European justice ministers met on Wednesday for a day-long conference focusing on the sale of violent videogames to children.
The issue became a hot topic across Europe following a November 2006 shooting rampage in Germany, in which an 18-year-old wounded 11 students at a secondary school before killing himself. It was later discovered that the shooter was in fact a gamer. Following the shootings, two German states drafted legislation that would impose fines and possibly jail sentences on developers who create and market games containing “cruel violence on humans or human-looking characters.”
“The protection of the rights of children is a priority of the European Commission,” EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini said in December of 2006. “Violence and sadism in videogames is clearly a worrying issue.” Frattini blames violent and bullying behavior among children on games that glorify violence, adding, “This is not a technical problem but one of public health, which needs an educational element and penal measures.”
The European Commission is planning to introduce a list of common sanctions against retailers who sell violent videogames to children, but also said it would not regulate what kind of material should be banned. German Justice Minister Brigette Zypries told reporters ahead of the meeting that because of varying legal standards throughout the 27-member EU, ministers at the meeting were unlikely to agree on common standards regulating the same of violent games. Instead, she expected EU governments to voluntarily commit themselves to applying stricter rules to the sale of “killer games.”
Videogame ratings in Europe are voluntary, administered by Pan European Game Information, which uses a system combining age-based ratings and content descriptions similar to that of the ESRB in North America. Should restrictions be introduced, it is expected that retailers will be responsible for enforcing restrictions on the sale of games; currently, however, retailers in most EU nations are not legally obligated to restrict the sale of adult material to minors.