"Why even make a harsh story about surviving war into a video game?"
November 24, 2014 5:18 AM   Subscribe

This War of Mine is a computer game by Polish developers 11 Bit Studios about being a normal citizen during a modern Eastern European civil war, drawing especially on the Siege of Sarajevo. It has been called an antidote to Call of Duty for its unremittingly bleak depiction of war, though it has been criticized for being an unrealistically grim portrayal of life in a besieged city by some, including a survivor of the Siege of Sarajevo. These and other issues are discussed on the strategy game podcast Three Moves Ahead. [This War of Mine previously]
posted by Kattullus (64 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
This game is one of my new favorite things. I'm so thrilled to see it hitting the big time. One of the most original and compelling games I've played in a long while.
posted by absalom at 5:24 AM on November 24, 2014


It is a lovely, frustrating, and depressing game. It makes the cruelty of war feel personal, a little bit. I'm also glad to see it succeeding.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:32 AM on November 24, 2014


Good. All this glorification and commoditisation of war is disgusting.
posted by marienbad at 5:35 AM on November 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


All this glorification and commoditisation of war is disgusting.

But this "game" is entertainment right? Sometimes anti-war and pro-war collapse into an orgy of blood lust.
posted by stbalbach at 5:43 AM on November 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


All this glorification and commoditisation of war is disgusting.

I was in Toronto earlier this week and the Go station part of Union Station is plastered everywhere with huge war video game advertisements. I said to my wife "Oh look,The Christmas decorations are up already" and immediately felt really depressed.

Even though I like to play them.
posted by srboisvert at 5:57 AM on November 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


stbalbach: But this "game" is entertainment right?

The panel goes into that issue on Three Moves Ahead. They don't quite use those terms, but the game's intended effect seems to be the catharsis of tragedy.
posted by Kattullus at 5:58 AM on November 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


I wonder what Dee Xtrovert would make of all of this.
posted by Sokka shot first at 5:59 AM on November 24, 2014 [10 favorites]


It would be hard to have this thread without links to what Dee Xtrovert, who survived to siege of Sarajevo, has shared with us over the years about the romanticization of war, or what it means to fight in self defense, or what it means to witness war tragedy.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:01 AM on November 24, 2014 [29 favorites]


I liked this part of the "by some" link, which is otherwise a glowing capsule review:
This War of Mine is not perfect. Contrary to the dark fantasies of survivalists and most Hollywood disaster movie clichés, in real life, when awful large scale tragedies occur, normal citizens almost never degenerate into chaos and violence out of scarcity. In fact the opposite occurs, and “ordinary” people perpetrate incredible acts of self-sacrifice and altruism towards strangers. To quote from Rebecca Solint’s A Paradise Built In Hell, maybe the best book dedicated to the subject:

“The image of the selfish, panicky, or regressively savage human being in times of disaster has little truth to it. Decades of meticulous sociological research on behavior in disasters, from the bombings of World War II to floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and storms across the content and around the world, have demonstrated this. But belief lags behind, and often the worst behavior in the wake of calamity is on the part of those who believe that others will behave savagely and that they themselves are taking defensive measures against barbarism.”
posted by Ian A.T. at 6:17 AM on November 24, 2014 [8 favorites]


All this glorification and commoditisation of war is disgusting.

But this "game" is entertainment right? Sometimes anti-war and pro-war collapse into an orgy of blood lust


Perhaps there is no such thing as an anti-war game, either.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:22 AM on November 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


I've seen this described as The Grims, i.e. a gritty, depressing version of The Sims. The mechanics sound similar to the zombie game State of Decay, which has a similar 'manage a colony of survivors' core game, although it uses an over-the-shoulder GTA style player view and has a kind of dark sense of humour.

That said, that was obviously zombies and fairly typical post-apocalyptic survivor fantasy wish fulfilment, while this is purporting to be a semi-serious exploration of surviving an actual war. That's always going to have a central tension to it, as shown above, where the need to have game-like aspects to pull a user through the experience will conflict with the reality of human experience of catastrophe and disaster, which can often bring out the best in people at the interpersonal level.

The real challenge may be a post-apocalyptic/war-set game that challenges a gamer to succeed without scavenging, stealing or killing.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:36 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Perhaps there is no such thing as an anti-war game, either.

