Home 20 Years Ago Crossing the Berlin Wall Was No Game

20 Years Ago Crossing the Berlin Wall Was No Game

Jens Stober, a 24-year-old university student in Karlsruhe, Germany, has chosen a unique way to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He has created an FPS, a first person shooter video game, that forces the player to take the role of an East German guard and provides the player with the opportunity to “kill” people attempting to escape to the West.

The game is called 1378 km, after the length the wall covered while it stood (856 miles). Because the game creates an environment that encourages the participant take part in those murders, it was considered “controversial” and pushed back from its release date of October 3rd, the anniversary of German reunification. Its release is now planned for early December at the Karlsruhe University for Arts and Design.

Over 1,000 people were murdered trying to escape from Communist East Germany between 1961, when the wall was erected, and 1989, when the guards walked away from their posts. Over 200 of the victims were murdered by the guards on the wall in Berlin.

If you were never there, believe me when I tell you this game is right. The Wall was a violent scar across the landscape, the cityscape and the imagination. It “bodied forth the form of things unknown.” Or at least things difficult to recognize in the flesh. Namely, tyranny; tyranny made worse for being efficient and institutionalized.

1378 km is the most appropriate, effective memorial I could imagine to the 1,000 people who wanted nothing more than to determine their own futures and who were murdered by a shoot-to-kill policy. Far from huffing about the lack of good taste inherent in the game, those who pushed it back should have given the young programmer a damned medal. He deserves one for no other reason than, as he proved to Deutsche Welle, he seems to understand better than his elders the threat that time poses.

“It’s my impression that, particularly among young people, that part of history is no longer really debated and has been forgotten. Being young, too, I myself didn’t know much about the border fortifications either . . . I wanted to bring the big picture back to young people’s minds.”

No game works unless the game play is good. And 1378km sounds compelling. In a detailed environment of the Wall, the no-man’s zone, the barbed wire and surrounding buildings, the player, once he or she kills three escaping civilians, is dropped into a courtroom in the year 2000. The player now faces charges of murder, as many of the East German guards did in reality. It is for this reason, Storber says, focusing on the free will inherent in the game, and missing from documentary films on the same topic, that “you are only able to win 1378(km) when you do not shoot.”

“By then it should have dawned on every gamer that this is not your regular first-person shooter, but it’s something very different.”

The Wall was, in a sense, inevitable. Like the Holocaust, it was a product of the union of Germany and the 20th Century. Yet it speaks across borders both geographical and temporal, to remind us that the very worst we were capable of did not end with the destruction of the Death Camps, it just changed shape. And now that the wall is 20 years behind us, let us remind ourselves that it was never destroyed. It too has just changed shape.

Wall photo by Siyu

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