Video games are first and foremost a form of entertainment. That is, it’s a way to suspend reality, entertain the mind, and escape for a while. Like movies or novels, games can sometimes be more than that, but usually they’re not. We play Call of Duty not because we want to replicate the experience of killing other human beings, but because it is entertaining to beat the other player in a game. At the core, shooting another soldier in CoD is no different than taking an opponent’s rook in chess. Likewise, in Grand Theft Auto, it’s about accomplishing an objective – winning – more than enjoying the thrill of stealing a car.
So, how should we view a game like This War of Mine?
The trailer is one of the best I’ve seen. From the shelter of a building, we see a terrifying street battle taking place. As the camera tracks right, we see the soldiers charging and firing at the unseen foe. A grenade explodes killing one of them. Another is hit by small arms fire. The camera continues into the dark, and into a room, and into the unseen misery of war. A woman clutches a man, his arm covered in blood. Another man sits holding his head in despair. And a small boy stands watching, perhaps not fully comprehending yet, but knowing something is wrong. He’ll have nightmares. He’ll have this scar for the rest of his life.
This War of Mine is a game about wartime survival. The focus is on the civilians, not the combatants. The objective is to survive by scavenging supplies, dodging snipers and maintaining a safe hideout. So then, that becomes the King you have to checkmate. Keep the provisions stocked, keep out the unwanted from your shelter, and don’t become collateral damage. Will this game ultimately be more than that? I really hope so.
A lot of what is described about this game reminds me of the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s. Civilians were sniper targets. There were constant bombardments. Food and water ran low. All the trees were cut down for firewood. There were countless stories that needed to be told that weren’t.
My grandmother was also a victim of war. She lost her brothers in the Korean War. She was terrified of both the South and North Korean soldiers who occupied Seoul at different times during the conflict. She told me a few stories, though none in too much detail. There were people rounded up, placed in a truck and driven away to be shot in a field. Neighbors accused each other of being a capitalist or a communist or both. More than anything else, she remembered the need for food. My father, at age 4, didn’t know what hunger was and so all he could say to my grandmother was that his stomach hurt. Lack of food dominated any other concern when they weren’t in the crossfire.
Most war memoirs focus on the fighters. Civilians’ stories do surface, but there are too many stories that go untold.
I hope This War of Mine is more than just entertainment. I hope it does recreate some of the misery of non-combatants in war and not simply make a game out of it. And if so, this game will be a game that truly needed to be made.