It's very hard, I think, to make a popular interactive game or narrative about helplessness. I think an anti-war game would have to put the players in the position of people with only a few bad options, where any choice may kill you and, even if it's the "right" choice, your reward is just another fraught choice. Winning the game would have to have an immense dose of luck, and then you would have to keep playing as your character tried to piece their life back together. Maybe there could be nightmares.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:40 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


But this "game" is entertainment right? Sometimes anti-war and pro-war collapse into an orgy of blood lust.

I suggest playing the game before judging it thusly. It's a bleak experience, and not in the usual edgy-grim-dark comic-book way. Last night it had me unsure whether to cry, or laugh out loud at the absurdity of my characters' situation. (So I did a little bit of both.)

It's not the sort of game where you progress through a narrative until you "beat" the game. There is no narrative, really, other than the one that unfolds emergently through gameplay, against the backdrop of a sketchily defined war. You're just trying to survive each day, struggling to meet basic needs and avoid giving in to despair. There are no right choices; just an endless series of tough compromises. You're more likely to die from hypothermia because you didn't have stuff to barter for fuel for your stove, or from an infection because a looter stole your medicine, than you are from a bullet.

I think an anti-war game would have to put the players in the position of people with only a few bad options, where any choice may kill you and, even if it's the "right" choice, your reward is just another fraught choice.

Yeah, play the game. That is exactly what it does.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:44 AM on November 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


At any rate, I'm not sure why you would think that a game couldn't be anything but entertainment. Movies are entertainment too, but they can be (and often are) much more besides that. Same with games – especially with some of the more adventurous indie titles, like this one, that have come along in recent years. As with movies, there are plenty of brainless, adolescent power fantasies, but there are also some really moving and thought-provoking titles being made.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:48 AM on November 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think an anti-war game would have to put the players in the position of people with only a few bad options, where any choice may kill you and, even if it's the "right" choice, your reward is just another fraught choice.

Most soldiers and civilians have no choice in war. For the most part, you go where you are told and you have no idea why those decisions are made. A video game without choice is just a computer animated movie, so that's not really going to happen.

I think that the "people don't regress in crisis" research probably comes for scenarios where there still seems to be some authority somewhere. When people start to think no one is in charge, or whomever is in charge has abdicated responsibility, that's how you get Nanking and My Lai. People stay reasonable only as long as they think they're going to go back to "normal", or their actions will follow them home.
posted by spaltavian at 6:50 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's very hard, I think, to make a popular interactive game or narrative about helplessness.

The only one I've ever played has been Papers, Please.
posted by winna at 6:51 AM on November 24, 2014 [10 favorites]


I'm not sure about the Nanking or My Lai references as examples of 'ultimate lawlessness' -- both were perpetrated by uniformed troops who still had a chain of command (and may have believed that the higher-ups would approve of their actions).
posted by Mogur at 6:54 AM on November 24, 2014 [6 favorites]


At least one review I've seen compares This War of Mine to Papers, Please. They're very different in tone, but they share a feeling of oppression and lack of control over one's own destiny: you don't decide how to win, so much as you decide how not to fail (which means that you're probably going to fail in some other way).

The Sims is another apt, though improbable, point of reference. The two games couldn't be farther apart emotionally or aesthetically, but there are similarities in the mechanics. "The Sims in Sarajevo" is as good a four-word summary of the game as any.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:57 AM on November 24, 2014


My admittedly ignorant two cents:

When the project is more or less explicitly framed as being an antidote to Call of Duty, etc., that can diminish the potential rhetorical effect of having the game present an ostensibly anti-war message about helplessness, the monstrous unfairness of survival, etc. Players go into the game already knowing what the message is going to be. You filter out the people who might need the game the most.

