For nearly a year I’ve been obsessively playing This War of Mine on PC, Tablet, and PlayStation 4, but I never released my thoughts on just how impactful the game truly is.
My story starts off differently from the many others you may have heard. My trip wasn’t one I had expected when I first met a woman named Arica. I’d met her only hours after the bombs began to fall, gunshots echoed through the streets and bodies lay strewn about. Before then, I was your simple man, meeting simple people, but our situation was anything but simple.
Because tonight, I’d watched a young woman, a cat burglar by trade she claimed, take the life of two other men. In ways, I’m not sure I’ve ever recovered from the moment I watched her fire her gun twice and take their lives. I tell myself this was the name of war, that she did it to defend us. That this was just merely an accident. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time and now two men were dead in the bottom of this rundown mansions second floor.
Merely nine days into the siege and we’ve seemed to be doing okay. Arica had managed to scavenge enough food, enough wood and just enough water for us to get by. Lucky for us, Katia has been busy tending to the children that are holding out with us. We have a few beds, a small water collector, a few books, a radio, and even a few cigarettes. Unfortunately, Katia hasn’t been doing well in the past couple days. Our medical supplies are low and now, we’re trying to figure out how to get by as we tend to her infection.
But for us, losing Katia would be devastating. She’s our swindler, she’s the one that bargains with what little we have in order to get us buy. She’s been able to get us a few guns, a few rounds of ammunition and even some rations to help get us by. But truth be told? None of us carry weapons. We aren’t killers, but with our situation, we’d turned into one in order to survive.
This War of Mine as you can imagine is a survival simulator, but in truth, I think that’s sugar coating what it is. If I wanted to be blunt, it puts us into the nightmare that is war. It’s one that lets us understand the misery that accompanies war. It’s a game that will make you want to never see the news the same way again. It’s a war game to put it bluntly. It’s a game that tells the story about a city under siege. If you aren’t familiar with Sarajevo and the Bosnian conflict, you may want to familiarize yourself with it if you haven’t.
The only difference here? Change the location a bit, changes the names slightly, and as a war game, imagine yourself not playing the steadfast soldier. You aren’t some indestructible soldier from Call of Duty running about with guns blazing and grenades tossed. This time around, you’re a civilian. You’re one of three civilians that have been trapped in an apartment and fighting for survival. You’re one huddled down as bombs fly, machine guns fire, and the war shreds the city about you apart.
But what’s more admirable is let alone is This War of Mine a war game, it’s also a resource management title, one that makes every item you obtain absolutely important. Since scavenging during the day is possible, players will find themselves hunker down and completing simple tasks such as building beds, cooking food, building rubble and ultimately managing your time before the sun finally sets.
At night is when the game truly comes to life. You can scavenge or you can hold out in hopes of not being robbed. In doing so, you can also spend days piling up your supplies, counting your luck on your fingers and even watching the frostbite at the window seals as the days grow colder.
Over the course of the past year, I’ve managed to make my weeks add up without a serious event. Unfortunately, I still found trouble getting Katia back to health, but she’s managed to continue cooking and tend to the children. Unfortunately, we hadn’t been paying much attention to the resources we’ve decided to use. We accidentally used too much wood to keep the room warm and ultimately made it so we couldn’t build our much needed filter for our rainwater collector or even an extra bed for when its needed.
With Katia having been sick, it was the smartest choice for Arica and I to set out once the sun had set. For her and I, we’ve become seasoned killers while protecting what is ours and even have managed to have one another’s backs as we explore. With medical supplies running short, we knew the importance of skulking through the ruins of the ravaged city was our only option at survival and ushering Katia back to tip-top shape.
For us, there was a shopping center not far off. The only downside behind this building was our biggest concern. It’s a go-to place. Anyone else fighting for survival would openly consider this the place to go and our chances of surviving could be limited if we encountered hostile survivors. With only rumors of others having explored the place, we knew we could only take them as just for what they are: rumors.
So we loaded up, grabbed our guns and knives, and quietly made our way out into the bitterly cold night. Getting there was quite easy for us as we began to trek into the bitter cold, we easily found a few essential supplies such as wood, rations, and antibiotics, but what we also found was something a bit more serious. We’d encountered a few other scavengers such as ourselves, but unlike us, they were trigger happy.
Before we knew it, a few bullets went flying, several hitting the floor and shelves about us. As part of this was already in the game’s mechanics, I knew something wasn’t right by how Arica was acting. She’d been shot. Only once, but in this situation, that single time was more than enough to raise a sense of concern. Since I didn’t know how to take care of her at that very moment, we scurried back as quick as we could back to our home.
