Politicians have raised the issue of whether violent video games contributed to a school shooting in Germany this week. DW.WORLD.DE spoke to sociology Professor Klaus Hurrelmann about how influential video games can be.
The shooting game "Counter-Strike" has been blamed for provoking violence
Following the shooting, Wolfgang Bosbach, the deputy head of the Christian Democrats (CDU) in parliament, said the government should consider a ban on games that simulate extreme killing.
The discussion about prohibiting violent video games, specifically "Counter-Strike," came to the fore following a school shooting in 2002 in the city of Erfurt, where a former student shot and killed 16 before turning the gun on himself. The ensuing debate contributed to changes to the Media Protection Act for Youths, which was altered to include more stringent guidelines for rating video games and expanded bans on "morally harmful" content.
DW-WORLD.DE: Do you think that blaming the shooting on violent video games is realistic?
Klaus Hurrelmann: We have to rely on research in this case, which says there is no lineal or causal relationship the computer games have to violent behavior. We have, first, the vulnerable personality which really triggers violence and, second, finding a fitting context. Only if these things come together, the vicious circle begins. That the young boy in this case has drifted away from reality and moves into the fictional world of the computer games and projects his experiences and his hate and aggressiveness to the school context, which in his eyes, is violating him and not giving him the support and perspective on life that he feels that he needs. It is a triangulation.
So it was a combination of factors, including his school and family, that influenced him?
The shooter was one of the few boys who will slip into a "fictional world" of violent games
Proof of this is that among 100 young boys who are playing "Counter-Strike," there are 99 who really take this as a game, who may even benefit from it in thinking and strategy and intellectual development, and for one boy, in this case, there were detrimental consequences. So it is not a mechanical relationship between playing aggressive computer games and becoming aggressive.
What is your opinion of legislators or government focusing the blame for the shooting on these types of computer games -- and the calls to ban them?
It is a thrilling idea to forbid computer games of this kind, and it is not below discussion for me. (Implementing legislation to ban games) certifies that we do not like games with the content that people are killed intensively and intentionally -- the law would be of symbolic importance. However, this law would not reach the one person I was speaking of in the example -- this person always find ways to get access to computer games and is even stimulated by the law that would be forbidding use. It is a difficult situation that we are facing.
Do you think the video game makers and those involved in the mass media have a responsibility to ensure images of violence are not perpetuated in such an extreme way?
Violent games "will always be accessed" even if they're banned
Yes, and this is why computer games are only fascinating when killing is involved. What about other content? What about very, very exciting financial transactions and maybe diplomatic situations that have to be resolved or personal conflict situations that have to be resolved with specific diplomatic and interactive and communicative skills?
We can have fantasies and even aggressive impulses that are part of human nature, and can be taken by games of that format and fulfilled and channeled in a civilized manner. I do not believe that this desire can only be fulfilled by killing people.
It is the responsibility of media, like the news media, to not report on these types of cases with a voyeuristic approach. They should be very detached, be very clear, based only on news and try not to give the details for copying this act. If they are too graphic in their descriptions then they run into the risk that many young people have access to the paradigm and the pattern and think, "Hey, I will follow this." In many cases, they, unfortunately, have many features that we have already seen in other cases.
Professor Klaus Hurrelmann is a specialist in sociology and child development at the University of Bielefeld, Germany.