It would be potentially very interesting indeed to instead have a seemingly standard game with a story in a Three Kings / Kelly's Heros mold, in which the plot itself seems fairly standard-ish and not overtly didactic, but as you play the game, those themes bubble and grow and eventually take it over. Maybe you begin by playing the ne'er-do-well Westerners who just want to steal some gold from some bad guys, but over the course of the game, you start playing as the Real People who have needs of their own. Perhaps with an ending in which there is no victory condition, but rather simply the player taking a suicidal last stand in order to maybe save some people. Or, maybe a cynical ending in which the Westerners make off with the gold, but with the rueful knowledge that they had simply been a dangerous distraction from real problems. Or, maybe with an ending in which the Real People steal the gold from the Westerners - one good double-cross deserves another, and besides, who needs this more?

I don't know. Just thinking aloud.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:16 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's very hard, I think, to make a popular interactive game or narrative about helplessness.

3rd World Farmer came pretty close. It's *possible* to win, if you never make a mistake and you're super lucky, but generally speaking it did that job.

As far as making a popular narrative...I dunno. I felt like most of the things I read in literature classes through high school and college were about helplessness. I generally despised lit classes for that, too. A couple such books were enlightening. An endless stream of them was infuriating, and eventually I started being vocal about how I despised them. That left a couple professors with their feelings hurt, because I was so negative about books they cherished.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 7:18 AM on November 24, 2014


The video ad that played for me before 3rd World Farmer was for a Black Friday sale at Walmart.

You can't make this stuff up.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 7:23 AM on November 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


It would be potentially very interesting indeed to instead have a seemingly standard game with a story in a Three Kings / Kelly's Heros mold...

Kelly's Heroes is one of my favorite films ever, but that one really is about a bunch of healthy, skilled men with guns who take matters into their own hands. The whole film involves a tremendous exercise of personal agency in the midst of madness. It's also heavy on the comedy.

Three Kings, on the other hand...well, never really found its soul as far as I'm concerned. It was billed as a successor to Kelly's Heroes, but it went so far into the grim side of the first Iraq War (and took a hard left into the "help the innocent victims" bit) that it just didn't really hit the same notes. Maybe a little more thoughtful for all that, but not remotely the level of fun as Kelly's.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 7:23 AM on November 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


FWIW, and I wasn't being clear at all, I was only citing KH and TK just on the level of plots about soldiers being distinctly unsoldierly, taking on their own private mission and/or heist. My idea being, that's a fairly standard plot, and even injecting some politics into that plot is fairly standard, but in my fantasy, I'm picturing a story where you begin in that place and then end in a shockingly different place. Somewhat similar to how Little Big Man, Hostel, Ravenous, and From Dusk Til Dawn are all highly split movies.

Comedy is always good, though, both for entertainment and for didactic purposes. My favorite movie about the tragedies in the Balkans is No Man's Land, which is actually quite hilarious.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:31 AM on November 24, 2014


Yeah, play the game. That is exactly what it does.

That makes it sound much more interesting, even though I am unlikely to play it (I do not have a tone of time for video gaming.

I have listened to a play-through or two of The Grey Ranks, a tabletop RPG where you play teenage partisans in 1944 Poland. The game is deliberately set up to offer an increasingly narrow range of choices that will almost certainly lead each character to death, despair, or emotional fatigue. I don't think I ever want to play it, but listening to others do so was interesting.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:41 AM on November 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


I have listened to a play-through or two of The Grey Ranks, a tabletop RPG where you play teenage partisans in 1944 Poland. The game is deliberately set up to offer an increasingly narrow range of choices that will almost certainly lead each character to death, despair, or emotional fatigue. I don't think I ever want to play it, but listening to others do so was interesting.

This sort of bleak realism seems to be de rigueur for games these days. Dog Eat Dog is a similarly wearying game about colonialism that Rock, Paper, Shotgun did an amazing writeup for that I can't link to because I'm at work. You might even include some of the newer co-op games in the boardgame tabletop space that are all about managing "least bad" outcomes : maybe something generally hopeless like Robinson Crusoe or something historically horrible like Freedom: The Underground Railroad.
posted by absalom at 7:55 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think that the "people don't regress in crisis" research probably comes for scenarios where there still seems to be some authority somewhere.

