Fury over 'shoot-to-kill' online Berlin Wall game

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The Independent Online

A computer game that casts players as guards who can shoot and kill people trying to flee across the former heavily fortified border between East and West Germany and the Berlin Wall has attracted a huge following and caused the internet server offering online versions to partially collapse.

The controversial game – called 1378km after the length of the former border between the two countries – went online just before Christmas and led to a death threat to be sent to its inventor as well as provoking furious complaints from victims of the former Communist regime .

Germany's mass circulation Bild newspaper described it as "revolting", yet within an hour of its internet launch, the game's online server crashed because it was unable to cope with sheer volume of people trying to download a free version. Jens Stober, 24, its Karslruhe University student inventor, maintains that his creation is an educational tool designed for young people with little or no memory of the Berlin Wall . "I deliberately included a shoot-to-kill element," he said insisting that border guards were the "foundation of the game". He reminded his detractors: "In this game, if you shoot you lose."

The game is set in 1976 when both the Berlin Wall and the heavily fortified inner German border were manned by Kalashnikov-toting border guards with orders to shoot would be escapers to the West on sight.

Players can chose to be either a would-be escaper or an armed border guard. As guards, players can either shoot and kill escapers, imprison them or opt to escape with them. Those who shoot to kill are initially awarded a medal by the Communist regime and gain extra points. But as the official symbol of East Germany – a hammer and a pair of compasses set on the edge of the screen – begins to crumble, players eventually come to realise that their decision to shoot and kill also has negative consequences.

Killer guard players suddenly find themselves shot forward in time to the post-Berlin Wall era where they are in court facing murder or manslaughter charges. They then have to sit out several rounds of the game.

"Players think they are winning points by shooting escapers, but then they unexpectedly find they are the losers," Mr Stober said. "The moral is, don't trust yourself. In unusual situations, you can behave more differently than you think."