the hang of the military-theme shooter game "Counter Strike."

Such first-person-shooter games were heavily criticized after the perpetrators of German school shootings were found to have been avid PC gamers. But Müller-Sönksen said the player's own personality and social network would determine his or her reaction to the games.

"If a person doesn't really have a stable character, such a game might trigger emotional chaos," he said. "Nothing like that happened to me! But if someone lacks social contacts, he or she might indeed mistake what they experience for the real world in which they want to be successful too."

Challenging stereotypes

One of the main goals of the event, attended by some 50 lawmakers, was to counteract negative stereotypes about gamers. Schulz said there was no link between playing aggressive computer games and acting aggressive in real life.

"I don't see that connection, but it's important to talk about it anyway, because a lot of people believe that there's a connection, especially politicians," he said. "As always, you're looking for someone who's guilty. And if you can't find one straight away, you simply pick one."

Another organizer, Manuel Höferlin (FDP) said he hoped the LAN party showed participants that gaming can be a form of socializing.

FDP member of parliament Manuel Höferlin

Höferlin says gaming is also about team building

"The old image of a young loner sitting behind his computer doesn't really correspond with today's realities anymore," he said. "People play with each other and against each other, but it's really about team building. They're all hooked up, which means that you can indeed make new social contacts while gaming."

Gamers often feel stigmatized by the media and by politicians. Professional player Fabian Riegsinger, who plays "Counter Strike" competitively in the Electronic Sports League, told German press agency DPA that the LAN party was a rare opportunity for gamers.

"Gamers don't have any other chance to show politicians that they should they reconsider their stance on games," he said.

The video games industry is also quite robust in Germany. A number of significant games developers, such as the Frankfurt-based Crytek and Kalypso studios, and some of the largest video games conventions in the world, with gamescom in Cologne and Games Convention Online in Leipzig bring in millions of euros each year.

Next up for discussion in the Bundestag is the issue of ratings. Parliamentarians want to extend the rating system already in place for games bought in shops to those bought online.

Author: Hardy Graupner / hf
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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