Another thing that could make such research in this difficult is finding the evidence of it happening. At least one of three things need to be present - a surviving victim or witness, a later confession from the aggressor, or evidence found afterwards, which could be hard to discover if the crisis goes on long enough, the location is isolated, or efforts are made to conceal it. Even then, one has to consider the added factors that would obfuscate recording and reporting of it after the time of war or crisis has passed, as unless it involves large numbers of victims, those who remain to rebuild have strong desires to put the past behind them. Resources that would be responsible for recording and investigating incidents would be strained anyways, and may prioritize the situations of the living rather than investigate crimes that happened months or years before where there are no clear suspects, or even if there was any obvious evidence foul play involved at all.

In general, I think that it's far more likely for people to be helpful, or at the very least civil in extended, extreme crisis situations where any authority is virtually absent and just surviving is one's primary goal. However, I can't help but feel that the probability of 'regression' of a small portion of a population is underestimated if given the right circumstances. This is just my gut feelings on it, and knowing how unreliable those can be, if anyone has links to good research on this that takes some of these factors into account, I would be interested in seeing it.
posted by chambers at 7:59 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


You might even include some of the newer co-op games in the boardgame tabletop space that are all about managing "least bad" outcomes : maybe something generally hopeless like Robinson Crusoe

Oh. My. God. Robinson Crusoe. I played the first scenario three times last summer (having bought it for a dear friend who asked for it as a birthday gift). They were some of the most bleak, anxious, and awful gaming experiences I have ever had. It's brilliant the way that the game undercuts everything you do and there are never enough actions to go around, and you are always forced to take risks to get everything done, knowing that each risk may incapacitate or even kill you. It is an experience.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:06 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've always liked Nick Hornby's take on Cormac McCarthy's The Road:
Maybe when Judgement Day comes, we'll surprise each other by sharing our sandwiches and singing "Bridge Over Troubled Water," rather than by scooping out our children's brains with spoons.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 8:18 AM on November 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


Movies are entertainment too, but they can be (and often are) much more besides that. Same with games – especially with some of the more adventurous indie titles, like this one, that have come along in recent years. As with movies, there are plenty of brainless, adolescent power fantasies, but there are also some really moving and thought-provoking titles being made.
escape from the potato planet

But that was exactly Steely-eyed Missile Man's point. He was referencing the famous (alleged) Truffaut quote, "There’s no such thing as an anti-war film", and Truffaut is certainly a director capable of making "moving and thought-provoking titles".

It's not just Michael Bay-type movies, it's any movie, and by extension any entertainment, that is difficult to be anti-war because by definition they exist to entertain. Or at the very least, they must appeal enough to capture audience attention, otherwise they can't spread the message, and therefor by doing so necessarily glorify the subject to some extent by holding it up as something worthy of attention. And indeed this game is being accused of turning up the GRIM to make it more appealing, whatever the stated intent of the creators.

I'm not sure it's possible to focus on something without glorifying it, because you're telling people it's something worth focusing on.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:18 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, even the most sincerely dolorous anti-war film can still create a sense of duresse oblige. Even a film like Come and See will make some people want to take up arms in order to prevent the kinds of things shown in Come and See.

At least Jarhead attempted to make a comedy about the tedious pointlessness of war. Nothing cool happens. It's just...stupid. And sad. But not in an invigorating way. Just in a stupid way.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:25 AM on November 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yes, I'm familiar with the Truffaut quote. I just don't share its thinking.

War is worth focusing on, because it's a phenomenon that has big (and often tragic) effects on humanity, on both the micro-scale of individual human lives and the macro-scale of international politics and history.

And focusing on a thing ≠ glorifying that thing. (If it were, then any work of art that focuses on any tragic part of the human experience – suicide, disease, violent crime, mental illness, poverty, hunger, what-have-you – would be glorifying it. Which is obviously not the case.)

The alternative is for artists to simply ignore war and pretend that it doesn't exist. Which hardly seems like an improvement.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 8:26 AM on November 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


Try framing the Truffaut quote as more of a challenge than a prohibition. Hell, it's not even a prohibition: it is simply something that is largely true, whether or not we would like it to be true.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:28 AM on November 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


(If it were, then any work of art that focuses on any tragic part of the human experience – suicide, disease, violent crime, mental illness, poverty, hunger, what-have-you – would be glorifying it. Which is obviously not the case.)

I would disagree with that last part. I'm not sure it's so obvious.

There's a reason why works about such tragedies have an appeal. There's a glamor in even suffering, grime, and pain, and even works meant to show how something is bad make the topic appealing.

