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Cold War game sparks controversy

Screen grab from game "1378" showing border guard

A computer game set in the Cold War which allows people to play East German border guards who shoot political fugitives has caused controversy in Germany.

The game 1378 awards medals to “guards” if they shoot a high number of East Germans trying to escape to the West.

23-year-old Jens Stober created the game as part of his university degree.

It was due to be released this Sunday, the 20th anniversary of German reunification.

However, it has been reported that criticism of the game has delayed its launch.

The title 1378 represents the length in kilometres of the border between East and West Germany during the Cold War, known as the “death strip”.

The game has been developed in the “first-person shooter” genre where the player’s perspective is that of the person holding the gun.

Up to 16 people can play at the same time and players can also take on the role of East Germans trying to flee the communist state.

“Guards”, meanwhile, also have to face the consequences: they later find themselves in the year 2000, when they are put on trial for the shootings.

Mr Stober, a student at the University of Design, Media and Arts in Karlsruhe, says the game is an educational tool.

“Becoming an East German escapee or border guard enables players to identify with these figures,” he said. “It’s a novel way of encouraging young people to take an interest in coming to terms with recent German history.”

Thousands of people tried to flee Communist East Germany into the West during the Cold War. At least 136 people are known to have been killed trying to cross the Berlin Wall.

East German Rainer Wagner, who was arrested while trying to cross the wall – and spent two years in prison as a result – is among those offended by the game.
Screen grab from game “1378” showing border fenceThe game is set in 1976 when border fortifications had been upgraded

Now chairman of the Association for Victims of Communist Tyranny, Mr Wagner says 1378 is worse than other first-person shooters because normally in such games, one shoots at armed enemies.

“Here, it is unarmed civilians,” he said.

Politicians from several German parties have also voiced their criticism of the game.

The magazine website Der Spiegel Online reports that Mr Stober’s university defended his work but has decided to postpone the release of the 1378 game until December.

This article is from the BBC News website. © British Broadcasting Corporation, The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

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