By Eric Kelsey
BERLIN, Dec 14 (Reuters Life!) - A long-awaited German videogame pitting East German fugitives against border guards has proved immensely popular despite being condemned as "utterly inappropriate" and "insensitive" by a victims' group.
Demand for the game brought down servers following its release over the weekend, a spokesman for the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design, where the game was developed, said on Tuesday.
The game -- called "1378(km)" for the length of the former border between East and West Germany -- requires players to either shoot at fugitives fleeing the East or be the fugitives crossing the border.
Rainer Wagner, head of the Association for Victims of Communist Tyranny (UOKG), said that the game trivialises the trauma and suffering of those who tried to escape East Germany.
"It is utterly inappropriate to ignore the history and fate of those who died or were arrested," Wagner told Reuters.
"It used the trauma of the victims and turns it into a violent game," Wagner added. "The game is simply insensitive."
Wagner himself has first-hand knowledge of the game's premise: he was arrested twice attempting to flee East Germany and spent 1-1/2 years in prison as a teenager for trying to cross East Germany's interior border.
But Jens Stober, a 24-year-old who created the game as part of his university degree, has said that there has been a misunderstanding between the game's intentions and how it has been perceived.
During the course of the game border guards are transported forward to the year 2000 and put on trial for any crimes.
Stober's professors support the game's premise.
"It's not a shoot-'em-up game as it was first sensationalised in the press," Michael Bielicky, a professor of digital media at Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design, told Reuters. "The East German victims' groups reacted blindly to the headlines."
The game was originally meant for release on Oct. 3, the 20th anniversary of German reunification but was later pushed back some two months because of the controversy.
"[The game] was designed to enable a younger generation to access information on recent German history using a medium familiar to them," Stober, who was unavailable to comment, wrote in a statement on the game's website.
"The game "1378(km)" does not force someone playing the 'border soldiers' to shoot the 'refugees,'" Stober wrote. "Players are left with the freedom of choice. You are only able to win ... when you do not shoot."
Wagner wishes that the game could be banned.
"Unfortunately, we see no legal possibility," he said.
An estimated 1,000 East Germans were killed trying to cross the East-West German border during the Cold War. East German border guarders were under orders to shoot anyone attempting to cross into the West. (Reporting by Eric Kelsey)
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