How many people idolize Tony Montana in Scarface despite the movie clearly not intending to be about how being a gangster is awesome?

The most valuable human commodity isn't money or jewels, it's *attention*. When you give something attention you are necessarily promoting it.

The alternative is for artists to simply ignore war and pretend that it doesn't exist. Which hardly seems like an improvement.


I think the alternative is to accept that you're in part glorifying what you're trying to address, and deal with that in your art accordingly.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:41 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Maybe there could be nightmares.

It would work if you weren't expecting it; you enter a scene and your controls don't do what you expect them to, or they all do the same thing, and their are new threats around you and unfamiliar characters. And then you wake up back where you started.
posted by bracems at 8:52 AM on November 24, 2014


I helped to make this game. I wrote the background story, which is largely invisible in the game, and most of the character bios. It has been very rewarding, but emotionally exhausting work - especially the research. I'll try to answer any questions you may have.

I'd like for now to address just one important point raised by Revan, the Sarajevo survivor, and several others - the apparent lack of solidarity in the game. As I and my friend independently responded in the RPS thread, Sarajevo was just one, although the most obvious, of the inspirations behind This War of Mine. The most important difference is that in the game, the protracted civil war has eroded both the legal and the social frameworks, creating a nightmare scenario: those who are ostensibly in control of the city are unable to maintain order and people are mistrustful of strangers, in no small part due to divisions running often through neighborhoods and sometimes even families. At the same time, the solidarity of the local community shows in people who come to our survivors both seeking and offering help.
posted by hat_eater at 9:08 AM on November 24, 2014 [16 favorites]


So I'm going to apologize in advance for my aggressive tone about this, but I find the idea that art necessarily glorifies its subject to be laughably privileged. I can't concieve how someone could take attention to be the ultimate commodity without being so sheltered from real toil and suffering to such an extent as to think that one's hunger and death could be rendered attractive as long as people are watching. I don't even know quite how to respond.

I've seen war movies which glorify war, and those which don't. If some people see/read All Quiet on the Western Front and take away that war is exciting, I would venture that they missed the point. And in any event, I've never known people to respond in this way. That movie was made to show us that there is nothing glorious in war, and sending teenagers to die in droves to serve the abstract machinations of rich and powerful is barbaric and evil.

Am I failing to understand what the word glorify means? People who observe suffering through art and think this is something they want to go through need to grow up. They need to find something worth living for rather than something to hide from their emptiness. It is a pathetic privalege to enjoy suffering, and to create it to add meaning to empty lives. When real tragedy strikes, people to tend to drop this bullshit like a hat. If that seems like a good thing, well, I don't think people who go through this would say it's worth the price.
posted by Alex404 at 9:09 AM on November 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


Calling this an "antidote to Call of Duty" seems a little off to me, because "Call of Duty" is in no way an accurate representation of what war is really like, while this game seems to try to be an accurate representation of the horrible decisions survivors have to make. Call of Duty is not a war game - it's Duck Hunt + Capture the Flag + what 12-year-old boys think war is like. (Also, this.)
posted by jbickers at 9:16 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Rather than rehash the old arguments regarding the merit/awfulness of video games about war in general, which both sides have valid points about and could spend hundreds of comments on without a clear resolution, I'd like to see a different route taken here.

The interesting thing about this game and others, from Papers, Please to even games like DayZ, where many players found to their surprise that they had to deal with actually feeling guilt for killing another player at times, is that finally there is clear evidence for game developers both large and small that there is a large customer base out there that wants something more than just an endless FPS deathmatch - that games that explore the psychological effects and moral questions and their aftermath at different levels of immersion. That the real factor of what will create the best, most memorable games is not the pixel count, or fancy weapons, or the volume of blood and gore, but that the games provoke deep moral and practical questions in emotionally tense situations. The recent Make ArmA not War contest has a category specifically for designing a mission that focuses on the struggles and complex problems of humanitarian efforts in war zones.

There will always be games that have plot and stoylines to follow, but we are finally arriving at the beginning stages of truly open worlds and immersive experiences. When these games are at their best, combat is taking a back seat as things like survival against the elements, hard moral choices, and player interactions and all that come with it - trust, betrayal, negotiation, political machinations, friendship, sacrifice, and mercy become the primary elements that define these games.

