A cold war video game receives a cool reception

A German university student designed a video game based on Germany's cold war history, hoping to teach young people German history, but many are less than thrilled with the idea.

A new German video game puts players in the shoes of refugees crossing the Berlin Wall, pictured here in 1961, or more controversially in the the shoes of border guards trying to stop crossings.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Two shooting rampages in German high schools over the past few years have led Germans to scrutinize video games. But a new computer game has unleashed a storm of controversy of a different kind.

The game, called “1,378 km,” whose name refers to the 856-mile-long wall built to split Communist Germany from its Western neighbor, thrusts players into the cold war’s border camps and death strips as either those attempting to escape communism or as border guards ordered to shoot them. Up to 16 players can play at the same time. The escapee has one goal: to get over the wall. The border guard can shoot or capture the escapee, or swap sides and try to get past the border defenses himself.

The game’s creator, Jens Stober, a student at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design, says he wanted to teach young people about recent German history, using a medium familiar to them. “In the game, you ask yourself: ‘What would I do?’ Mr. Stober says. “You may come to the conclusion that you would not shoot at your fellow countrymen and women.”

Still, critics condemned the game as being in bad taste. Controversy moved the game’s release, originally slated to coincide with the 20th anniversary of German reunification, to Dec. 17, when it will be available as a free download.

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