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Business

Video Gaming in Germany Lags Behind

Europe's biggest computer gaming trade fair, currently on in Leipzig, is drawing in record crowds. But industry analysts are scratching their heads over why the gaming industry in general in Germany hasn't taken off.

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Many German parents worry about their kids playing video games

Organizers were thrilled at the numbers of visitors on the first day of the Games Convention -- some 28,000 came to view the very latest in computer gaming technology, 75 percent more than did last year. But those numbers don't necessarily reflect a growth in the sector in Germany. In fact, many of the visitors are less than pleased about the general state of gaming in Germany, which lags far behind other big economies such as the United States and Japan.

"We have some way to catch up, to put it mildly," Josef Rahmen, the fair's director, said at news conference. "It's a very important industry, and we shouldn't leave it all to our American, Japanese and English friends."

Games Convention 2005

A human Lara Croft double from "Tomb Raider" poses at the trade fair

Only around one in 10 households in Germany, Europe's biggest but slowest-growing economy, has a video game console as opposed to about one in three in the United States, the world's largest video game market.

It is a big business in Germany, where, according to fair organizers, people spent 466 million euros ($567 million) on video games in 2004. That is a 15 percent increase over the previous year, but still a drop in the bucket compared to the 21 billion euros ($25 billion) spent worldwide on video game software and hardware every year.

Makes kids stupid?

Germany's reluctance to spend on video games could be partly due to widespread perceptions in the country among older people that playing video games makes young people stupid, according to Gerhard Florin, European manager of the world's biggest games software company, Electronic Arts.

"I'm often asked when I'm abroad, in connection with our industry: 'What is wrong with the Germans?'" he said during the fair's keynote speech.

Florin blamed the negative attitudes about video gaming on ignorance, saying Germany was in need of a public education campaign. Otherwise, he said, the country could find itself in a cultural backwater.

"Germany is really a special case due to our history. Our government is always making excuses for what happened 60 years ago," said Manfred Gerdes, managing director of Sony Germany, referring to the country's Nazi past. "People hate violent games."

Games Convention 2005

Fair visitors playing "Resident Evil" in Leipzig

Teenagers and young adults are the key target audience for video-game markers, but industry experts say parents often won't allow money to be spent on the games and consoles, including Sony's Playstation 2, Microsoft's Xbox, or Nintendo's GameCube.

"German mothers are the gatekeepers, and they have a very low tolerance for violent video games," said the head spokesperson for Electronic Arts, the world's biggest video games maker.

Pushing for more acceptance

In fact, fair organizers have enlisted two organizations, a federal gaming association and Children's Charity of Germany, to help campaign for more video game acceptance. The fair has a family-themed section where parents can look at the latest in education-oriented gaming software.

Psychologist Bernd Friedrich, who played a colorful African animals game at the fair, defended video games, saying he used computer games to teach students with learning difficulties in two children's homes where he works.

He added that games gave children an opportunity to question things and learn in an interactive way.

Games Convention 2005 in Leipzig

Dirk Hoeschen, a spokesman for Children's Charity, said there was a lack of computer awareness among German schoolchildren that was to blame for the games industry's weakness.

"It's impossible to understand why computers aren't used in kindergartens," he told AP, adding that German school's placed too high a regard for the book over other media.

Gerhard Florin from Electronic Arts advocated a mixed approach. "It's not bad to read books but it's just as good to play games."

He and other organizers say they don't only want German kids to play more games and the market to open up; they also hope the German economy will benefit from gaming. Right now, there are no major games software or hardware companies in Germany.

"It's amazing how far behind we are as developers for this market," Malte Behrmann, manager at G.A.M.E., an association of German game developers, told AP.

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