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There have always been games, in every region of the world as well as within every cultural group – even outside of the nursery. Especially complex parlor games which demand logic, creativity and endurance, are highly popular among the youth as well as adults. Among them are Michael Geithner, Social Media Manager at the DDR Museum Berlin and Martin Thiele, a scientist in the field of media from Berlin. The two game researchers and developers gave a talk about imitated games during the GDR and the fascination about this cultural phenomenon at the visitor centre of the DDR Museum.
The evening started with the question of what makes games so completely different from other means of transporting knowledge such as movies or exhibitions. The referees stated a couple of characteristic features which make the gaming experience such a unique one. Among them are the aspect of entertainment as well as the necessary activity of each player. Furthermore, the sample action, the possibility to experience different scenarios and to immerse oneself in another character (even in an antihero), is another defining feature of games. Another especially valuable feature is the potential to transport complexity. This means that even topics that are quite serious and loaded with conflicts can be picked as a central theme within an accordingly designed game.
Mister Geithner and Mister Thiele recognized this great potential and have been doing research on self-made and imitated games from the GDR for a couple of years. Their book “Nachgemacht” (“Copied”) deals with the interesting fact that many former GDR-citizens had a great passion for reproducing foreign or West-German games and like that created their very own “East-German Version”. During interviews with the “producers” the referees learned to view these objects as cultural artifacts which enabled them to do valuable biography work and research on the specific spirit of the time.
Another outcome of this research project is the remake of the GDR-game “Bürokratopoly”, which Mister Geithner and Mister Thiele created as a cooperative educational game for students and teachers. The board game was created in 1983 by an opposition member and civil rights advocate and was meant to mock the dictatorship, especially the centralist SED party. With the help of this authentic evidence, students can engage with the history of the GDR on an emotional level, which, according to the referees, is a very powerful way to save knowledge in the long term. Teachers can furthermore embed the game within the curriculum.
Concerning the topic of teaching history via games, Mister Geithner and Mister Thiele eventually questioned how far game developers can go and whether there are certain taboo issues. The audience's responses were quite different: One guest suspected that if games were too closely defined, issues such as the Holocaust or slave trade could be portrayed in a cynical manner. Another guest however emphasized the freedom of thought for both game developers and players as well as the fact that the more time passes concerning a specific historical event, the more taboos are being broken by society in general. The highly interesting talk was then followed by a lively discussion, during which educators, gaming enthusiasts and historians exchanged their views with the referees.
If you are interested in the current work of the two gaming experts, we highly recommend Mr. Geithners newest project: “Saints”, a quartet card game commissioned by the German Catholic church and dealing with different saints and the stories behind them!