Focus analysis of the media institutionsUrgent need for action identified in the area of online games

For the first time, the state media authorities have taken a broad look at aspects of online games that are relevant to the protection of minors. They examined and documented almost 400 games of all genres - also on behalf of the Commission for the Protection of Minors in the Media (KJM). This revealed an urgent need for action.

Across genres, three key problem areas were identified: different age ratings at different stores, cost risks, and the promotion of excessive use. Violations were also discovered at the content level, including pornography and depictions of minors in unnaturally gendered postures.

Same game, different store: different age rating

The media authorities conducted in-depth checks on almost 70 games. In 47 cases, there was an initial suspicion of a violation of the provisions of the Interstate Treaty on the Protection of Minors in the Media (JMStV). One finding of the investigation is that age ratings for the same games differ between the various platforms. In many cases, the age ratings are also too low.

Pressure to buy, casino elements and excessive use

In addition - especially in Free2Play offers - purchase and advertising offers are tempting, which children and young people find difficult to avoid. Gambling-like elements such as wheels of fortune and so-called slot machines are widespread even in children's games and introduce minors to gambling. The focus analysis also showed that advertising is often rewarded for consumption.

The media institutions found numerous design elements that can promote excessive usage behavior. These include, for example, push messages about new tasks and challenges, time pressure, and rewards for frequent play. This was not only the case in multiplayer or action games, but also in explicit children's games.

Swastikas and pornography on Steam.

In addition to these interaction risks, problematic content was also discovered. In one game on the Steam platform, swastikas were found as a menu button and songs from the Nazi era. In addition, the focus analysis uncovered pornography and depictions of minors in unnaturally gendered postures. Steam is not a USK member and does not use an age verification system. All content is therefore freely accessible to all users. Steam blocked the game in question for users from Germany and removed pornographic images and inadmissible postings posted by users at the instigation of the Media Authority Hamburg/Schleswig-Holstein, which is responsible for the platform.

Click here for a summary of the key findings.

Here you can find a report on the focus analysis.

Background: Games have long since made it out of the niche and into the mainstream: 72 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds play games regularly, the average being just under two hours a day. Even in the younger age groups, among 6- to 12-year-olds, 60 percent play regularly (cf. KIM 2020, JIM 2021). The widespread use of elements that promote excessive use is all the more problematic because the proportion of excessive users has already doubled since 2019 (longitudinal study by DAK-Gesundheit and the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, 11/2021).