11 Bit Studios
One of the best things about the internet nowadays is how easy it is to scream abuse at someone who doesn’t share your opinions.
Imagine what kind of world we’d have to struggle in if you couldn’t tell someone how wrong they are about the music they like, the sports they watch or the video games they enjoy. Oh, it would be awful. They’d never learn, would they? The dumb-dumbs. Wallowing and thrashing around in their own ignorance, foolishly keeping hold of their ill-conceived ideas. We should get them to wise up.
Who knows where it could end? Men could start wearing shirts we object to. Did we lose a war?
Talking of war, here is a video game about it. It’s called This War of Mine and it purports to teach us about the real horrors of war for the people who are caught up in the fighting, but are not necessarily combatants. This is the story of the regular folk; teachers, journalists and the elderly that suffer in war too. Oh and sports stars. And women. Men too, actually. Now I come to think about it, war is pretty awful for everyone involved.
TWOM is a survival game. You begin with a ‘party’ of three, made up of ‘real’ people who find themselves caught up in some dreadful war in a ravaged European city. The game tries its best to trick the mind into believing in the pseudo-reality it constructs. Your characters have a photograph in the corner, and believable reactions to the events that surround them. They get tired and hungry, they suffer depression and anxiety, they struggle with the moral consequences of their actions just as you are asked to do.
Moral choices abound in This War of Mine. Since everything you have must be scavenged from other locations, every successful trip you have comes at someone’s else’s expense. You can meet other people in your excursions around the city, some openly hostile, others tentatively friendly. Here’s a guy with a sick parent; will you trade him some medicine, even though he has little to offer? At first, when you feel flush with resources and goodwill you might be inclined to help out but how long can your generosity hold out? Should you save a guy you don’t know when one of your party is sick? Or could get sick?
The format of the game is as follows: By day, your group members conduct jobs around your derelict dwelling, trying to make it fit for habitation. You can construct beds and chairs for rest, stoves to cook, workshops to craft tools and weapons. You are even able to build a distillery to make alcohol for trade. Periodically, people might visit and then you’ll want to send your most skilled barterer to the door to try and weasel a few extra morsels of food in trade for your dwindling supplies. You can also listen to the radio but sadly there’s only news reports. No K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the 70’s for you.
Night time is a different affair. You can select one of your party – let’s say Pavel, since he’s the athlete, strong and brave – to go out into the city on the hunt for materials to survive. At first, your scope is small and you have few scavenging options available to you. Root about in the early locations and try not to get murdered by any soldiers you see, that’s your best bet. Eventually you gather some resources and return home and hopefully on subsequent trips you can return better equipped and explore further until a location is exhausted. Sometimes you’ll want to trade with NPCs, sometimes your mistrust of their motives will lead you to shoot them in the face and burglarise their home. Either way, it’s a choice you made and one that you’ll have to live with.
Don’t feel too bad about what you do to the NPCs however, you can’t go outside for more than 5 minutes without someone trying to break in and steal your precious belongings. Sometimes they just go away and sometimes they steal all your food and mortally injure one of your group. But hey – that’s how awful war is and if you’d built better defences maybe it wouldn’t have happened. Or maybe it would. And maybe one of your party will just decide that they’re going to commit suicide because the horror is all too much. You know, these are all things that I’m sure make valid commentary on the psychological trauma of war.
I hated This War of Mine.
I played it for some considerable time ahead of review and rarely have I felt so downbeat and crushed after engaging in a spot of my favourite pastime. This game can be a truly miserable experience for the player, particularly when a promising run ends in sudden and ignoble doom.
I would venture that This War of Mine is objectively a good product. It has a convincing art style that functions well, its minimalism suiting the tone. The music is chilling and haunting – extremely effective in conveying the sense of bleakness that the game wants to engender. Controls are clear and – for the most part function well – although there is an argument to be made that for a game that is grounded in realism, there is a lack of options presented when it comes to solving problems. For example, you can’t talk to everyone you meet to explain why you’re there, offer comfort or threaten, which leads to some frustrating NPC interaction. The simplicity makes sense but some players might find it unpleasantly restrictive.
This War Is Mine is another example of video games working on the boundaries of what people perceive to be a game and demanding the right to be viewed as art. It can be called art since it is no doubt effective at causing an emotional response from anyone who plays the game – and whilst it might be argued that the message around war has been delivered with more subtlety and style elsewhere, little beats the power of the video game for putting the audience at the centre of things. If it makes your finger hover over the action button for even a fraction of a second as you wonder, ‘is this the right thing to do?’ it has succeeded in engaging you far beyond what could be achieved by a mere novel or film.
I will end on this note however. You have a right not to enjoy art. You have a right not to engage with it. I strongly doubt I will ever play This War of Mine again because it provoked reactions from me that I found uncomfortable. You might well decide that this isn’t what you’re looking for from a game that might take up your whole weekend – that might leave you feeling a whole lot worse than when you went in. I don’t blame you, and you are not wrong.
This War Is Mine is out now for PC at £14.99 and it’s a much better survival horror game than The Evil Within