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In war, not everyone is a soldier.
March 13, 2014 12:03 PM   Subscribe

The generic war game has come under fire from many sides, prompting more thoughtful games, such as the recent Spec Ops: The Line (previously) and others. However, short of post-apocalyptic zombie-type games, no one has thought to make a game about the civilians - survivors living in the cities that other people battle over. Until now.
In This War of Mine, the focus is shifted away from military operations portrayed in most games. Instead, it is a dark survival game where players control a group of civilians trying to stay alive in a besieged city. During the day snipers outside stop you from leaving your refuge, offering players time to craft, trade, upgrade their shelter, feed and cure their people. At night they must scavenge nearby areas in search for food, medicines, weapons and other useful items. This War of Mine was inspired by real-life events and delivers a message. "This can happen in your city, in your country."
posted by corb (62 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
Far Cry 2 was pretty thoughtful.

In any case, this concept sounds really fascinating, and I'm surprised that no one has considered it before. There are more survival scenarios other than supernatural horror.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:09 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


To be honest, I guess that those game designers who considered it thought it would be too depressing a game. It's one thing to fantasise about surviving in the zombie apocalypse, another to do the same about surviving ethnic cleansing in Kosovo or central Africa.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:15 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


From M*A*S*H, way back:
Hawkeye: War isn't Hell. War is war, and Hell is Hell. And of the two, war is a lot worse.

Father Mulcahy: How do you figure, Hawkeye?

Hawkeye: Easy, Father. Tell me, who goes to Hell?

Father Mulcahy: Sinners, I believe.

Hawkeye: Exactly. There are no innocent bystanders in Hell. War is chock full of them - little kids, cripples, old ladies. In fact, except for some of the brass, almost everybody involved is an innocent bystander.
The first time I can remember seeing even the slightest nod in this direction in a triple-A game is in Halo: Reach. You don’t just come across conveniently-abandoned stashes of whatever you'd need next, as per usual Halo. Instead you'd find piles of dead marines or local civilians, lit with dying rescue flares, and you pretty much need to shake out their pockets for enough ammunition and first aid to get through a level.

And you'd spend a lot of time in Reach watching civilians get killed, and despite being The Big Damn Hero, not being able to do a big damn thing about it, and that not mattering much in the end anyway.

I'm glad to see a game like this exists. I would buy "Spec Ops: Rebuild Civil Society In The Aftermath Of A Drawn-Out And Illegal War" in a heartbeat.
posted by mhoye at 12:17 PM on March 13 [18 favorites]


It's one thing to fantasise about surviving in the zombie apocalypse, another to do the same about surviving ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

Who do you think the zombies are a stand-in for, really? Not to put too fine a point on this, but I don't see a lot of people with brown skin making zombie-apocalypse plans. I know a few who get concerned every time white people come up with a new reason to stockpile rations and shotgun shells, though.
posted by mhoye at 12:19 PM on March 13 [14 favorites]


feed and cure their people

Surely cure then eat?
posted by biffa at 12:25 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


Not much to the video but this looks really interesting. Thanks for posting.
posted by postcommunism at 12:28 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


New Call of Duty multiplayer mode: Every now and then you are forced to play as an unarmed combatant with some dependent in tow in the middle of a free-for-all match. If you or your dependent dies you are kicked off the server for the next 24 hours.
posted by charred husk at 12:29 PM on March 13 [8 favorites]


I'll admit that this looks interesting but why would those soldiers continue standing in the middle of the street while being shot at? That one guy takes one in the neck and the next dude in the sequence comes out from behind that pillar. Come on! I wonder if this will be like State of Decay but in a warzone?
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 12:32 PM on March 13


New Call of Duty multiplayer mode...

This is a mod that needs to exist ASAP.
posted by aramaic at 12:32 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Who do you think the zombies are a stand-in for, really?

Actually, zombies are the perfect enemy for a post-racial, post-cold war age. They're a generic, malevolent other. Along with space aliens and orcs, they're an abstract humanoid that you can fantasize about killing without being accused of being a bigot. I'm not saying that we live in a post-racial age (or even post-cold war one, really, given recent events), obviously, but it is interesting that the zombie comes onto the scene at exactly the moment where it's no longer possible to fantasize unproblematically about slaughtering wave upon wave of dark skinned belligerents.

