It might not be one of the most anticipated blockbuster games releases of the year but it’s certainly becoming one of the most controversial. And not only is it free but it’s being released in conjunction with a University. The game is 1378 KM, where gamers can play the role of a West German border guard or a civilian trying to cross the border and such is the controversy surrounding it that its release has been delayed until December.
1378 KM, named after the length of the old border between East and West Germany, has been developed by 23 year-old German university student Jens M.Stober and allows players to choose whether to play a border guard or a civilian trying to cross the border. Escapees can receive prison sentences if they are caught and honors are awarded to border guards for kills but border guards who shoot to kill more than three times are transported to the year 2000 where they face trial for their crimes. The game also features the political ramifications of too many escape attempts or border kills.
Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design, which will apparently release the game for free, claims that “1378 KM aims to get young Germans interested in their country’s history”. The university says:
Through the personal identification as a fugitive of the republic or a border guard, and the intensive experience of the border areas, the interest of the young generation in the conflict of recent German history will be awakened.
However, the game has naturally come under intense criticism from within Germany and families of those who were killed on the border. Reuters reports:
Theodor Mettrup of the Association for Victims of Communist Tyranny said the game “makes a mockery of the victims.” “The shootings at the wall were no game — they destroyed people’s lives and families. But people playing this game won’t get a sense of that.”
On the 1378 KM website, Stober has issued an apology and justification for the game:
In this computer game – which would not be the case in, for example, a documentary film – I personally have the control over my behavior and my reactions, which take place in real time and in changing situations. The game 1378(km) does not force someone playing the “border soldiers” to shoot the “refugees”. Players are left with the freedom of choice. You are only able to win 1378(km) when you do not shoot. The rules of the game are inspired by the situation at the former Inner German Border. Border camps, death strips, and orders to shoot are what make the game brutal. I deeply regret that the victims of the former border and their families and relatives have felt cause for injury. This was never part of my intention.
The game was scheduled to be released for free on October 3 (German Unification Day).
While many will no doubt rush to condemn it, 1378 KM once again raises the question, do violent historical shooter games really educate young people about history or are they just an excuse for tasteless gratuitous violence?