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On 1378 KM

Posted on 15th Jan 2011 at 10:38 by Harry Slater with 31 comments

Harry Slater
Videogames rarely shy away from the bleaker moments of human history. From the horrors of the Crusades to the grim, cut throat frontier of the old West, some of the greatest gaming moments of recent years have been firmly rooted in the bloodiest episodes of the past. Unlike other media, though, there's always an air of controversy surrounding videogames that deal with events in living memory.

Take 1378 KM, for example. It’s a Half-Life 2 mod that places players in the role of either a guard or a refugee at the Berlin Wall. The refugees have to cross the wall, the guards have to stop them. Unsurprisingly, it’s currently causing huge controversy in Germany. The game's creator, Jens M. Stober, defends the game as a work of art, suggesting in a statement on the site that it's not necessarily the content of the title that's causing controversy, but the medium.

There have been documentaries, feature films, paintings, sculptures and a huge variety of other pieces created that deal with the terrible things that happened during the communist regime in Eastern Germany, but videogames have one feature that's not present in the others - interactivity. In a videogame, you're not simply presented with the facts, you're presented with a choice. You can choose not to shoot, if you want.


Stober's defence of his game is amicable and well thought-out. He says the game is an educational tool, enabling gamers to engage with a dark period of German history by presenting it in a modern medium that they understand. He's clear that the game is not intended for children, and he welcomes the discussion that the German press has instigated through its coverage. He also apologises for any offence he has unintentionally caused.


1378 KM's teaser trailer

The German press has been less measured in its response, however. 1378 KM has been branded as ‘disgusting,' ‘terrible’ and ‘a violation of human dignity.' This raises the question, though; why are there lines that videogames are not allowed to cross? In no way does 1378 KM glorify the slaughter of innocent refugees, nor is it a scandalising attempt at garnering publicity; an accusation often levelled at the No Russian level of Modern Warfare 2. It's a digital representation of a terrible time in German history, designed to elicit certain emotional and psychological responses from the people playing it.

Few of us will ever be caught in a situation even remotely like the one portrayed by 1378 KM, but that doesn't mean that a videogame should be banned from allowing us to participate in the theory of such an event. There are never any complaints about the number of soldiers we gun down in World War II games, yet when the people in our sights are civilians, somehow we're deemed too immature to deal with the consequences.

The questions raised by 1378 KM are important if the medium we all love is to truly break through into the mainstream, in the same way as films and television. We need to learn to look past the medium and consider titles such as this not just as games – because making a game of any tragedy is cause for concern – but as something else.

Interactive entertainment can be a powerful tool, enabling us to experience events that would otherwise remain alien to us. The game isn't a murder simulation any more than a film portraying the same events could be considered snuff; it's a project that deals with difficult issues in a new and innovative way. Surely that should be championed, rather than branded obscene?

31 Comments

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tennisball 15th January 2011, 11:23 Quote
From what I understand, they couldn't ban it anyway since it's a mod and mods aren't official commercial products that need to be passed through PEGI (or whatever they have). I mean, Alien Swarm didn't get banned, because it wasn't being given away at retail. And Alien Swarm has giant walking testicles.
Matticus 15th January 2011, 11:50 Quote
I love it when this sort of thing is reported in the mass media and public figures speak out about it in an attempt to highlight how terrible something is.

It just makes me want to play it to see what all the fuss is about.
dactone 15th January 2011, 14:37 Quote
jesus i thought people had moved on from trying to ban things. i remember when they used to ban songs because they had swearing in them hahaha!
Shadowed_fury 15th January 2011, 15:01 Quote
Its just a piece of history? Surely you could say the same thing for bits of other war games? Am I missing the point?
SaNdCrAwLeR 15th January 2011, 15:23 Quote
yeah sure, how about actually giving a crap about children like let's say...
ban near-sexual content in music videos/movies that are broadcasted at normal hours...

might aswell also start banning every single WW2 game that slightly hints at the holocaust...

oh wait, but they already censor all that stuff in Germany...
icewind 15th January 2011, 15:32 Quote
Protection of minors (from ???) sort of flies over here at the moment...it's just that any time some ominous looking game reaches goes into the open, politicians freak out over over it, using that as topic, trying to make a point for themselves. Same for counterstrike and lots of others, though that has already been a while. Goes way overboard though -.-
Funny to watch the futile attempt to ban something from the net, nonetheless.
eddtox 15th January 2011, 15:59 Quote
One might do well to wonder, had there been such interactive means of simulating the choices soldiers have to make prior to world war 2 (etc), would there have been more soldiers willing to defy orders to kill innocent civilians?