For your claim to work, you'd need to point to some actual evidence that the zombie was an abstract racial subaltern. But since the whole point of the zombie horror is that anyone--you, me, an eight year old girl--can become zombified, the concept itself stands prior to racial categories. They're inhumanity rendered down to its most basic constituents. Bodies devoid of any feeling beyond malice and hunger.

Zombies speak to a gut fear about the limits of the social contract itself. That fear has been racialized elsewhere (Conrad anyone?), but in this case I think it's a purer expression of that anxiety.
posted by R. Schlock at 12:36 PM on March 13 [30 favorites]


Its funny but this reminds me of a performance art or video clip I wanted to make. Ah, inertia.

The idea was to recruit a team of Middle Eastern or eastern Bloc COD players and another team of US/European. When the game starts all the players race into the center of the map, and stand alternating in a circle. No one fires a shot. Then the game ends.

I call it 'What If They Gave A War and Nobody Came.'
posted by sfts2 at 12:37 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I feel like games like State of Decay blow mhoye's canard out the window.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 12:39 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Maybe left 4 dead does too. Even Dead Island.

Wasn't this a thread about an interesting game concept and not about zombie video games which, lately, is the opposite of an interesting game concept?
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 12:39 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


the opposite of an interesting game concept

The concept will be played out the moment that someone makes a QWOP-like game where you need to manipulate a zombie's failing limbs to hunt down and eat the brains of various non-infected human beings.
posted by R. Schlock at 12:43 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


so that game needs to be made right the hell now, r. schlock. man...
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 12:45 PM on March 13


Actually, now that I think of it, in the proposed CODmod the armed combatants should also be individually assigned a random hidden modifier -- a percent chance that they will be "arrested" and booted from the server if they kill a civilian during the round, with a small chance that an entire team will be given total immunity for murder (oops, looks like your opponents are Russian, and this is Chechnya!).

No way for anyone to know what their personal modifier is this round; they only find out when the round is over and they receive their post-game messages...

"Your killer was arrested, but given a light sentence. Your child was later killed in an artillery bombardment while waiting in a food line."

"You killed three civilians and were commended for bravery. Congratulations!"

"You shot an unarmed person, and geopolitical considerations require that you serve twenty five years in prison. Your teammate killed three innocent people, and has been promoted. (boot player from server for 25hrs, reward other player with achievement)"
posted by aramaic at 12:45 PM on March 13 [9 favorites]


zombies are the perfect enemy for a post-racial, post-cold war age

Well, and then there's Resident Evil 5.

Not that I disagree with the larger point you're making.
posted by Panjandrum at 12:52 PM on March 13


Grave of the Fireflies: the videogame.


BRB, gonna go cry now.
posted by Foosnark at 12:59 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


Was Resident Evil 4 violently bigoted against Spaniards?
posted by codswallop at 12:59 PM on March 13


Who do you think the zombies are a stand-in for, really?

We've had this discussion a lot, and the answer is "Some people use it as a code word, most people don't, and practically no mass-media depictions are any more or less racist than the usual mass media depictions of anything." Can we move on and discuss this particular thing instead?
posted by Etrigan at 1:01 PM on March 13 [12 favorites]


During the day snipers outside stop you from leaving your refuge, offering players time to craft, trade, upgrade their shelter, feed and cure their people. At night they must scavenge nearby areas in search for food, medicines, weapons and other useful items.

As much as the concept of this game sounds interesting, I think the experience it's speaking of might be a bit narrow. I admit, there are people who stay and try to survive in warzones, but isn't it just as likely they become either refugees or internally displaced persons? I mean, in the real world, the 2003 Iraqi War made 10% of the population in Iraq refugees, and probably internally displaced the heck out of a lot of people.

I think it would be more interesting if the ultimate objective were to get out of the country at war. Like The Great Escape, which for all the Hollywood-ificaton of the real event portrayed survival rate of such a crazy endeavor realistically.

