Outrage at Berlin Wall virtual shooting game

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Twenty years after Germany was reunified, a computer shoot 'em up game about the so-called "death strip" on the border between West Germany and the former communist East sparked an outcry Wednesday.

The game, called "1378" after the 1378-kilometre (856-mile) long border, is set in 1976 at the height of the Cold War and allows players to be an East German border guard or a refugee desperately trying to flee communism.

Would-be escapees must dodge the guards, clamber over fences, negotiate barbed wire and avoid the deadly automatic shooting posts to escape to a life of freedom in the West. Arrest results in imprisonment.

Guards must stop them, with or without weapons. However, they may not shoot indiscriminately and too many refugees killed can result in a court-martial and "increased political pressure on East Germany."

"The player is confronted with the dilemma: shoot or arrest," according to the game's website www.1378km.de.

But, nearly 21 years since the Berlin Wall was pulled down in a bloodless revolution, the pain remains raw and the game has run into sharp criticism.

Rainer Wagner, head of a group representing victims of communist violence and who himself spent two years in prison following an escape attempt, said the game "appealed to the basest human instincts."

"An aspect of this game, however, is even worse than other shoot 'em ups because normally in such games, one shoots at armed enemies -- here, it is unarmed civilians," said Wagner.

He slammed the game as a "further contribution to the brutalisation and the breaking down of society's inhibitions under the cover of historical reappraisal."

The game's creator, Jens Stober, 23, defended it, telling the online version of the mass circulation Bild daily that he was aiming to get young people interested in recent German history.

"You can reach young people better through a computer game," Bild quoted him as saying.

The game is due to be released on October 3, the day Germany celebrates 20 years since reunification.

More than 600 people are thought to have died trying to escape East Germany between the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and its fall in 1989.

© 2010 AFP

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