Between the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and its fall, in 1989, more than 600 people are believed to have died, as they tried to escape East Germany. Twenty years later, they’re the topic of a video game. Of course.
The game, called 1378 (km) after the 1378 kilometre-long border, is set at the height of the Cold War, in 1976. Gamers choose to play either as a refugee trying desperately to escape communism – or as an East German border guard, whose job it is to stop them.
The refugee side of the game involves climbing fences, navigating through barbed wire, dodging guards, avoiding automatic shooting posts and generally trying not to be killed or arrested.
The other side? Stop the refugees – with or without weapons. There is a catch, though – you can’t shoot “indiscriminately”, and killing too many refugees outright will result in a court-martial, plus “increased political pressure on East Germany” – and we can’t have that!
It’s been nearly 21 years since the wall was demolished, but the pain is still very real for many people – and the game touches a few nerves.
Rainer Wagner leads a group representing victims of communist violence. He spent two years in prison following his own escape attempt, so the pain is still raw:
“An aspect of this game … is even worse than other shoot ’em ups because normally in such games, one shoots at armed enemies – here, it is unarmed civilians.”
The game’s creator – 23 year old Jens Stober – defended his creation, which is actually a mod for Half-Life 2: Death Match. He explained that the art project is an attempt to get people (particularly young people) interested in recent German history.
“You can reach young people better through a computer game.”
Mr. Wagner disagrees, describing the game as making “further contribution to the brutalisation and the breaking down of society’s inhibitions under the cover of historical reappraisal.”
To add further insult to the saga – 1378 (km) was due for release on October 3, on a day when Germany is set to celebrate 20 years since reunification. Following outrage at the mere suggestion, Mr. Stober has announced the game will not be released at this stage, but still hopes it will go into an adults-only beta soon, with the intention of publishing the game in December.