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East German fugitive shooting game a hit

Known as 1378 (km) because of the length of the border between the former East and West Germany, the game has some people angry because it depicts the shooting of East German refugees fleeing into West Germany.

If you want to know how to get a bunch of Germans riled up in 2010, try putting out a video game that depicts the shooting by East German border guards of refugees trying to flee into the West.

That's certainly been the experience of Jens Stober, the creator of 1378 (km), a new game that according to Reuters, has been "condemned as 'utterly inappropriate' and 'insensitive' by a victims' group."

Yet, despite the public outcry, 1378 (km) has apparently become a big hit in Germany. As Reuters reported, "Demand for the game brought down servers following its release over the weekend, a spokes(person) for the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design, where the game was developed, said" today.

A new game called 1378 (km) is drawing fire for depicting the shooting of East German refugees fleeing into West Germany. 1378 (km)

Named after the length of the border between the former East and West Germany, Reuters said, the game puts players in the role of guards who can shoot refugees trying to flee from East to West, or in the role of the refugees themselves. Reuters quoted critics of the game saying that it "trivializes" the horrors of those attempting to run to their freedom from the oppressive former Soviet bloc regime.

But the game's designer, Jens Stober, wants people to relax. "A large part of the criticism is a consequence of my chosen medium, the computer game," Stober wrote in an English translation on the game's official Web site. "Computer games as a medium are often quick to be judged without being more closely examined...It was designed to enable a younger generation to access information on recent German history using a medium familiar to them. I have been been pleased about the lively discussion about the game, and about the positive feedback and encouragement from which the game can only profit."

And Stober may well have a point. Controversial games are often decried because they are seen as entertainment rather than education. But to Stober, 1378 (km) is about letting players decide for themselves what they would do if they were wearing the boots of an East German border guard.

"In this computer game, which would not be the case in, for example, a documentary film," Stober said on his site, "I personally have the control over my behavior and my reactions, which take place in real time, and in changing situations. The game...does not force someone playing the 'border soldiers' to shoot the 'refugees.' Players are left with the freedom of choice."

Indeed, he added, the only way to win the game--which he said is based on real-life situations at the former Inner German Border--is to not shoot. "I deeply regret that the victims of the former border and their families and relatives have felt cause for injury," Stober concluded. "This was never part of my intention."

Still, reading Stober's comments, I can't help but wonder if he didn't know that the game would cause a major kerfuffle and create a stampede to play the game. His own comments about being pleased about the ongoing discussion and feedback related to the game and that the "game can only profit" suggest he's not too upset about the results.