Ten years ago, during the summer of 1999, a piece of software was distributed over the internet to the still small but quickly growing community of online gamers. Counter-Strike, developed by a team of private individuals by ‘modding’ the game Half Life, soon became a mass phenomenon that has fascinated the gaming community and haunted family politicians and authorities ever since.
In Counter-Strike two teams go head-to-head and try to prevent each other from reaching set objectives by killing each other with an arsenal of contemporary military hardware. Back in 1999 that didn’t rise many eyebrows. Neither did the fact that the teams battling it out were terrorists and anti-terrorists and the objective of the ‘terrors’ was to either protect a bunch of hostages from being liberated or to blow up stuff like power plants with a bomb. The terrorists came in various uniforms and fictional groups that had such funky names as ‘Phoenix Connection’ or ‘Elite Crew’ ‘1337 Crew’.* One of the player models showed a man of Middle Eastern decent with Gaddafi-style sunglasses.
After 9/11 the game suddenly got a new frightening dimension as counterterrorists and al-Qaida were battling it out in real life all over the world. Moral reservations about playing a team of terrorists however didn’t put an end to the popularity of the game. Today’s server statistics show that there are 11,652 active servers on the internet running the game with over 44,400 players playing at this moment. Add to this the 22,000 players online playing the sequel Counter-Strike Source and you get whooping number of over 60,000 players online at any given time of the day killing each other virtually.
Although killing is not the main goal of the game – it’s preventing the other team from reaching its aims – it’s pretty violent. This hasn’t escaped family friendly politicians and the authorities who quickly blamed some of the recent school shootings, like the one in Winnenden, Germany, on the fact that the culprits were playing Counter-Strike and other violent video games.
This explanation however might be too simplistic as Counter-Strike is now likely to be found on the majority of PCs owned by young males between 13 and 25 in the West. It is therefore not enough to just blame the incidents on the consumption of video games or violent movies. If that were the main cause, the world would face a serious security risk as the figures above suggest.
A recent move by German authorities to ban the public display of Counter-Strike matches between professional teams was met with some outspoken protest by young people and public protest marches.
So it seems there is finally a way to get our apathetic youth interested in politics – take away their video games. A word of warning though – whoever tries to ban them from playing might suddenly face a broad political opposition out of nowhere.
* 1337 = elite in a special gamer’s language called leetspeak.