I'm imagining it would be kind of like the Oregon Trail, except instead of one destination there could be multiple ways out of the country. You'd start when the war starts far away, and you can either decide to leave immediately or make preparations. You can do typical stuff like get food and water, pack, check bus/rail schedules, or just get more money (or perhaps something more liquid, for fear of currency default from the war). You could also try to obtain false passports and IDs, or pay human smugglers. Though you can prepare more with more time, as more time passes the situation worsens: prices for everything start getting higher, railroad tracks are bombed, gasoline is rationed, naval embargoes are in place.
posted by FJT at 1:05 PM on March 13 [11 favorites]


This sounds like Bosnia about ten years ago.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:07 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


That sounds depressing and not fun at all. I think I'd rather go outside and play.
posted by sourwookie at 1:07 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


That sounds depressing and not fun at all.

You're definitely right. I admit I was channeling a little of Papers, Please when I was thinking of this, which is a pretty depressing game itself.
posted by FJT at 1:11 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I'm reminded of the game Ayiti, where the player controls a Haitian family. Goals include increasing the family's education and health.
posted by doctornemo at 1:12 PM on March 13


If your experience suggests that brown people don't play zombie survival thought games, then I would submit that your experience doesn't include enough brown people.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 1:23 PM on March 13 [6 favorites]


I admit I was channeling a little of Papers, Please when I was thinking of this, which is a pretty depressing game itself.

While I realize that this is not going to make me sound like an adventurous fun-lover with a zest for life, I actually found the basic mechanics of Papers, Please pretty entertaining. You get to hunt for clues and solve little mysteries (kind of). The depressing part was the setting, plot, and characters. Relatedly, I've been playing a lot of Banished lately, and that's a game where the basic mechanics, while still fun, can get really depressing because once something goes a little wrong, everything else gets way more stressful and people start dying and it all snowballs pretty quickly. Who knows, maybe I'm just better at evaluating travel documents than I am at running a medieval village.

Anyway, if This War is Mine is going to have any success beyond as a pure art project, it'll have to have at least a somewhat entertaining fundamentals, because very few people want to play something that is not fun mechanically and also depressing thematically.
posted by Copronymus at 1:31 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I still haven't beaten Papers, Please. Part of it was, I got obsessed with sharpshooting in the game (the game allows you to shoot lethal or non-lethal rounds) because of one event in the game.

(Spoiilers)

If you play to the part where you reunite the young couple, you'll know why. I just didn't want to play past that part, until I got it right.
posted by FJT at 1:44 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


This sounds like Bosnia about ten years ago.

Or like Syria right now.
posted by longdaysjourney at 1:50 PM on March 13


Actually, zombies are the perfect enemy for a post-racial, post-cold war age. They're a generic, malevolent other. Along with space aliens and orcs, they're an abstract humanoid that you can fantasize about killing without being accused of being a bigot.

And along with space aliens (Starship Troopers) or orcs (various Warcraft things, among others), it is possible to realize this is going on and subvert it. Has there been a movie yet where the zombie survivors are actually in the middle of a normal modern neighborhood, but are psychotic and see everyone around as zombies and thus are okay to kill and their stuff is fair game for theft? It has seemed to me to be an obvious take on the idea for a while now, but I don't remember seeing any examples.

For your claim to work, you'd need to point to some actual evidence that the zombie was an abstract racial subaltern.

This has come up before, and it turns out that there are sites where the zombie == African comparison is being made, although I would say it's really not a big part of the zombie fad (which, as I check my fad watch, is already at a quarter to irrelevant, or at least I hope it is -- I hate zombie stuff).

I did a search and found a lot of hits leading to one of those pieces of web idiocy that's floating around, a viral video of a lady on Family Feud, which is these days hosted by African American Steve Harvey, being asked to name something about zombies. Her response is "Black." That answer didn't make the board.

I feel like games like State of Decay blow mhoye's canard out the window.

Not entirely, just because there exists less problematic uses for a trope doesn't mean the more problematic ones aren't out there.
posted by JHarris at 2:00 PM on March 13


Maybe some sort of CoD style game, or a browser-based RTS where you plan and execute combat scenarios in real time, against human opponents. Ideally, this would be conducted in such a way that - although it would never be spoken aloud and merely left to the player to figure out - you don't actually have to kill anyone to achieve your objectives, though the rewards aren't as great. And you would just tear through some region - one of those places with no strategic assets to speak of, so basically no one gives a shit about anything anyone does. The HUD would warn you not to kill civilians but you would eventually notice that there are no actual penalties for doing so.

