This War of Mine — A New (and Better) Type of Videogame

by Kevin Jon Heller

Nearly nine years ago, I blogged about the ICRC’s efforts to prevent the use — or, more accurately, the misuse — of the Red Cross symbol in videogames. I imagine it will have less of a problem with the new game This War of Mine, which challenges the player to survive as long as possible as a civilian in a war-torn fictional city. Here is the powerful trailer for the game, which mixes survivor testimony with haunting in-game graphics:

And here is a snippet of a glowing (if that’s the right adjective) review of the game by Matt Peckham in Wired:

I’ve seen some refer to This War of Mine as an antiwar video game. That’s too reductive—like calling pictures of civilian casualties in conflict zones “pacifist propaganda.”

The scenarios This War of Mine engages are less antiwar than they are actual war stories, and that, I think, is the point: This is what unflinching war looks like from the standpoint of those powerless to stop it, the ones caught in the teeth of the machine without catchy operational monikers to rally behind or celebrated by politicians to usher them home as heroes. The ones whose war this isn’t.

It’s what Cormac McCarthy was getting at in The Road: We’re a faint signal cutting through the static of existence, and war, with its reduction of civilian lives to collateral damage, scrambles even that.

The version of war we’re often sold involves abstract military numbers, splashy interactive news maps and easy slogans on bumper stickers. In real war, whatever the reasons and however noble the rhetoric, it comes down to individuals like the ones in This War of Mine: People like you or me trapped in appalling scenarios, their social constructs crumbling, needing basic shelter, food, a bed to sleep in, pills or antibiotics, and perhaps most of all, a reason in all the madness not to check out for good.

Videogames are now a $15 billion industry. Here’s hoping at least some of that money goes to the innovative developers of This War of Mine for showing us the educative and transformative potential that well-designed videogames possess.

http://opiniojuris.org/2014/11/17/31309/

3 Responses

  1. Games like this aren’t really a new or better type of game, they’re the product of an art form that has been rapidly maturing for decades.

    Alec Meer on Rock, Paper, Shotgun recently gave a nice little summary of games that really try to go deeper than your average shoot em up.

    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2014/11/04/games-for-non-gamers/
    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2014/11/11/gamers-for-nongamers/

    Of his selection of games, these games would be the most relevant to IHL and IHRL –
    Papers, Please (http://papersplea.se/)
    Unmanned (http://unmanned.molleindustria.org/#)
    Changed (http://change.textories.com/)

    You should also check out this very simple but effective game from the early 2000s, called September 12th.
    http://www.newsgaming.com/games/index12.htm

  2. Thank you on behalf of This War of Mine team, of which I am a member.

    It’s true that while of course we expect the game to be a financial success, drawing attention to the plight of civilians in times of armed conflict was our goal from the very beginning of the design process. That’s why we have partnered with War Child charity in their Real War is Not a Game campaign:
    http://www.warchild.org.uk/content/real-war-not-game

  3. Wojciech,

    I certainly wasn’t implying otherwise! But games like this need to be a success, or — as you know better than I — committed developers will not be able to make them.

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