War has no consequence in gaming. We see, we shoot, we run, someone yells and then we do it all over again.
Call of Duty and Battlefield are regular chart-leaders that sanitise war so it can be turned it into a simple, addictive playground game. There's nothing wrong with that, but there's another side of war sorely overlooked in the medium, and it's a side that Polish game developers 11 Bit Studios are keen to explore.
This War of Mine is a different kind of war game that puts gamers in the shoes of the civilians caught in the middle. I spoke to the game's lead designer Michal Drozdowski and senior writer Pawel Miechowski about what they hope to achieve, but first take a look at the game's evocative debut trailer.
Where did the idea for This War of Mine come from?
Pawel: At a meeting my brother Grzegorz, who is also CEO of 11 Bit Studios, brought an article called One Year In Hell about a guy who survived a siege in Bosnia in the 90s. It was a very thrilling and moving interview. This guy was talking about what he did to survive the horror of the war in the city he lived in, and instantly all of the team were like, 'Let's make an experience about it, let's make a game.'
How would you describe the tone of the game, and what message does it have?
Pawel: Well absolutely it is serious, because we want to deliver you a tool to see everything on your own and see what you need to face to survive a war. The message is it could happen to anyone, anywhere, and it doesn't matter where you're from because what matters is that on a basic level we're all humans, and when war surrounds you, you struggle for water, food, and you need to survive.
Your approach to the demons of war is giving everything you've got, because imagine being yourself in such situations. Needing to save someone but you don't have the necessities to do so, what do you do? Are you trying to rob, let's say antibiotics, are you trading everything you have? People in conflicts are really facing this situation and we want to translate that into a game's language.
Which conflicts did you research for the game?
Michal: As for conflicts there are many of them. If you start from the very beginning it was the Warsaw uprising. After that a lot of buildings were totally destroyed and there were several thousand people who tried to survive in those conditions and not be caught by the Germans. There were a lot of situations that happened in Yugoslavia and in Syria there was the siege of Homs.
Pawel: The pattern is the same. When civilisation is down, people struggle to survive.
How are the soldiers in your game depicted?
Michal: It's not like we're trying to say if soldiers are good or bad or anything like that. We have two important factors. The first one is that the besieged city is actually under a ruthless siege directed toward civilians with mortar shelling and snipers.
Pawel: The military is a secondary threat. The biggest threat when the city is under siege is other human beings who are trying to rob or kill you just because you have something.
Many video games glorify or even celebrate war, what's your take on this?
Michal: We play war games ourselves because we're gamers, we like it. I really like to play Battlefield for example, but it doesn't mean that we shouldn't also be telling people about different things in games and we do that in This War Is Mine.
I don't think we should be against trivialisation or something. The community is mature enough to accept war games as they have been made until now and This War of Mine as well. It's like in the movies, you watch The Pianist about a guy who survives the Warsaw uprising, but we also watch Inglourious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino. They are both great movies.
This War of Mine is targeting a release on PC and mobile devices later this year