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Two Leading Gamer Politicians in Germany
by Stephen Jacobs on 06/13/14 01:00:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


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.

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Jennis Kartens
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Ah this was the entry you were talking about in the other comment (maybe it's time for a Forum, Gamasutra?)

Mind you, both people are members of a strongly conversative party. The CDU/CSU compound is not well known for actual cultural or art endorsement, they have very different roots. I personally don't take that kind of smooth talking very serious. It's politics.

PS: A lot of US companies, such as Apple, EA etc. are based in Ireland because of tax benefits mainly. Something the EU just targeted (after decades...)

However, thanks for the insight and your perspective of things :) While I am overly critical here as someone living in Germany for 30 years and seen a lot, but not what I want to see, I think it is great you talk about these things here.

Larry Carney
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It is rather intriguing, isn't it? There are those who find themselves generally politically opposed to those who create a more friendly business environment for the games industry. For example, Rick Perry was recently awarded for his efforts to make Texas a place for game development, yet there are those in the industry who might find it hard to agree with Mr. Perry on anything else.

In that regard, I don't know if it is simply "just politics", but I do think the support some in the political arena have for gaming does come from their political views on how to foster industry, etc.

Stephen Jacobs
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Admittedly, the CDU is not the Greens :-) I visited with a team of fifteen US students, six German students, one German Faculty member and another US faculty member. After we met with Dr. Tauber, we were given a presentation, and had a discussion, with Sidney Pfannstiel, head of CDU's PR.

He gave us a great rundown on party history and impact on German society. Hannah and some of the other students got into a good discussion with him (Sidney also had a little help from Jorg) on the difference in the US and Germany (and really Europe to a certain extent) on the meaning and impact of being a Christian political party. The point being that after World War to the party founders needed to reaffirm policies based on Christian (or what I might refer to as common Judeo Christian values) in the face of the war’s aftermath, but at this point in time these were affirmations of ethical views more than religious. Sidney cited how changes like a party leader and chancellor who was…

a woman
divorced and remarried

and the party’s support for gay marriage were other indicators that it had kept modern and more secular than hard-line and “Tea Partyish.” (My words, not his) Apparently aother change is in the status of women overall. Sidney told us with a grin that former chancellor Helumt Kohl used to refer to Merkel as “his girl,” but that ceetainly wouldn’t fly these days.

What was most interesting to me, and why I'm taking, and sometimes modifying for the audience, these posts from the trip blog is that its interesting to see the different perspectives and attitudes. So whether or not the German Institutions like the Game Prize or the Foundation, or these politicians, are perfext, they are exemplars of things that could be better here.

I'm not well versed enough in the German scene to know how Tauber and Jarzombek are perceived overall in their own country as legislators. I only know that few US Politicians show the knowledge of games and the digital environment that they do and I wish ours were as well informed. While the Prize and the Foundation may not be making the dent that the German Industry and Gamers wish they were, there's a lot of creative energy there and I'd like to see IGDA, THE ESA and/or others try some of the things the Foundation is doing.

THe trip was a fabulous opportunity to meet these other people, get a different take on the industry and more.

Larry Carney
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Some comedian said a while back, "One day there'll be a president of the United States who grew up playing Grand Theft Auto." While one may agree more or less depending on how one views the IRS, I didn't know there were such game-friendly political folks in other countries, and they don't even view gaming as "art" which seems to be the way gaming advocates try to gain cultural and political support for gaming.

Different countries, different approaches to gaming, but all amazing nonetheless!

Christian Kulenkampff
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>> 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.

This is only half true. At least the USK classifies games as art now. See or
e/leitkriterien-der-usk-wuerdigen-kunstaspekt-von-spielen/ Nevertheless legal practice doesn't reflect this view yet.

Maybe this interests you, it's a draft for a short article on youth protection and censorship in Germany: