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Wednesday, 5 September, 2001, 07:58 GMT 08:58 UK
Armchair hooligans get their chance
Artwork from the Hooligans football game Darxabre
Live the life of a hooligan on computer
By BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward

A computer game that gives players the chance to become the most notorious football hooligans in Europe looks set to be released later this year despite calls for it to be banned.

Darxabre, the Dutch creator of the game, said the game would go on sale in October in spite of misgivings about its subject matter.

It's not just destruction and mayhem - we tried to give it more depth and scope.

Jason Garber, Darxabre
It defended the game saying that it rewarded strategic thinking rather than violence, and that there were many more violent games currently available.

Hooligans has the backing of the software makers' industry body, which said people should remember that it was just a game intended to entertain.

Kicking to be clever

Jason Garber, chief executive of Darxabre, said the idea grew out of increasing frustration with games that are all about killing trolls or waging war in space and have nothing to do with real life.

"We realised that if you approach it with a sarcastic, ironic view of the hooligan subject, you could get a good game going," said Mr Garber.

He said the game had more in common with strategy games, such as Star Craft and Commandos, than it did with violent shoot-em ups such as Kingpin or Quake.

The game rewarded players that outsmarted rather than outpunched opposing hooligan groups, he said.

In-game shots from the Hooligans computer game Darxabre
Hooligans gather in the game world
"It's not just destruction and mayhem," said Mr Garber, "We tried to give it more depth and scope."

The game is played out over a football season in which a hooligan gang travels Europe trying to prove it is the most violent and anti-social group.

It lets players gather funds by looting shops, recruiting troops with drugs or alcohol and features pitched battles with police forces and rival gangs.

Smart hooligans

Mr Garber said each of the actions of the player-controlled hooligans was governed by a sophisticated AI program that kept track of personal traits such as health, anger, fear, conscience and loyalty.

Hooligan leaders who do too little to keep their troops loyal will see their thuggish army drift away.

Efforts have been made to ensure it is not tied to any particular country, team or competition to avoid suggestions that it is too closely based on real events.

He defended the game against accusations that it could encourage violence or tempt people to emulate what they see on screen.

Hooligan t-shirt Darxabre
What the well dressed hooligan is wearing this year
"Why single out this one game?" he said. "If it's not correct then why, apparently, is it correct to make games about World War II in which millions died?"

But even before it is released Hooligans has attracted criticism with the Football Association and Home Office condemning the game.

Mr Garber said one French tabloid newspaper branded him a "fascist" for creating and promoting the game.

Roger Bennett, general director of the European Leisure Software Publishers Association, defended Hooligans and said the game makers were just reflecting life as it is now.

"It is important that everyone should be aware that these are games and should be fun," said Mr Bennett. "I don't think we should take it so seriously all the time."

He added that all computer games had to go through a rating procedure and if Hooligans proved to be overly violent then its sale would be restricted to older people.

See also:

28 Aug 00 | UK Politics
Hooligan bill comes into force
18 Jul 01 | New Media
'Concern' over game gun prize
11 Jul 01 | New Media
Reading between the lines
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