Succeeding at the killin' part of the game would put you on leaderboards, earn you trophies or gamerscore, whatever.

But then, once the series of rounds were over, you would get a popup informing you that you now need to play the other half of the game before you will actually be given rank or money or xp or trophies or anything.

You are then kicked into a strategy game where you are running an NGO consisting of people trying to aid civilians in the warzone you were just playing in, and you have to address all the problems you just caused. You blew up a house? Sick, bro - now you just need to get some people out there to try to identify the remains of people inside so their next of kin can be notified. Oh man, all those headshots? Nice, man, nice. Just one quick thing - they may have done wonders for your k/d but now there are a fuckload of war orphans and you should probably get them sorted out quickly before your friendly neighborhood human traffickers show up with dollar signs in their eyes, or euros or what the fuck ever. Hey, you did a great job blowing up that supply convoy, now the enemy won't have critical supplies! Oh, and also no one has any food and I don't know if you can concentrate with a half-dozen hollow-eyed refugee children screaming "mama, mama" over and over again to no one in particular but you should probably try because everyone's starving to death! Well, I say it's a half-dozen but one of them clearly isn't going to make it because her legs have been blown off and the guy from Doctors Without Borders was in the line of fire (your fire) a little earlier and now thanks to you he's really more like Doctors Without Heads.

Rated M for My God, I Hear Them in My Sleep.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 2:00 PM on March 13 [28 favorites]


I would buy about twenty copies of that game, though I think half my friends might hate me forever. That sounds amazing.
posted by corb at 2:02 PM on March 13


Seconding corb, in his appreciation for FAMOUS MONSTER's comment.

Oh man, all those headshots? Nice, man, nice. Just one quick thing - they may have done wonders for your k/d but now there are a fuckload of war orphans and you should probably get them sorted out quickly before your friendly neighborhood human traffickers show up with dollar signs in their eyes, or euros or what the fuck ever.

Oh, those headshots.

I watched a friend playing one of those generic war games, in which he was playing a class that was lightly armed, I think, but could sneak up behind people and cut their throats. Like TF2's Spy in a lot of ways, but of course minus that game's cheerful cartooniness and self-referentialism.

Indeed, when he snuck up on a character to kill him, the thing that got me was the look on the opponent's face. Because reflected there wasn't anger, or even fear, it was just blank, his face staring straight ahead as my friend's character slit his neck, just like the victim character was unable to process what was going on, it had gone too fast for him.

I've watched him play a lot of those games, but it's those moments that have stayed with me. I can't help but feel immense pity for that fictional character meeting his fictional end, because while unreal and dramatized it's a shadow of real deaths that have happened, are going on in the world even now. In his uncomprehending innocence the deceased character was like a child; not realizing the situation, not seeing the implications of battle, his life now ended without really knowing why.

When pixel guy was two, asleep in the crib, when he was six and trying to learn to read, when eight and learning arithmetic, and so on up, did he and his parents suspect he was being raised for this? Men's lives end for many reasons, a few with an exclamation point, some a question mark, many with a period. This was a comma, just an event in the life of another person on his way to kill some more.

I guess it goes without saying, but I don't play these games, as suddenly having these kinds of thoughts in the middle of a round tends to lower your score.
posted by JHarris at 2:20 PM on March 13 [9 favorites]


Definitely food or thought, thanks for this.

On an utterly selfish note, I relate to this idea especially because I'm designing a war/horror tabletop RPG module that sort of involves some similar ideas. It's set in the Slovene Littoral in 1943, where there is effectively a civil war going on, on top of Axis annexation/occupation/etc. To make an understatement, life is not easy for anyone. The game itself exits combat proper fairly early on, so that it can deal instead with the tensions and bizarre goings-on as experienced by an uneasy mixture of Partisans, civilians, and British interlopers. While the game itself primarily exists to be (hopefully) fun and interesting in other ways, it is also very much baked into the premise that it is hard to live in land that has changed hands so many times, and also that many non-Partisan civilians may have a variety of legitimate reasons to hate and fear both the Axis Forces and the Partisans.

