I’m carrying a bag full of supplies-clean water, food, wood, mechanical parts. I’m hunkered down behind an ambulance, sniper shots pinging off the other side of the dilapidated van. They hit pretty close, and I wonder if one of them is going to take me out.
My character, Pavle, is wounded. I chose him because he’s the fastest runner-so says his bio. I figured that would help me throughout “Sniper Junction.” Maybe he could run faster than the snipers could aim, I don’t know.
I try to run, but Pavle is too wounded; his run is little more than a limp. A single shot rings out, and Pavle is dead.
The game is bleak, but you can still see a sliver of hope.
I’m playing This War Of Mine, an independent title from 11bit Studios. It takes place in the middle of a warzone, but you don’t play as either side in this war. No, you play as a group of civilians caught in the crossfire, hunkered down in an abandoned building. It’s far too dangerous to go out during the day, so by night, you choose one of your survivors and head out to one of several locations, scavenging supplies.
Said locations aren’t always empty, and so you may have to deal with other civilians. Or soldiers. When I say “deal with,” I mean you’ll have to assess the situation and react how you see fit.
It’s a hard game, but not in the way you’re thinking.
A couple days before Pavle died, I went out to a home I thought abandoned. I was playing as Bruno here; Pavle and the other man, Bruno, were home; Bruno slept in the only bed we have, because I didn’t want his illness to progress beyond “slightly sick” (I hope sleeping can at least slow illness down, because I don’t have any meds), while Pavle slept in a chair.
I picked the lock to the house and crept inside, where I immediately began looting. On this night, I was after food; we had a decent supply of parts and wood, and a fair bit of water.
My search was interrupted by an old man. The old man didn’t attack me (I was ready to attack him due to an incident at a different house the previous night). He instead explained that his wife was ill, and to please leave him a little bit of food, because they didn’t have much. He didn’t attack me. He just followed me around. For a brief moment, I thought about attacking him. I didn’t know what to do, so I ran.
I felt awful.
In probably any other game, I’d have just taken what I wanted. I’m a big fan of the Elder Scrolls games. In those games, I generally take whatever I want when nobody’s looking. If my crime doesn’t get reported, then it’s a success. I’ll just sell my ill-gotten gains later to add to my ever growing mountain of gold. Maybe I’ll sell the items to the person I stole them from,
It doesn’t matter in Elder Scrolls. The person you steal from won’t end up on the street, begging. Nobody in those games ever asked me, “please, just leave me something.” That old man did, and…I took some of his stuff anyway. I needed it; we were dangerously low on food. It’s just a video game, right?
Yet you still feel bad. I mean, maybe you don’t, but I do. That’s the kind of gamer I am; I get pretty (really) immersed in these things.
I made my choice, and now I have to live with it. When my character, Bruno, returned, he expressed remorse for what he’d-I’d-done. Even Marko and Pavle said, “How could Bruno leave those people with nothing?” I paused the game and just sat there for a minute.
I didn’t think I took that much, but perhaps even that little bit was all they had. And I still think about it as I write this.
Here’s a story from the last time I played, right before I got to work on this article:
Sometimes things get intense.
I took Marko out to a construction site. I was low on food, but I figured I could hold on for another day. I’d go get food the next day. Right now, I needed parts. I want to upgrade my work stations so I can build better tools and firearms.
This was a construction site, so there were parts everywhere. And the place was deserted. Jackpot! For once, things were looking up in this bleak world.
I returned to find our hideout raided by bandits. They took all my food and water. Bruno was injured, but he survived. Marko suggested I set a guard overnight, but there’s only two of us, and Bruno was hungry, sick, and tired from the previous night’s scavenging foray.
I had no idea I could be raided. In that moment, I realized how everyone else I’ve stolen from feels. Hell, I hit the same house twice already.
What happiness I felt from my successful scavenging mission is gone. See, I’m out of food. They stole all of it. If I don’t find food on this night…
I’m told the game ends when a ceasefire is called. I’m also told the ceasefire is called on a random day, different on each playthrough. In short, I have no idea when this war will end.
This War Of Mine is a hard game, but not in the usual way. There’s a challenge to it; you have to do what you can to keep your group alive (I failed with Pavle, of course). You have to manage your ever-dwindling supplies well. You need to watch out for snipers and other civilians who want what you have.
But it’s not a twitch-reflex based difficulty. It’s not “score headshots” difficult. You don’t have to memorize combos or solve complex puzzles. No, where This War Of Mine’s difficulty lies is in the tough choices you have to make.
The game layers choice after choice on you. During the day, you have to manage your time. Make food? Barter? Build? Sleep? All of these are important, yet you only have so much time and materials available to you on any given day. And if you’ve lost someone, like I did? Those choices get even harder. You’d think it would get easier with less people to manage, right? But look what happened to me; I had no one to guard our hideout and we got robbed. What if I lose another man? What if my last man gets injured?
This being a video game, I suppose I’ll just start over. But I’ll still think about this first playthrough. And, the game being somewhat randomized means I’ll have new experiences anyway.
I think again on that old couple, and what I would’ve done had I been in the same situation in real life. I like to think I’d leave without taking anything, or not break into their home in the first place.
Thankfully, I’m not in that situation. Yet, here in this game, I was, and I did the exact opposite of what I thought I would do. I stole from them. I needed to survive, right? Yes, but so did they. I haven’t gone back to that house, because frankly, I’m afraid I’ll find that old couple dead, either starved to death or raided by others.
This. This right here is why I love video games. There’s no other form of entertainment that can immerse you this much. A movie, or a book, or a song can move you, sure. But a game like this can change you. Make you rethink who you are. Affect you down to your core.
This War Of Mine might be bleak, and uncompromising, in it’s unique take on the war video game. But it’s an experience worth having, and frankly, it’s a breath of fresh air. It’s a war game that means something, and we don’t see those too often. It’s a hard game to play. But I don’t regret my purchase.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna make it to that ceasefire.