Academic journal article The George Washington International Law Review

Killer Games and Gats: Why the WTO Should Permit Germany to Restrict Market Access to Violent Online Video Games

Academic journal article The George Washington International Law Review

Killer Games and Gats: Why the WTO Should Permit Germany to Restrict Market Access to Violent Online Video Games

Article excerpt


On April 26, 2002, nineteen-year-old Robert Steinhauser, armed with a pistol and shotgun, appeared at the high school in Erfurt, Germany, from which he had recently been expelled.1 He then proceeded to shoot and kill twelve teachers, two students, one school secretary, and a policeman before taking his own life.2 A subsequent investigation into the incident revealed that through- out the period leading to his expulsion, Steinhauser's academic performance had progressively worsened and that his shortcom- ings in school had left him increasingly isolated from his family.3 The report found that while Steinhauser's grades and attendance record were suffering, he became increasingly involved with a local shooting club and began assembling a personal weapons arsenal.4 The report also documented the recovery of collections of violent films and computer games in Steinhauser's room during an investi- gation pursuant to the shooting; these games included "Quake" and "Soldier of Fortune," which belong to the category of games classified as "first-person shooters."5 According to the report, Steinhauser's troubles at school also coincided with his increasing devotion to playing these games.6

Just over three years later, eighteen-year-old Sebastien B., armed with guns, knives, and home-made explosive devices, wounded thirty-seven and killed himself and one other at his former high school in Emsdetten, Germany.7 Media profiles of B. depicted him as a loner who felt alienated at school and ultimately undertook his attack as a means to "eradicate himself and take his former fellow pupils and teachers with him."8 These profiles were based on passages from B.'s journal and Internet postings, in which he wrote "my life was great until I started school"9 and "the only thing I learned intensively in school was that I'm a loser."10 In addition, B. was reported to have spent a great deal of time playing the com- puter game Counter-Strike, which, like Quake and Soldier of For- tune, has been classified as a "first-person shooter."11

Less than three years later, Tim Kretschmer, a seventeen-year-old from Winnenden, Germany, took a pistol from his parents' exten- sive weapon collection and shot and killed fifteen students at his former high school, including himself.12 Like Steinhauser and B. before him, Kretschmer was "very frustrated" with school, having watched his classmates graduate from high school the previous year while he was kept behind.13 Also like his predecessors, Kret- schmer was an avid computer game player and particularly enjoyed playing Counter-Strike.14

The collective result of these incidents has been widespread inquiry among Germans into the reasons for school shooting sprees, and much of the focus of this inquiry has been directed towards the violent computer games played by Steinhauser, B., and Kretschmer.15 In response to the apparent connection between virtual violence and actual violence, the German government has increasingly cracked down on the promotion and sale of violent video and computer games. It has done so by, for example, intro- ducing measures to restrict the distribution of these games to minors and even to completely ban their sale.16 However, these measures have surfaced amidst continual uncertainty as to whether consumption of violent games actually causes players to act violently, because the psychological effects of these games remain a subject of debate within both the scientific community and German civil society.17

As Germany contemplates reinforcing its current restrictions through new measures limiting the play of violent games online, this lack of a demonstrable causal relationship may prove problem- atic with regard to the country's trade obligations in the World Trade Organization (WTO).18 In particular, Germany's measures may violate its obligations under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), which governs the cross-border supply of online gaming. …

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