E3 2014: The Internal and External Struggles of This War of Mine
The horrors of war get inside you.
A few months ago, I got an early look at This War of Mine, a game being developed by 11 Bit Studios that aims to depict war not from the perspective of soldiers, but from the perspective of civilians in a besieged city. In many ways, the build I saw today was similar to the one I got a look at back then, but there was one key difference: the emotional states of your survivors are now another factor you need to consider in your struggle to get through the days.
To show me how this worked, senior producer Marek Ziemak made a rather horrifying decision while demonstrating the game for me. Each night, you send one survivor from your group out into the city to scavenge for supplies, and in the situation that Marek was playing, things were desperate: one of the survivors, Katia, had taken ill, and the group had no medicine. Boris was the most well-rested of the survivors, so Marek tapped him to head out into the night.
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Boris came upon a house and, peering through the keyhole, saw that it was occupied by an older couple. Rather than turning back, he opened the door and ventured inside, at which point the man living in the house approached him. Deciding that searching the house for supplies was a priority, Marek had Boris attack the man, and then the woman, who came to the man's defense. The couple crumpled on the floor, dead. Searching the house, Boris found the medicine he so desperately wanted, but at what cost?
Witnessing such an act of brutality had made me uncomfortable, but not nearly as uncomfortable as performing it had made Boris. The next day, he was racked with feelings of remorse, haunted by the horrible things he'd done. Marek explained to me that different characters in the game have different personalities, and that while some have harder hearts and are better able to commit acts of violence and continue functioning, others can't just kill a person and carry on as if nothing has happened. His actions had driven Boris into a depressed state, making him unable to perform tasks around the shelter and work toward improving the group's condition. And this didn't just impact Boris. He had told Katja about what he'd done, and knowing what had occurred to get her the medicine she needed caused her mood to spiral as well.
This kind of post-traumatic depression isn't a permanent condition in This War of Mine, but it does take its toll. After a few days, Katja and Boris went from being depressed to merely being sad, meaning that they could once again accomplish tasks, but they would still often get upset and stop working as hopelessness or rage overtook them. I was already intrigued by This War of Mine's attempts to portray the consequences of war in a way that games have largely ignored in the past. The fact that the psychological and emotional challenges of living under such horrifying conditions are something you have to consider as you struggle gives me added hope that it might treat its hefty and important subject matter with the gravity and complexity that it deserves.