...

Has there been a movie yet where the zombie survivors are actually in the middle of a normal modern neighborhood, but are psychotic and see everyone around as zombies and thus are okay to kill and their stuff is fair game for theft? It has seemed to me to be an obvious take on the idea for a while now, but I don't remember seeing any examples.

Hmmm...well, similar-ish ideas can be found in "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street", from the Twilight Zone, the ending to the Tom Savini remake of NOTLD, and the original ending to I Am Legend.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:39 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


FAMOUS MONSTER you may just have developed the first game to get less than 7 at review sites.
posted by Mitheral at 2:42 PM on March 13


Sounds like DayZ.
"u cool?"
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:03 PM on March 13


I was going to suggest the original 'I am legend' but I see that Sticherbeast has beaten me to it.
posted by tinkletown at 3:12 PM on March 13


R. Schlock >

Actually, zombies are the perfect enemy for a post-racial, post-cold war age. They're a generic, malevolent other. Along with space aliens and orcs, they're a generic humanoid Other that you can fantasize about killing without being accused of being a bigot. I'm not saying that we live in a post-racial age (or even post-cold war one, really, given recent events), obviously, but it is interesting that the zombie comes onto the scene at exactly the moment where it's no longer possible to fantasize unproblematically about slaughtering wave upon wave of dark skinned belligerents.

You know, I've had exactly the same idea (disclosure: I'm currently working on a empirical research project on this topic). Like, exactly. I would note, though, that until Romero's Night of the Living Dead came out, many depictions of zombies were explicitly racialized, with dark-skinned "natives" usually being the category of human that would be a zombie. So it's perhaps not the case that the zombie itself came on to the scene at a convenient time in order for it to be used in a certain way; rather, the figure itself has transformed completely (and in distinct phases) since the 1930's, when it first appeared in American cinema.

But I disagree with this idea as an explanation, simply because "slaughtering wave upon wave of dark skinned belligerents" is exactly what's being depicted. I don't think it's the case that genocide fantasies about biologically insidious dark-skinned figures aren't possible anymore, though they do have to be presented in decontextualized, ahistorical narratives. Perhaps the truth is that they're more popular and explicit than ever, and blindness to that fact is what really defines our age.
posted by clockzero at 3:42 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Full disclosure - I work for 11bit studios, the company developing this game, and take part in the development process.

Although I've been anticipating that to an extent, I am surprised and really uplifted by the overwhelmingly positive reaction of the gaming community towards This War of Mine. Here you have a game about which really nothing is known besides the premise and a non-gameplay trailer and people - both the journalists and the commenters - are in 9 cases out of 10 supportive of the idea or outright thrilled by the prospect of caring for a group of civilians in a war zone.

I can't tell you anything at the moment1 - obviously I'm under the NDA - but the early version of TWoM will be shown at the Game Developers Conference next week.

1Beyond "doing this right is hard but we'll do our best".
posted by hat_eater at 4:25 PM on March 13 [9 favorites]




Has there been a movie yet where the zombie survivors are actually in the middle of a normal modern neighborhood, but are psychotic and see everyone around as zombies and thus are okay to kill and their stuff is fair game for theft? It has seemed to me to be an obvious take on the idea for a while now, but I don't remember seeing any examples.

The Postman was made into a movie. It's set post-apocalypse, and the apocalypse was survivalists. There was some disaster, and while civilized society was recovering from it, the survivalists decided that it was The Disaster, and that society has failed, and so they started shooting and pillaging and hording and fed/cop-killing, and pretty soon they'd destabilized a battered-but-recovering society into collapse. The survivalists are the bad guys in the film.

There is also Hardcore German Sparkle Party, a music video in which a conservative family is terrified by a mass of glittery revelers due to the terrible danger of having fun and joining the party and loving it. Spoiler: The sparkling horde seduces them in the end. :-)
posted by anonymisc at 5:46 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Here you have a game about which really nothing is known besides the premise and a non-gameplay trailer and people - both the journalists and the commenters - are in 9 cases out of 10 supportive of the idea or outright thrilled by the prospect of caring for a group of civilians in a war zone.