I certainly think that my gaming past has made me realise that I have a choice - I don't have to follow blindly where my 'superiors' lead.
mucgoo 15th January 2011, 16:18 Quote
who's going to play that mod and then "choose" not to shoot the escapees? all you'd do is stand there and watch with no repercussions
SMIFFYDUDE 15th January 2011, 16:47 Quote
Nobody would know or care about games like this if politicians and newspapers didn't decide to be outraged on the publics behalf. Same goes for Wikileaks.
sear 15th January 2011, 17:30 Quote
They should ban Civilization V as well. A few days ago I played as Bismark and steamrolled over the entire world. How gruesome and inhumane these games are!
frontline 15th January 2011, 17:51 Quote
"The game's creator, Jens M. Stober, defends the game as a work of art" - Sounds like a reason not to download it, apart from any other possible concerns.
Cthippo 15th January 2011, 18:52 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by eddtox
One might do well to wonder, had there been such interactive means of simulating the choices soldiers have to make prior to world war 2 (etc), would there have been more soldiers willing to defy orders to kill innocent civilians?

I certainly think that my gaming past has made me realise that I have a choice - I don't have to follow blindly where my 'superiors' lead.

Probably not. Look up the Milgram experiment and the Stanford Prison Experiment. Ordinary people are capable of incredible cruelty when it is required for social conformity.
eddtox 15th January 2011, 19:40 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cthippo
Probably not. Look up the Milgram experiment and the Stanford Prison Experiment. Ordinary people are capable of incredible cruelty when it is required for social conformity.

Ah, but interactive entertainment has the potential to allow us to experiment with disregarding authority and following our own conscience, thus undermining the effects of conformity.
WildcardUK 16th January 2011, 18:13 Quote
I can see why you'd think that but it's dangerous to think a game like this would prepare you for the reality of a similar situation.

Read about those experiments that Cthippo posted. You would not have expected any of the people in those experiments to be capable of the things they did but the reality of it is that, no matter how strong you may think your morals are, most of us are unprepared for the emotional stress of actually being in that kind of situation.

The ONLY way to know how you would react is to actually experience it. Not some shallow imitation. You think Call of Duty prepares you to face actual gun fire? To actually see a someone die? Not even close.
Toploaded 17th January 2011, 02:11 Quote
Getting away from the politics and moral issues for awhile...

I played it, and it is a pretty weak MP game, even taking into account it's a user made modification.
sausages 17th January 2011, 03:35 Quote
I can haz delete?
Xir 17th January 2011, 08:48 Quote
Quote:
it’s currently causing huge controversy in Germany.
As someone living in Germany AND interested in videogames....this is the first mention of it.

Germans love history...when it's more than a hundred years past. Everything that's younger is just a big nono.
There's no official Berlin Wall or Iron Curtain museum. They've done their utmost best to remove every trace of it.
There's a private guy that saved a couple of hundred meters of Iron Curtain, and he's not really getting support for his "Museum".
It's only been 20 years and already it's getting difficult to convince youth's that this has actually happened.

I'd have kept a kilometre or so of iron curtain, put a "Museum" sign on it one day after it came down.
The same for the Berlin wall. A fence* around checkpoint charly and 100m of wall to the left and right.
But no, they tore it down.

*A fence around a fence, that would have been ironical.:D
dispie 17th January 2011, 10:40 Quote
The young are already forgetting the deeds of the germans here in holland and in parts of germany right extremists are gaining support again.

so that these sorts of games are popping up is no surprice, may of these pro NAZI germany games are made in germany its scary somewere but fun to play any ways.

But look at it like this how would you feel if you were a german and thousends of games have as theme shooting germans, if i was a german i would like to play a german and win for ones.
Xir 17th January 2011, 14:34 Quote
....yah

I'll not even start this arguement
eddtox 17th January 2011, 17:24 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by WildcardUK
I can see why you'd think that but it's dangerous to think a game like this would prepare you for the reality of a similar situation.

Read about those experiments that Cthippo posted. You would not have expected any of the people in those experiments to be capable of the things they did but the reality of it is that, no matter how strong you may think your morals are, most of us are unprepared for the emotional stress of actually being in that kind of situation.

The ONLY way to know how you would react is to actually experience it. Not some shallow imitation. You think Call of Duty prepares you to face actual gun fire? To actually see a someone die? Not even close.

I am familiar with the experiments Cthippo mentioned, but I suspect people can learn to apply conformity in a more selective fashion if they are presented with adequate opportunity to experiment and develop the judgement skills required.

I'm not saying that playing CS will prepare you for the reality of a gunfight, but being faced with simulated situations where an authority figure orders you to behave in morally objectionable ways may help make people better at dealing with such situations in the real world.
Cthippo 18th January 2011, 07:07 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by dispie
The young are already forgetting the deeds of the germans here in holland and in parts of germany right extremists are gaining support again.

What's the motivation behind these groups? What would they like the world to be like? :?
Quote:
Originally Posted by eddtox
I am familiar with the experiments Cthippo mentioned, but I suspect people can learn to apply conformity in a more selective fashion if they are presented with adequate opportunity to experiment and develop the judgement skills required.

one thing I found out reading the wiki about the Milgram experiment is that the results varied significantly by country. 92% of subjects in the Netherlands went to full "voltage" while only 40% in Australia did. Form your own interpretations.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment#Replications_and_variations
sotu1 18th January 2011, 09:22 Quote
So...how does it actually play? I mean, what do you have to do? Is it multiplayer? And how does bit-tech rate it?
dispie 18th January 2011, 09:38 Quote
[QUOTE=Cthippo]
Quote:
Originally Posted by dispie
The young are already forgetting the deeds of the germans here in holland and in parts of germany right extremists are gaining support again.

