Nils Bühler is a media culture historian, currently researching the handling of mechanical, electrical and digital games by German media control institutions using a discourse analysis approach for his doctoral thesis at the University of Cologne. Other research interests comprise media control, game studies, and political philosophy. Bühler studied Media Cultural Studies, and English Studies. For his bachelor’s thesis, he examined representations of space in digital games. His master’s thesis analysed computer game regulation in 1980s Germany. He has been working on his dissertation since 2021 and is a scholarship holder at the a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne.
Game Regulation Between Oppressing and Facilitating Freedom
FROG 2022 – Talk
Just like other media, digital games are regulated, prohibited, observed, and rated by authorities all over the world. But how far can a society go in controlling a medium before youth protection, security, and the protection of personality rights become means of oppression? This question has been a hot topic for censorship and surveillance studies for centuries. Yet, digital games have a feature that poses this question anew: Reading about a murder or watching gruesome movies is bad enough in some eyes – but acting out illegal or undesired behaviour in a game seems to have an even more serious quality. Requiring the player’s activity, games seem to be more persuasive, more dangerous, and hence, in many eyes, should be under stricter control than less interactive media. Still, after the moral panic of the early days of digital gaming has subsided, many legal actions against games seem excessive and unsubstantiated in hindsight.
This paper discusses the thin ethical line of game regulation. From a historical perspective, the moral reasoning and legal basis behind some examples of game prohibitions in Germany will be briefly explored, based on my ongoing research. On this basis, game regulation will be discussed as a question of political philosophy: Can there be a form of game regulation that fosters freedom and fights oppression? How can the delicate balance between individual freedom and collective positive liberty be maintained? Both questions refuse simple answers, yet there are some things to be learned from looking at the past.