Exactly - I'm thrilled at the idea and quite annoyed that nothing is known about the game, which might suck for all I know. Good to hear that we'll know more soon!
But this game, along with Banished, etc - I think these titles are going to launch a new genre - I think more games will follow. Maybe not a new genre of gameplay, but a new genre of player purpose.
posted by anonymisc at 6:04 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Has there been a movie yet where the zombie survivors are actually in the middle of a normal modern neighborhood, but are psychotic and see everyone around as zombies and thus are okay to kill and their stuff is fair game for theft?

The game Silent Hill 2 played with this. You run through town killing horrible monsters, and then some ways in they start dropping hints that you may have lost your mind and you're killing people.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:44 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


That sounds depressing and not fun at all. I think I'd rather go outside and play.

and when I was a kid, the game we'd most likely play would be "guns" (as we called it) -- sometimes cowboys vs Indians, sometimes allies vs nazis, sometimes explorers vs natives. Always us vs them.
posted by philip-random at 9:32 PM on March 13


Well, at least you had friends. For me, it was usually a rousing game of "me vs. myself".
posted by FJT at 9:36 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


That's nothing. I wasn't even around when I was a kid.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:13 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]



Anyway, if This War is Mine is going to have any success beyond as a pure art project, it'll have to have at least a somewhat entertaining fundamentals, because very few people want to play something that is not fun mechanically and also depressing thematically.


The Last Of Us did pretty well, and "fun" is not how I would describe that game. I was harrowed and tense and sad for a good chunk of it. If they can make you care about what you're doing, it needn't be "fun" exactly to be engaging and compelling. If anything making it too mechanically enjoyable might undermine the design. A delicate balance, obviously.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 11:15 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


Interesting. Thanks for posting this, corb.
posted by homunculus at 12:31 AM on March 14


Wow. Good luck, hat_eater!
posted by JHarris at 3:49 AM on March 14


I did a search and found a lot of hits leading to one of those pieces of web idiocy that's floating around, a viral video of a lady on Family Feud, which is these days hosted by African American Steve Harvey, being asked to name something about zombies. Her response is "Black."

Racist, acknowledging the cultural roots of zombies, or both?
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 6:40 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


...they're an abstract humanoid that you can fantasize about killing...

But why would anyone want to do that? Are there really that many people with a big desire to fantasize about killing? Seems to me war games are more about the aesthetics and strategy of combat. In actual warrior culture dying in combat is often mythologized as respectable and honorable.

I think zombies represent a genetically deficient social underclass that refined civilization must shelter itself from - like neckbeards or barbarions - and are not necessarily race based.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:13 AM on March 14


Are there really that many people with a big desire to fantasize about killing?

Have you met people?
posted by Etrigan at 9:59 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


I don't know that no one's thought of this idea for a video game before, because a buddy of mine and I came up with an MMO idea where you played a member of a resistance who had to maintain the underground movement, not just through direct conflict but also by trying to hide from military forces, building your resistance bases, finding survivors, etc. It's not exactly the same idea, of course (any resistance is going to offer more military power than a band of unaffiliated civilians) but if two dumbasses like us could think of something like that, surely some actual game designers have.

My guess is that the problem with making a "civilians caught in a warzone" game is how to make it a compelling game that doesn't just involve making you superhuman and killing a whole ton of soldiers with a gun. Homefront is a good example of why making a traditional heavily-guided shooter around those tropes would probably not work (hint: Press X to hide in mass grave). But then you need to come up with more mechanics besides killing, and you need a more open world to do this in, and you need to find a way to make the two military forces fighting each other feel like threats to you while not completely massacring you like would actually happen in real life. It feels like a really big problem, and maybe other devs have tried to tackle it and left it alone because it was too big/not profitable enough a challenge.
posted by chrominance at 10:12 AM on March 14


Other devs have certainly tried it first, but they've all had you running and hiding from zombies instead of real people. Apart from the plausible deniability of zombies as political symbols, it lets you let your computer players cheat in the cheapest ways without really bothering anyone.

I hear State of Decay is quite good.
posted by LogicalDash at 11:00 AM on March 14


This may sound odd, but one of the things that a game might be well placed to capture is that, even for civilians, war has its enjoyable aspects. One of the things I noticed living in Beirut was how frequently people would get nostalgic, over the Civil War and about the 2006 war too. I was in contact with people there during 2006, too, and there was a definite sense of exhilaration among some people, even at the time.