What's the motivation behind these groups? What would they like the world to be like? :?

Well it you see thousand people with Nasi flags shouting Heil hitler and other fasist things walking trough a city without hinder of police I do not have the urge to go ask them stuff i mostly get the out of there.

I asked my friend that lives there about this and he told me its getting worse and worse Something to do with all the white rusians in the Roerdistrict of germany that work for almost nothing and take geman jobs has been going on for years now he told me.

scares the **** outof me even if im a white blue eyed person its the stupidity of them that scares me.
Mraedis 18th January 2011, 10:21 Quote
I tried playing it... from what I can tell there's 3 fences with one hole in it *somewhere*. as a runner you have no weapons and just need to run through.

Haven't played defender.
eddtox 18th January 2011, 11:00 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cthippo
What's the motivation behind these groups? What would they like the world to be like? :?



one thing I found out reading the wiki about the Milgram experiment is that the results varied significantly by country. 92% of subjects in the Netherlands went to full "voltage" while only 40% in Australia did. Form your own interpretations.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment#Replications_and_variations

Very interesting - I wasn't aware of all the different variations. I don't think anything can be said about the effects of gaming from those results as countries where gaming is a popular pastime have some of the highest and lowest scores. The precise type of games played by each individual would likely affect the results anyway.

Looking at that table it seems interesting that only 10% of participants went all the way when two other "teachers" rebelled. This suggests that if a strong sense of morality over authority could be imparted even to a small proportion of the population, it would make a difference to the number of people conforming to a course of action they know to be immoral.
Xir 18th January 2011, 14:22 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cthippo
What's the motivation behind these groups? What would they like the world to be like? :?
Mostly they'd like to be alone in their country I suppose.
Not known for their great thinking, though :D

Dispie:
if you are the white, blue-eyed one, there's places in Rotterdam you shouldn't go to at night alone...
There's certainly places in Amsterdam where a white kid is not accepted at night.

Probably this feeling also influences right tendencies.
Interestingly, in Germany, the most open right-wing-extremists are in the part of the country with the LEAST amount of foreigners. So I really don't know what the heck they want.
Don't really want to know either though.
dispie 19th January 2011, 10:37 Quote
I live in a neighbourhood that is marked as a place were i should not walk at night, but i feel safer there between al the multi colored people. We all exchange food in summer we do bbq with the street and we look out for one and other just like it use to be with but white people lost there friendlyness long ago in this country.

Im more scare of stupid people like taughtless Nasi's we had some in our street for a while they were to scare to say anything to black people so they picked on me for being a alternative person sad really.

Thats way overrated thats just hate proppeganda about amsterdam i been in the worsed neigbourhoods there at night drunk and all and never had a problem.

We have the same in holland the most rightwing extremist live in places were there are no foreigners, but thats just it there afaired of what they don't know.
StoneyMahoney 20th January 2011, 20:51 Quote
I can think of a much better way of doing this that would provoke rather more thought and a little less simulated mass slaughter of digital civilians. Recreate a section of the Wall in the atrium of the Tate modern. Put a mannequin of a civilian sneaking around nearby and another of a guard on top of the wall taking aim with a rifle at the potential defector. Then let people walk around it, experiencing both viewpoints.

Every medium is suitable for different messages. Given the current reputation video games have in some quarters for mindless violence and disrespect of historical events, among other things, I'd say now is not the time for this particular video game.
eddtox 20th January 2011, 21:09 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by StoneyMahoney
I can think of a much better way of doing this that would provoke rather more thought and a little less simulated mass slaughter of digital civilians. Recreate a section of the Wall in the atrium of the Tate modern. Put a mannequin of a civilian sneaking around nearby and another of a guard on top of the wall taking aim with a rifle at the potential defector. Then let people walk around it, experiencing both viewpoints.

Every medium is suitable for different messages. Given the current reputation video games have in some quarters for mindless violence and disrespect of historical events, among other things, I'd say now is not the time for this particular video game.

Thou hath got point...
omicron 21st January 2011, 05:18 Quote
The whole thing seems to have been one enormous publicity stunt.
Xir 21st January 2011, 09:27 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by dispie
Thats way overrated thats just hate proppeganda about amsterdam i been in the worsed neigbourhoods there at night drunk and all and never had a problem.
That's your experience, i've been chased out of "Nieuwendijk"street 10 minutes after the shops closed, beeing called at, spit at, threatened just for beeing white.
("Nieuwendijk" is a very touristy shopping street in Amsterdam that runs right into the main town square)
Those who can't give tolerance shouldn't expect it.
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