Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle

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Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle logo.

Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle (German Voluntary Monitoring Organisation of Entertainment Software) or USK, is Germany's software rating organization.


Software can receive one of the following ratings:

Original June 2009 Description
Without age restrictions Without age restrictions Freigegeben ohne Altersbeschränkung gemäß § 14 JuSchG (Without age restrictions)
There are no restrictions on the basis of the Jugendschutzgesetz on the sale of this game. The suitability for children, however, only relates to violent or sexual content - the difficulty or complexity of the game may still be unsuited to younger children.
Restricted for those below the age of 6 Restricted for those below the age of 6 Freigegeben ab 6 Jahren gemäß § 14 JuSchG (Restricted for those below the age of 6)
Games with this rating may be of an abstract or comical nature, may have a darker theme or may be too involving for children under the age of 6. This may include games like Point Blank, the Mario Kart series, and Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy.
Restricted for those below the age of 12 Restricted for those below the age of 12 Freigegeben ab 12 Jahren gemäß § 14 JuSchG (Restricted for those below the age of 12)
Games with this rating may place a focus on wars or fighting of some description, or contain mild lyrics and suggestive themes. The fighting should be in a historical or science fiction context and the violence should be kept to a minimum. This may include games like Ninja Assault, Super Smash Bros Brawl, and 3 games of the Need for Speed series (Most Wanted, Carbon, Undercover).
Restricted for those below the age of 16 Restricted for those below the age of 16 Freigegeben ab 16 Jahren gemäß § 14 JuSchG (Restricted for those below the age of 16)
Games featuring frequent one-on-one gunfights and moderate violence (no visible blood) will receive this rating. The game may cover adult themes. This include games like Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent, Grand Theft Auto, and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption.
Restricted for those below the age of 18 Restricted for those below the age of 18 Freigegeben ab 18 Jahren gemäß § 14 JuSchG or Keine Jugendfreigabe gemäß § 14 JuSchG (Restricted for those below the age of 18)
These games may contain scenes of brutal, moderately bloody violence, and they may glorify war or violation of human rights. This may include games like Halo 3, all of the Doom series (including Doom 2, Final Doom, or Doom 3), or Hitman Blood Money.

The rating for specific games may refer to localised versions, in which some elements of the game are changed in order to achieve a lower rating, or to ensure that the game may be legally sold at all. For example, the German version of Grand Theft Auto (since part three) has been edited in various parts, while the US-version received no rating at all (and may therefore only be sold to adults). The German, "USK 16" version features no headshots, and is less gory, as well as having some weapons or their special effects removed. Additionally, civilians do not drop money when being killed and some missions are missing. Grand Theft Auto 4 however, has not been edited and received an "USK 18" rating.

This is a very common practice, especially for games that would usually receive a "USK 18" rating. A potential problem of this "self-censorship" is that the original ambience of a game may get lost. In some cases, the whole plot of a game had to be changed to qualify for a lower USK rating.

The Index

Games that are refused classification are referred to the Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien (Federal Verification Office for Youth-Endangering Media) and can be placed on the Index (a process known in German as Indizierung), upon which the titles may only be sold on request to adults over the age of 18, and are not to be advertised in retail stores or other media. It is permitted to use these titles in private but not to supply them to minors.

Censoring and blacklisting

Until 2003 it was still possible for USK-rated games to be blacklisted in Germany, but as of 2003, USK-rated entertainment software can not be put on the so-called Index anymore. Games with a USK 18 rating are not necessarily uncut, due to distributors striving for a rating. An unrated game may be released and sold until further notice, but is forbidden to be sold to minors below 18 years old, even if it is clearly targetted at kids. The USK can reject a rating if they find parts of it to be unlawful, glorify war or show suffering people in violation of human dignity. Then the BPjM can test whether to put the game on the Index or not. Microsoft, for instance, chose not to sell any games that the USK rejected a rating for in Germany at all, as was the case with Dead Rising, Ninja Gaiden 2 and Gears of War to avoid public disapproval.

The ban on endorsing Nazism or displaying swastikas outside of a historical context applies to all titles. To avoid legal issues, many developers remove the reference to swastikas altogether, replacing it with the symbol of the 3rd Reich's Army, a version of the Iron Cross. On the other hand, it is permitted to feature a function in which one can assume the role of the German army in World War II as in games such as Sudden Strike and Axis and Allies, although this is a subject of controversy.

See also