An award ceremony should be about applause, fame and prize money. In 2012, however, the German Computer Game Award mainly brought about controversy. One term dominated the ceremony: “killer game”. A day before the award ceremony, the CDU / CSU parliamentary group condemned the nomination of the “killer game” in a statement, even calling for the jury to be removed. The debate was triggered by the second part of the “Crysis” series of computer games, a first-person shooter. The game received the award “Best German Game of 2011”. This re-fueled the debate: “How dangerous are video games really?” – a question that has determined the use of video games in politics and the media since the late 1990s.
This Friday the remaster of the first “Crysis” from 2007 was released, a revamped version of the old game for modern platforms. The game is about the fight of a US special forces unit against the North Korean army. It is set on a fictional tropical island in 2020. When it appeared 13 years ago, it boosted the reputation of German game developers in the industry, largely because of its advanced technology.
Can a new “Crysis” still cause such reactions? How relaxed is the public now when dealing with video games, especially first-person shooters?
The word “killer game” was popularized in 1999 by the then Bavarian Minister of the Interior, Günther Beckstein. Since then, critics have tried again and again when it came to pinpointing the negative effects of video games, following the motto: The games turn gamers into killers. After rampages and attacks with perpetrators who had also played shooters, such as the one in Erfurt in 2002, the catchphrase repeatedly dominated the discussion. Even after the extreme right-wing rampage in Munich in 2016, Thomas de Maiziére pulled the “killer game” out of the drawer.
A political price
The German Computer Game Prize is awarded annually and honors games produced in Germany in particular. It is organized by the Association of the German Games Industry and the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure. Due to this connection, the nominations are under special observation – hence the outcry when a first-person shooter was nominated and awarded. Parts of politics were still under the impression that a game in which people shoot from the first person perspective can only be a “killer game”.
“We were amazed at the reaction,” says Avni Yerli today about the dispute over the 2012 price. He is the managing director of Crytek, the development studio behind the “Crysis” series. The use of the term “killer game” in relation to their game was also a surprise for his team, but: “Looking back, we think that the award of” Crysis 2 “has allowed the award to develop further.”
Yerli is convinced that the nomination would not make waves today. The discussion continues, recognizable for example from the USK 16 release of the new version – it is no longer released from 18 years like the old one. Nevertheless, work is still needed to promote the political and social acceptance of games. “Especially compared to other countries,” said Yerli. In the USA and Great Britain, games have long been an important economic factor and are discussed on an equal footing with literature and theater in the cultural section.
“There will always be people in politics who use the framing term ‘killer game’ to demonize video games,” says Tiemo Wölken, SPD politician and member of the European Parliament. Video games are part of his life, both privately and professionally. “I am currently playing Fall Guys on the Twitch streaming platform from time to time and I also talk about politics,” he says. “Fall Guys” is a colorful online game in which the aim is to get to your destination through a course.
Wölken says that not all politicians have everyday experience with video games. “It takes a change of perspective in parliaments,” he says. “We experienced this again during the pandemic: instead of recognizing that games can help in isolation because they connect players, a study is being commissioned by the Federal Drug Commissioner to investigate how harmful frequent gaming is,” says Tiemo clouds. So far, the study has come to the intermediate result: 2.7 percent of the children and adolescents playing showed pathological play behavior.
But Wölken also sees less fearful examples of how the medium is used in politics. He recently spoke to the Lower Saxony minister of education live on Twitch, the streaming service where gamers meet.
There are still many studies on the subject, the general harmfulness of games that depict violence is by no means certain. In 2018, the University Medical Center Hamburg found “that playing violent games on the computer does not have a lasting or long-term effect on the aggressive behavior of the players.” But the mere fact that these studies are needed says a lot about the position of video games in Germany, says Tiemo Wölken. The view of the medium is seldom a playful one, the potential of the cultural form is not fully exploited.
No more K-word
The “K-Word” also covers up important discussions such as the one about the aesthetics of video games, which is increasingly inspiring the staging of murder videos of assassins. Or the one about toxic games communities on the Internet in which right-wing and misogynist movements are organized. The term “killer game” is always followed by the counter-reflex of gaming advocates: “Politicians have no idea about games” – no matter how valid the criticism is.
And yet parts of politics are much more open today. “I don’t use the so-called K-word. It’s negative and tendentious.” says Dorothee Bär, CSU politician and Federal Government Commissioner for Digitization. “Who is talking about ‘killer films’ when it comes to bloody action films? Nobody.” At the beginning of her career, she was largely alone with her ideas for supporting the games industry, says Bär. But the debate has evolved and video games are now being promoted more strongly as a cultural asset and an economic sector. “The nomination of” Crysis “for the German Computer Game Prize would not cause such an outcry today,” says Bär. Other developments show how mainstream computer games have become. Today the Bund is promoting games in a bear’s way, universities offer ludology courses.
And the new “Crysis”? The remaster of the first part of the series is still fun, but its mechanics can no longer keep up with current shooters. The graphics were a sensation back then, not anymore. The portrayal of violence has not changed, blood flows, but only a little. The difference to 2012: More and more parents – including some politicians – can talk to their children in an informed manner about the games because they grew up with first-person shooters and “killer game” debates.
The remaster of “Crysis” is available for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.