Censorship in Germany – Dying Light and Nintendo’s eShop |Big Daddy Digest

Ok, like any civilised country, Germany has no censorship. It’s even in our constitution: Article 5! However, the guys thinking up this document made sure that they had procedures in place to steer the unwashed and uneducated masses away from immoral and unwanted media. That’s where youth protection laws come into play to basically do the censoring. It works as follows. (Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I just grew up here and learned to live with this system.)

Movies and games have to be rated by responsible bodies before they are allowed to be screened, sold or rented out. For movies that’s done by the Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle der Filmwirtschaft, while video games are rated by the Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle. These bodies hand out the usual ratings: FSK0 (suitable for all ages), FSK6 (no children under six), FSK12 (no children under twelve), FSK16 (no children under sixteen) and FSK18 (adults only) for movies and USK0, USK6, USK12, USK16 and USK18 for video games, respectively.

It’s basically the same as the Pan European Game information, or PEGI in short, you know? But there is one significant difference in Germany: What to do with works that get an 18+ rating, but still some conservative people consider too smutty/offensive/disgusting/(choose your own biased adjective here) to be made available to the general public? Censorship is unconstitutional as you have seen, so you can’t simply ban them. (OK, you can ban some works under German law, but it’s difficult and cumbersome to do, so one needs an alternative.)

This alternative comes in the way of the Bundes-Zentrale für Kinder- und Jugend-Medienschutz, in short BzKJ, formerly known as the Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien. This governmental office can place works deemed too harmful for minors (remember these works already got an 18+ rating, so aren’t even made for minors) on a certain list, called the Index der jugendgefährdenden Schriften or Index in short.

Films/movies on this list can still be sold in Germany, but can’t be advertised at all. No print adverts, no posters, no standees in stores. Also, no putting up information about them on the German speaking internet. People will have to know about the movies or games beforehand and have to find a store that sells them. The thought process is simple: No one buys stuff they don’t know about. So the smut won’t be available, but there is no censorship. Constitution saved, uneducated people saved from themselves, too. (Yeah, that is our politicians’ paternalistic thinking at work.)

Let’s go back in history for a moment. Forty years ago, most media would only be included on the Index after they had already been released. As a result, during the 80s, the Index was partially printed in the classifieds sections of computer magazines to make sure that you would not mail in sales offers for games included on it. Guess what happened: The list was like a holy bible to my teenage friends and myself. If anything was on that list, it had to be awesome. So we tried to get our hands on all of these games (and sometimes movies, too, for those that could afford a VCR). Ah, those were the days!

Now, back to the present: What happened with Dying Light is that it had been put on the Index in 2015 and must not be advertised. Listing it on the German eShop would do so and would therefore result in Nintendo Germany breaking the law. That would be quite costly, as the fines can be very high. So, no eShop listing in all German eShops and by extension all eShops managed by a company registered in Germany.

The reason why Dying Light was included on the Index in the first place might be the topic of the game: Killing humans (in this case zombies). Germany has a long judicial tradition when it comes to this, starting with the first Evil Dead movie. Is killing zombies like killing non-humans (then it’s 18+ smut and legal)? Or is killing zombies like killing humans (then it’s 18+ smut and might break laws if there is too much violence/brutality/blood/gore). Dying Light falls into this category, as I could verify in fifteen minutes of playing it, resulting in its indexation.

Want to get really confused? Then think about the Wolfenstein games. Most of the early ones ended up on the Index because of the swastikas in them (even though you actually kill the Nazis in the games.) The last one however didn’t, because German laws have changed. You can include swastikas in your game as long as you make sure never to take the Nazi side. Still, some publishers simply use alternate designs to make absolutely sure they don’t run into problems. (Then people like me simply import a British copy anyway.)

Summing it up, Germany has no censorship, but we have youth protection (and sometimes copyright laws) that can be used to the same effect. Still, laws are changing, so hang in there and wait. It’ll get better.