Don't get me wrong, war is horrific. Brutalising, traumatic and tragic. But I think that, for quite a lot of people, it can also be an experience that reduces their sense of alienation, both from their peers and from their labour. In war, you typically have to stick together, and the stuff you do, to get food or water or protection, matters. People have to work and cooperate to stay alive, and doing that is an experience that people deeply crave.

But war is a fucking shit-awful way to achieve that experience. What we need are functioning communities with achievable and useful goals, not an analogue of those communities created through dire and miserable peril.
posted by howfar at 2:04 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


you need to find a way to make the two military forces fighting each other feel like threats to you while not completely massacring you like would actually happen in real life

No, I think that's the point - you don't have a gun, and if any soldier decides to target you, by mistake, or collaterally, or maliciously, or just for shits and giggles, you just get massacred. Part of the gameplay is to keep your guy(s) away of those situations in the first place. But they can be challenging to avoid when you need food, etc. You eek out an existence in the shadow of Men With Guns* that have the power of life and death over you, a power that you don't possess.

*It reminds me of Men With Guns, which was about (among other things) how the villagers didn't see things in terms of soldiers fighting rebels, but simply in terms of Men With Guns. If Men With Guns come to the village, it wasn't relevant who they were, who or why or for what cause they thought they were "fighting", they'll steal and kill as they please regardless of any of that. Who they are is irrelevant, only what they are matters - they're just more Men With Guns. The village needs none of it, it just wants to be left alone.
posted by anonymisc at 2:17 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


If Men With Guns come to the village, it wasn't relevant who they were, who or why or for what cause they thought they were "fighting", they'll steal and kill as they please regardless of any of that.

Now I have chills. Those were my great-grandmother's stories. The Reds and the Whites swept through, and it didn't matter which colors they wore. They were all the same people: men with guns.
posted by cmyk at 3:00 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


I would have thought that historical black zombies would have been rather inevitable and not racist at all, because of the origin of the mythology in the Caribbean.
posted by wilful at 8:55 PM on March 14


This looks really interesting.

I used to be firmly in the "gamist" (as opposed to "narrativist") camp, believing that games are fundamentally about gameplay mechanics, the main purpose of theme and symbolism in games is to illuminate those mechanics, and trying to shoehorn it all into a narrative of some kind was likely to break the mechanics and the narrative.

In other words, to expect compelling narrative from a video game is to make a category error: games aren't stories, even if they share some traits with stories, or can sometimes accommodate or exist alongside stories.

That's still my default position, but then along comes something like this (or Gone Home, or the Walking Dead adventure games, or pretty much anything that deviates from the handful of incredibly tired narrative cliches that one sees in most games), and I start to think that narrative and theme can matter.

It's still a very young medium. It's fascinating to watch as game devs explore all of these questions, sometimes fumbling, sometimes striking gold, always pushing forward our understanding of what games are and can be.

The "zombies are racist" thing is attention-seeking behavior. Don't reward it.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 11:15 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


"The "zombies are racist" thing is attention-seeking behavior. Don't reward it."

You mean like posting shit that is as inflammatory as it is willfully ignorant on a website for fake internet points?
posted by Blasdelb at 8:17 AM on March 16


I used to be firmly in the "gamist" (as opposed to "narrativist") camp, believing that games are fundamentally about gameplay mechanics,

I'm now leaning towards what you could call an "experiencist" interpretation, so-called because of Anna Anthropy's definition of a game as "an experience created by rules" vs. Ralph Koster's statement that "The core of a game is a problem to solve."

And I think narrative can be a big part of that experience, even if it is very tangential to your mechanical affordances in playing the game.

For example, Merritt Kopas' game HUGPUNX could be done with the same basic mechanics but then make it about a zombie biting people instead of hugging them, and I think the experience of playing it would be different.
posted by RobotHero at 3:24 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]


Of course, HUGPUNX was a spin on Punksnotdead where you punch people instead of hugging them, but we were just talking about zombies.
posted by RobotHero at 10:26 PM on March 16


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