In Greece, use a GameBoy, go to jail

A new Greek law means that anybody carrying an electronic game--even one on a mobile phone--could face a hefty fine or lengthy jail sentence.

In Greece, playing a shoot-'em-up video game could land you in jail.

The Greek government has banned all electronic games across the country, including those that run on home computers, on GameBoy-style portable consoles, and on mobile phones. Thousands of tourists in Greece are unknowingly facing heavy fines or long terms in prison for owning mobile phones or portable video games.

Greek Law Number 3037, enacted at the end of July, explicitly forbids electronic games with "electronic mechanisms and software" from public and private places, and people have already been fined tens of thousands of dollars for playing or owning games.

The law applies equally to visitors from abroad: "If you know these things are banned, you should not bring them in," said a commercial attach? at the Greek Embassy in London, who declined to give her name.

Internet cafes will be allowed to continue to operate, providing no games-playing takes place. If a customer is found to be running any sort of game, including online chess, the cafe owner will be fined and the place closed.

The Greek government introduced the law in an attempt to prevent illegal gambling. According to a report in the Greek newspaper Kathimerini, Greek police will be responsible for catching offenders, who will face fines of 5,000 to 75,000 euros (about $4,980 to $74,650) and imprisonment of one to 12 months. "The blanket ban was decided in February after the government admitted it was incapable of distinguishing innocuous video games from illegal gambling machines," the report said.

The Greek gaming community has reacted with a mixture of shock, disbelief and anger. One Web site, www.gameland.gr, has started a news service about the ban and opened a petition to protest it. In addition, it is posting English translations of the law and messages of support from around the world.

A test case is to come before the Greek courts next week, and the Greek gaming community is already planning protests in the event that the defendant is convicted.

"We are trying to organize a protest against this law," said Petros Tipis of Thessaloniki-based gaming company Reload Entertainment, which has had to cancel a gaming tournament that was to be held this week.

If the prosecution of the defendant next week is successful, said Tipis, the Greek gaming industry will take the case to the European Court.

In the meantime, Tipis told ZDNet UK, a lot of people in Greece are very worried about the new law. "They are taking it very seriously," he said. "It even affects the games that come with Windows. This law isn't the right one," he added. "It is unfair. It was introduced too quickly."

Reload's tournament, which was to be held Fridah, was a qualifier for the CPL Oslo 2002 gaming tournament. "Now we are trying not to lose the two slots we were given from CPL for the tournament," Tipis said. "This was the first time for a qualifier (for this tournament) in Greece."

ZDNet UK's Rupert Goodwins and Matt Loney reported from London.

 

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