A couple days ago, a game was announced that made some big promises. This War of Mine, developed by 11 bit studios, is a game that takes place during a war, but which follows the people swept up in conflict rather than those participating in it.
War games like to carry an anti-war or anti-violence message. It’s trendy, and, really, the creators probably believe in it to some extent. They try to carve out a part of a game that’s mechanically the same as any other, and sneak in a few “What do you think you’re doing, hmm?” moments that make the player reflect on their actions.
The most favorite of these currently is Spec Ops: The Line. Let me be clear — I really like Spec Ops: The Line. I found it fun enough, it had interesting choices to make, and I even thought the parts that tried to tell me something about violence were cool, if not terribly serious, given what I had to do to reach those moments. The gameplay still consists of throwing grenades and aiming for the head and filling enemies with bullets. That’s still the point of the game.
Even less effective than Spec Ops, but more focused on terror and the death of innocents, is the “No Russian” level in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. When I say “less effective,” maybe I should just say “ineffective.” In this level, you gun down civilians in a false-flag terrorist attack (or you can CHOOSE! not to shoot, oooh!).
I doubt many people have any respect for the Modern Warfare games to begin with, especially not in terms of narrative or themes, but this section is pretty awful. The whole point of first person perspective is to immerse yourself in the avatar. “No Russian” takes pains to make the slaughter horrific and unpleasant, but by virtue of the game’s conventions, the player sympathizes with terrorist murderers, not innocents. Either Infinity Ward did a terrible job, or Call of Duty is even more frightening than people think.
It seems to me that the proper way to go about pushing this message is by having the player experience the evil of war as someone who doesn’t — can’t — give as good as they get. The wrongness of war has so little to do with how it feels for men with guns to shoot other men with guns. It’s about the devastation of homes and families, the loss of security and stability, the impotent grief and rage in the face of unstoppable violence.
In that respect, This War of Mine is at least off to a better start.
[you play as] a group of civilians trying to survive in a besieged city. During the day snipers outside stop you from leaving your refuge, so you need to focus on maintaining your hideout. At night you get a chance to scavenge nearby locations for items that will help you stay alive.
Make life-and-death decisions driven by your conscience. Try to protect everybody from your shelter or sacrifice some of them to endure the hardships. During war, there are no good or bad decisions; there is only survival. The sooner you realize that, the better.
We’ll be watching this game. Information is thin, not even a release date, but This War of Mine is onto something most “anti-war” games don’t grasp.