Germany’s rating board, the Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle, the age and youth protection service that rates video games in Germany, was recently spotted retweeting and supporting a video from Jonathan McIntosh’s Pop Detective channel.
McIntosh is an ideological extremist who is against video game violence, against sexuality being portrayed in games, and is against feminine and sexy depictions of women. Quite naturally, if the ratings board is supporting someone with such extreme anti-gaming views, the community feared that this kind of ideological alignment could affect the way the USK rates games in Germany.
It started with a retweet yesterday on July 20th, 2017 where the USK tagged Jonathan McIntosh – Anita Sarkeesian’s former producer and writer for Feminist Frequency – agreeing with a video he had made claiming that games need to move away from violence and combat when it comes to situational resolution.
— USK (@USK_de) July 20, 2017
On its own most people wouldn’t think twice about the USK supporting a video condemning violence in video games, but the USK is also a regular follower of Jonathan McIntosh, the Pop Detective channel that McIntosh runs, and Feminist Frequency. The aforementioned individuals are highly controversial and widely despised pundits amongst gamers.
McIntosh was the head cheerleader in the video “25 Invisible Benefits of Gaming While Male”, and both McIntosh and Sarkeesian held the universally unpopular opinion that games like the 2016 out of Doom was bad for the industry, as reported by The GG.
Think about it without getting defensive. No one wants to ban DOOM. But what message does that send to the world about the gaming community?
— Jonathan McIntosh (@radicalbytes) June 15, 2015
Sarkeesian and McIntosh’s radicalism has oftentimes been compared to the Christian Right’s fight against violence and sex in games during the 1980s and 1990s, with many people saying that they’re continuing the work of Jack Thompson, who was quite the bête noire during the early 2000s.
Typically, simply following someone and retweeting content that gamers may feel is controversial is not that big of a deal. A lot of organizations follow Feminist Frequency, but it doesn’t always mean that they support Sarkeesian’s views.
However, with the USK supporting McIntosh and Feminist Frequency, it definitely made people perk up and pay attention when games like Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni were banned from being released on retail shelves in Germany due to the USK refusing to rate the game. The game doesn’t actually contain actual nudity or sexual content but does feature a lot of innuendo, sexually suggestive themes and partial nudity.
It wasn’t just Valkyrie Drive that was banned in Germany by the USK either, there was also Criminal Girls 2. The game was banned in Germany following NIS going through extensive steps to censor, alter or remove 50% of the suggestive imagery in the game, and despite going through such steps to self-censor, the USK still banned the game.
Despite both games having an ‘M’ for Mature rating, the USK explained to NIS that titles such as Criminal Girls 2 were “harmful to minors”.
Some have claimed that the bans on fan-service titles like Valkyrie Drive and Criminal Girls 2 could be politically motivated, especially after games like Fallout 3 managed to get unbanned in Germany back in early 2016. What’s more is that controversial material like Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf was unbanned in in early 2016 as well, as reported by Forward.
Some argue how Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni’s fan-service could be more harmful to youths than Mein Kampf?
In a Kotaku in Action thread they noted that the USK is following the Amadeu Antonio Stiftung account, which courted controversy last year as one of the organizations in Germany pining for stricter censorship standards on what they deemed to be “hate speech” by producing a brochure that ended up becoming quite caustic on social media, as reported by Meedia.
There aren’t many connections between the USK and Amadeu Antonio Stifung to make any snap judgments about the direction the ratings board might take or its possible ideological influence, other than that both the USK and AAS having attended the Bits 21 Family and Media Education seminar back in May of this year, where they offered tips and advice on training parents for dealing with social media and media entertainment in today’s society.
— BITS 21 | fjs e. V. (@bits_21) May 31, 2017
Nevertheless, given how some companies in the gaming industry – such as BioWare – have fully succumbed to focusing their efforts of putting sociopolitical ideologies over sound game design philosophy when it comes to making content and telling stories, some fear that the USK might succumb to propping up ideological preferences over fair and objective rating principles when it comes to rating (or refusing) games that may not fit within a perceived ideological standard.
(Thanks for the news tip Lyle)