As soon as we hit Berlin in our second week we headed off to a parliamentary conference room where we met with Thomas Jarzombek, a representative from Westphalia who is a member of the Digital Agenda and Digital Infrastructure committees and is Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media. Jarzombek meets regularly with Angela Merkel the German Chancellor and in fact we started late because his meeting with her ran late :-)
He told us about some of the USK ratings (Similar to our ESRB) and Federal restrictions on games (no swastikas, limits on excessive violence and the killing of "civilians" in games, etc). Games are not "Art" in Germany and therefore do not have the same type of protections that they do in the US under the first amendment.
One current project of his at the moment is personal data usage and limitations for the EU. Currently EU countries each have their own. According to Jarzombek Ireland has a very loose "user must opt out" policy toward of companies making use of their information. He says this is one of the reasons that companies like Google have headquarters there. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Germany (due to the historical impact of the GDR) has a very strict "Opt In" standard; requiring social networks and live games to ask users for permission each time they implement a new feature or upgrade an old one that touches the user data. Jarzombek is among those looking for a middle ground standard that can be adopted by all EU countries.
Later in the week we visited the headquarters of the CDU and had an opportunity to meet We were also the party's Secretary General, Dr. Peter Tauber, who was introduced to us as the political/philosophical head of the party. Some of Tauber’s interests are Net Policy and Games and he is the youngest SG in the party history. Tauber is also a member of the German Parliament.
Tauber told us that he doesn’t have as much time to game as he used to before becoming SG. These days he plays FIFA 13 on his iPad on planes and smart phone Risk when he gets a chance. When he has time on the weekends he plays Skyrim, but he hasn’t finished it yet, one of the reasons being the time it takes to remember where he last left the game. (Shades of IGM “game replay research!”) He's also a Star Wars fan, with a Lego Millennium Falcon on his desk.
He is also involved in the policy work Jarzombek is and told us that current German policy has “Too much focus on the risks, not enough on the benefits” He, like Thomas, is looking forward to an EU standard approach that is less restrictive.
I asked him as gamer, what did he want to see in the next five years. He said “I want to see that there are several places in Germany that develop strong games companies. Berlin is an interesting place for developing games.”
LIke the US, Germany suffers from the generational gulf around video games. “Even now we have to explain to politicians and our older citizens that games are not only about having fun in our free time. They have cultural, and positive economic impacts. We still have to explain to people who have not grown up with them why this change has occurred over the past few decades.”
He also wants to see non-entertainment applications of games flourish in Germany. He told us “I have discussed serious games this morning with several colleagues of mine to talk about how to integrate games and gamification in schools and education. It has changed some in the past few years but we are not where we want to be.”
Both men serve on the jury for the German Computer Game Prize and were founding members of the Cnetz Association for Network Policy. Our University of Paderborn host for the two weeks, Prof. Dr. Jorg Muller-Lietzkow co-directs the association with Jarzombek.