If Arica were to die, this game for me would have changed entirely. I’ve come to care about those I was helping care for and leading about these war-torn buildings. Luckily, within a few days, I’d managed to help Arica recover from her gunshot wound. Unfortunately, I’d not expected her mortality to collapse as much as it had, nor had I even considered the effects this would have on our group.
Because we had to heal her up to health, I’d not considered the lasting impact this would have. Now, I knew just how strong this narrative was. I’d never thought twice about looting a body before, nor had I even considered the lasting impact this would have.
After all, I’m a gamer, I’ve become desensitized to such things in any form of interactive media. In my mind, I’d come to know and cherish these digital people. I knew I needed to maintain my time as best as possible. I would have to find food, I’d need to collect some water, and I’d even need to defend them the best I could.
But now that I was forced to come to terms with my choices, I’d learned just what this game was about, just what a game for impact was about. Now I was considering just what their lives had meant. I was considering the fact that other people within this town would need the food these two hostiles had once had and in many ways, I’d felt some guilt for taking their lives the way I had.
But how had this affected me the way it did? Video games, as we know them, are merely stories that we experience – or so that’s what we tell our selves. We see the games as a way to project ourselves into the stories we place whether the situations are good, bad, or unknown. We are forced to be reckoned with who can send bullets flying and never missing a shot. We’re used to summoning our supercharged powers as immortal godlike creatures powered by an alien force. We’re the kings and queens of slaying zombies that threaten all of humanity.
But just this one time, I found This War of Mine causing me to lean forward in my chair the moment Katia’s death became reality. She’d died because I was incapable of managing her bacterial infection – a common cold. In this very game, I’ve learned that I wasn’t immortal, that the lives of my digital roommates weren’t just minor losses. They impacted a digital world in profound waves. The monsters we would encounter we’d learn soon enough were staring right back at us in the mirror.
I’d quickly learned that there were no save points, that there were no chances to take a few steps back in order to save Katia’s life. Instead, I’d given all the medicinal remedies I’d discovered that even my smallest decisions would be having lasting effects, because, at the end of the day, it was down to me, the kids, and Arica as the war had begun to come to an end. This game was just an altered reality, one where people live, one where people in the world to live and that there are terrible places like this in our world.
With Katia gone, our apartment felt empty. We all, even myself, were traumatized. We’d not come to terms with the friend and loved one we’d come to cherish in recent days. Just trying to scavenge became a task of its own as Arica became unresponsive, ridden with remorse about our loss. But that’s the point of this game. It’s a game for an impact that makes you feel the weight of your bad choices and the awful things you’ll do in order to survive. But unlike other games, This War of Mine doesn’t want you to forget the choices you’ve made.
It’s a game that wants you to know that your choices are bad and some are worse than the others. We’d robbed homes where elderly couples had lived, leaving them to starve to death in order to save the skin on our own backs. We’d killed a couple of men in order to obtain what little supplies they had. We’d even sacrificed one of our own to save another not realizing just how bad the other’s situation had become.
By one of our final days in this war-torn apartment building, I’d already had to work with Arica and the kids to the best of my ability. She’d become suicidal, unable to deal with the death of Katia. Even the lives we’d taken had begun to add up as we fought for our survival. Now on our final days, she’d become unresponsive in every way possible. And that is why This War of Mine isn’t just a game. It’s a reflection of past, current, and future wars. It’s a breathtakingly real experience that many will never forget.
Unfortunately, on the final day, I’d realized one simple fact: this wasn’t going to end well for any of us. We’d all become damaged in our own way. And now, I’m sitting here quietly with my fingers on my keyboard, tears running down my face. I’d turned the game off the moment we’d been raided, our supplies were stolen, and Arica, as well as the kids, having lost their will to live. For me, I’ve left my friends behind, my last remaining friend and the kid(s) that accompanied us. For me, they are now frozen in time, they are stuck four weeks into our fight for survival.
For me, I can’t go back knowing the losses that were made, the lives we’d taken and the fact that those kids could be the very next casualties the moment I revisit my time in their war, their apartment building and the misery that’d become their company.
For me, even these many months later, my heart is still broken when I think about the moment Katia drew her final breath, Arica lost her will to live and the youngin’ with us had become devastated by the events going on. For me, my role as Bruno was the hardest one ever. After all, in war… Not everyone is a soldier.
About the Writer:
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the boarders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You