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Hands-on preview: Survive the civilian horrors of war in This War of Mine

Hayden Dingman | March 20, 2014
Game Developers Conference, San Francisco-- Zero hour, day one: We've found shelter. Here amongst the burned out husks of a hundred people's lives, hiding in this war-torn, graffiti-ridden apartment building, the three of us have found a place to call home.

While distracted, the man from before walks back into the room, sees us, and freezes. The gun stays at his side. Rather than firing, he runs away.

All victims, no heroes

With this one act, this cowardly mercy, I'm forced to wonder about the man I stole from. My crew will eat well tomorrow, but at what cost? Does this man have a family? Will they starve? Who is he? Was he guilty of anything? Did he deserve to have his food stolen, just because I have to look out for my own interests?

Is there any morality in a war-zone?

Maybe I've now turned this man into a criminal, continuing the chain. Perhaps by stealing his food, he'll now be forced to steal from someone else. The next time someone breaks into his sanctuary, maybe he pulls the trigger instead of letting the person go. Maybe I've now indirectly murdered some other civilian by taking what little this man has.

"There are victims on both sides, and if you're a civilian it really doesn't matter if you're seen as an invader or as someone who needs to defend," says Miechowski.

Nothing in This War of Mine seems right. Nothing seems wrong. It's just survival. My life over the lives of others — a very real and scary result of desperation.

Living the war

Yes, in This War of Mine, where the war is tangible, spelled out in bombed remnants and hardscrabble survivalism, you're truly forced to consider the lives of innocents.

It's all part of a growing set of experiential games — witness Papers Please, Dys4ia, Depression Quest — that allow people to inhabit and understand others and their circumstances, if only for a brief time and on a basic level.

"You can see war and read about war in books. You can see it in movies. But then you're just a spectator. We just give you tools in game mechanics to perceive everything yourself and judge yourself," says Miechowski. "In this way, games are the best way to speak about war because they give you the chance to see everything from your perspective"

Like the man with the gun... and how he ran away rather than fire at the stranger standing in his living room.


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