Breaking away from the confines of a fixed storyline of simply 'defeat the bad guy' allow for so much to be learned by both the player and the developers. Sure, there will always be those who will just try and shoot everyone like it's a COD match, but they will either leave (by their choice or someone else's) and find something else to scratch that itch or they may see that there is something more than that and step up to a more complicated, nuanced world.

"War never changes" as the old saying goes, but even those that are opposed to war-themed violent video games should be pleased that a significant amount of players and developers are 'growing up' and exploring many the other avenues that end up teaching players that even if your playing a war game, your left mouse button doesn't have to always be tied to the trigger of a gun.
posted by chambers at 9:47 AM on November 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


Not talking or making art about a topic will not magically make it go away.

Choosing "Scarface"- a movie that glorifies being a gangster - in an attempt to say any movies about gangsters necessarily glorifies them is not unlike choosing a hamburger to prove that food is bad for you.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:57 AM on November 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


when awful large scale tragedies occur, normal citizens almost never degenerate into chaos and violence out of scarcity

hat_eater can probably address this even better, but it's possible this game recognizes this. They had a segment about the game on the Idle Thumbs podcast and for Sean (the one who had played the game) the most affecting episode in the game was when he went into a house and discovered an older couple who had some food. The man drew a knife and Sean chose for his character to just leave.

Later, more desperate for food, Sean sent another of his characters to the same house and decided to just take some food from the fridge. The old man drew his knife, but did not attack, just stood there watching as Sean's character took some of his food and left.
posted by straight at 10:02 AM on November 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


Choosing "Scarface"- a movie that glorifies being a gangster

But it explicitly doesn't, that's the point. You may want to refresh your memory of the film, as it's about how Tony is destroyed by the life he leads, and ends up a paranoid, pathetic drug addict screaming and raving in his empty home who has lost his friends and family and has nothing except his drug empire, which is rapidly crumbling and taken from him in the end.

I can't concieve how someone could take attention to be the ultimate commodity without being so sheltered from real toil and suffering to such an extent as to think that one's hunger and death could be rendered attractive as long as people are watching. I don't even know quite how to respond.

Think a little more on the topic, I guess. I'm just some dumbass on the Internet but I'm certainly not the originator of this idea. I think people here are going with their gut reaction rather than thinking the issue over. I don't like it either, but truth is truth.

It is a pathetic privalege to enjoy suffering, and to create it to add meaning to empty lives.

But people do. Demonstrably so. Maybe they need to grow up, as you say, but it happens.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:05 AM on November 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


But people do. Demonstrably so. Maybe they need to grow up, as you say, but it happens.

I appreciate your humble response to my angry comment. I guess what got me worked up was the idea that art would necessarily glorify its subject matter in general, which I find absurbed. On the other hand, if we say that truth is in the eye of the beholder, then it does indeed follow that there will always be certain people for which art - potentially against the intent of the author - is going to glorify its subject matter. I certainly agree that this is an important point, and artists need to take responsibility for this.

That being said, I can't help but feel, whether it's constructive or not, that yah people just need to grow up. Then again, we all need to grow up in one way or another.
posted by Alex404 at 10:20 AM on November 24, 2014


I'm very intrigued and excited to play this game. I'm glad to have read about it and I'm looking forward to immersing myself in the experience.

"Excited"... "glad"... "looking forward to"... all these words might suggest that I'm craving the pleasures of bearing witness to war, degradation and suffering. But that's really not what I'm feeling at all. The argument that all art about war glorifies war assumes that humans are all base and primitive and respond only on a monkey level to the media they consume. But we DO crave art and literature that speaks to truth, that sheds light on difficult and harrowing events, that attempts to explore difficult topics like genocide and mass human awfulness. Because these are some of the most confusing and uncomfortable topics, and we have complex ideas and feelings about them, and they leave a little pit in our stomach. And if we don't have direct experience with this stuff, we know that others we've encountered have, and our lives have been touched by people who were forced to deal with this stuff. And we have direct influence on the course of such events, even if we don't think we do. It's possible to make something deeply engrossing, that you want to play, but that still leaves you feeling new things and coming to new conclusions about some big topics. That's what great art is. I hate the idea that it's impossible.
posted by naju at 10:23 AM on November 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


