Fostering a Better Understanding of History? The Berlin Wall Mod for Half Life 2

Gamepolitics just directed my attention towards this interesting mod for Half Life 2: Thanks to some talented modders gamers can now experience a virtual recreation of the walled East-Berlin. Explains Garry's Mod:

The anticipated BerlinWall map has been released. The map offers singleplayer experience from the view of an East German citizen, dreaming of living in the West Germany. The gameplay in the map is non-linear, you can take many paths to west. Also, avoid making mistakes, they can be deadly, and remember to check everywhere for some sort of weapons.

The map works the best in Half-Life 2: Episode Two, but like common Source-based maps, it also works in Garry's Mod. Not offering the best gameplay experience in it, but works great for posing and comics.

This is the kind of stuff I love: Using the simulational nature of digital games to foster a better understanding of historical events as they offer a grade of immersion other media don't, fostering much needed respect for the often chastised games in the process.

If the rules work accordingly. Unfortunately I haven't yet had a chance yet to play this mod (as I'm using a Mac) but from what I've gathered this might not always be the case.

According users of this forum, parts of the game involve direct armed confrontations with guards. Violence of this sort certainly wasn't part of the process of trying to flee from the socialist reign of terror as this would have been even more suicidal. Apparently it is also possible to run through barbed wire without getting injured, an aspect I find highly objectionable as one of the most gruesome deaths at the wall (or what was to become the wall) was caused but just that: Getting stuck in barbed wire, getting shot, bleeding to death.

These problems are increased by an age old problem: Trying to escape from East Germany certainly involved a lot of arbitrary factors – games rules don't, otherwise that game wouldn't be playable. Or to put it differently: Life's not fair, games (mostly) are.

By speaking speaking of belittlement: Saving the "game" or a God mode weren't options for these people who decided to take the ordeal of escaping upon themselves.

From what I could gather from the screenshots the problematic nature of this games also extends to its representation. Using Combine soldiers as an ersatz for East German border guards again is highly troublesome – just like using the iconic crowbar as a weapon – due to the connotations that spring up in our heads: The first thing I thought of was headcrabs.

As much as the creators of this mod should be applauded for trying there still are massive problems up ahead, but as a glimpse into games' potential as a tool to teach it can be regarded as a thought-provoking – yet problematic – project.