There’s an argument to be made that most videogames dealing with the subject of war (especially real life wars) don’t do a very good job at all at truly representing the devastation and carnage of a battle. Call Of Duty might throw out a deep quote every time you die, but that doesn’t really mean much. Be honest, how many times have you faced a COD game over screen and really contemplated the true horror of war?
Of course, the likes of Call of Duty, Medal of Honour, and Battlefield are just games, and as light entertainment first and foremost it’s arguably not really their job to constantly remind the player of the harsh reality of death, violence, and war.
There’s arguably nothing wrong with a great dirty chunk of simulated violence every now and again. And games like this will touch on the consequences and the heartbreak of war, sure – but they never fully embrace it. Presumably because the reality is so thoroughly miserable that nobody in their right mind would want to sit through such an experience, much less enjoy it.
But that’s what makes This War of Mine such an unforgettable experience. Rather than focus on the front-line of the fight, This War of Mine reminds us that war isn’t just two sides of soldiers firing shots at one another. There are innocent men, women, and children getting caught in the crossfire every day, suffering and dying for something they had no say in and no control over. This War of Mine attempts to immerse gamers in the merest fraction of what victims in warzones go through.
Anyone reading this is probably lucky enough to live in a country that hasn’t been torn apart by war (at least recently). Maybe it’s because all this death and destruction goes on so far away from us that we never really think about.
Whatever the case, 11 Bit Studios are using This War of Mine to try and do more. They’re now part of a fundraising partnership with the charity War Child, in an attempt to raise awareness of the horrific conditions that kids in the middle of war-zones are subjected to on a daily basis, and it’s the perfect game to do just that.
In This War of Mine, you play not as Generic Grizzled Solider #577, but as a simple civilian caught up in the middle of a conflict. Your only job is to keep yourself and your companions alive. It’s down to you to see to their every need, from general health and physical needs, to their state of mind and emotional well-being.
Many actions, such as resorting to violence or stealing medicine (just to survive, mind) can lead to characters falling into depression, and perhaps even taking their own lives. It’s a sobering experience, to say the least.
It might even help some people out there who are still struggling with the idea, understand exactly why there are so many people going to such great lengths to leave their own countries to try and come to Europe.
This War of Mine initially gives you control of three survivors. You’ll spend days rummaging through the rubble, scavenging for resources and building items. It’s basically a 2D survival game with a sombre, charcoal drawing art style (which is beautiful in its own way). 11 Bit Studios primary aim was clearly to send a message, but they’ve managed to do so in a challenging videogame, packed with achingly tense situations. This is not a feat to be sniffed at.
There are no extra points for head shots, nor are there re-spawns or do-overs. Every action has a consequence. Every choice impacts your group of survivors. Simply surviving through to the next day, or making it though the night without bandits stealing your supplies are the only victories you’ll find here.
You’ll learn to appreciate these small wins, and after making some horrendously stark choices during your playthrough, you’ll begin to wonder how anyone could actually be expected to make such impossibly tough calls in the real world. Yet they must, and they do.
This is the point we need to hammer home. This is what makes This War of Mine so powerful. Everything your characters do, from stealing medicine from an elderly couple to help your friends, to leaving behind a wounded survivor so you can make it back to the (relative) safety of the derelict house you call home.
These are things that have really happened, and are continuing to happen right now. You’re offered a rare opportunity to step into their shoes, to experience their own very real hell. It’s obviously nowhere near what they actually go through, but it’s still enough to be deeply affecting.
You’ve probably gathered by now, but it should be pointed out that This War of Mine, while undeniably very, very good isn’t exactly what you might call a fun game. In fact it’s often bleak and incredibly upsetting, but it never forgets its central message, and it’s an astoundingly simple one that pretty much every FPS set in the thick of a war ignores: Innocent people struggle, and suffer, and die because of the violence of war.
Yes, videogames are an excellent form of escapism. We love collecting gold coins, taking control of super heroes and beating down bad guys, and going toe to toe with 1000 foot high monsters. God knows, This War of Mine isn’t a game we could turn on and play every day for a bit of fun. But why is it that is that videogames shouldn’t be able to start real conversations too?
You only need to look at the likes of Life is Strange or That Dragon, Cancer to see that the medium has evolved far beyond what it was even a decade ago. They can be (and are) used as a springboard for serious discussion, and to help us understand what we might not have been able to comprehend before.
It’s been said a million times, but we’ll say it again here: War is not fair, and it’s certainly not right. It will always be the thousands upon thousands of innocent lives that are hit the hardest for reasons they have no control over and may not even understand.
Parents lose their children, and children lose parents in a mess of chaos, death, and destruction. The fact that This War of Mine acknowledges and educates gamers on this subject is pretty amazing.
A Playstation 4 and Xbox One version of This War Of Mine is out now.
Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.