Random aside, but I would like to see a similar kind of game that deals with homelessness.
posted by naju at 10:25 AM on November 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


Naju, this is nowhere near the level of visuals and gameplay as anything else we've been talking about, but I think you would enjoy exploring Spent.
posted by jbickers at 10:42 AM on November 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


There's a scenario in Cart Life where you're living in a motel and have until Monday to find a more permanent place to live, or get kicked to the curb.
posted by LogicalDash at 11:31 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


On one of my many restarts I got a character with the special trait "Loves Children". I thought the game was fucking with me but it turns out that makes kids show up at your doorstep with all kinds of useful stuff.
posted by LogicalDash at 11:53 AM on November 24, 2014


when awful large scale tragedies occur, normal citizens almost never degenerate into chaos and violence out of scarcity

There are a lot of people in This War of Mine who don't shoot on sight. Some will barter, a few can even be selflessly helpful (hospital staff will patch you up for free). And with a lot of skill and some luck it's possible to get by without murdering and looting.
posted by hat_eater at 12:42 PM on November 24, 2014


The argument that all art about war glorifies war assumes that humans are all base and primitive and respond only on a monkey level to the media they consume. But we DO crave art and literature that speaks to truth, that sheds light on difficult and harrowing events, that attempts to explore difficult topics like genocide and mass human awfulness. Because these are some of the most confusing and uncomfortable topics, and we have complex ideas and feelings about them, and they leave a little pit in our stomach. And if we don't have direct experience with this stuff, we know that others we've encountered have, and our lives have been touched by people who were forced to deal with this stuff. And we have direct influence on the course of such events, even if we don't think we do. It's possible to make something deeply engrossing, that you want to play, but that still leaves you feeling new things and coming to new conclusions about some big topics. That's what great art is. I hate the idea that it's impossible.

Out of interest, for you is there any word that could replace war that would invalidate this (accurate and beautifully phrased) comment?
posted by Sebmojo at 1:12 PM on November 24, 2014


Sebmojo, I'm not quite sure what you're getting at. I can't think of anything. We could talk about whether all porn ends up glorifying porn, I suppose.
posted by naju at 1:28 PM on November 24, 2014


This looks very compelling, I hope my machine is able to run it as I'm very keen to check it out.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:16 PM on November 24, 2014


Thanks Naju, I just thought it was an excellent and ringing endorsement of creative freedom, all the more so if you have no unspoken caveats.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:35 PM on November 24, 2014


It's not directly speaking to the issue of the impossibility of making an anti-war video game, but anthropologist Thomas Malaby's journal paper 'Beyond Play' has been an influential critique of the idea that games and play are simpy about enjoyment, entertainment, or fun, if anyone is interested in an academic take on the issue . A pull quote from the paper:

Games have a long-running,deep,and habitual association with “play,”itself a shallowly examined term,historically and culturally specific to Western modernity. Play, as it is used in both game scholarship and often more widely,commonly signifies a form of activity with three intrinsic features. It is separable from everyday life (especially as against “work”; it exists within a “magic circle”), safe (“consequence free”or nonproductive), and pleasurable or “fun”(normatively positive). None of these features holds as an intrinsic, universal feature of games when they are examined empirically,however (and play itself may be more usefully treated not as a form of activity but as a mode of experience; see below). Ironically,it is how we have sought to account for what is remarkable about games by setting them apart (as play-spaces,as stories)that is the largest roadblock to understanding what is powerful about them. (pp 96)
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 6:13 PM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I started playing this game two days ago (in short bursts on the couch when I have some time - I think I've played about two hours in total). I think it's great.

So far I have made it to Day 6 and stopped last night when one of my characters went scavenging. He was finding useful stuff at a particular location, but the main thing was to find some food. So I had him move a bit further into the location than I had previously. All of a sudden he encountered someone who challenged him, and then shot him. Like that. And he died.

That really felt like a failure.

Earlier the characters shared some medicine with some children who knocked on their door.
One of them stole medicine and some food from an older couple and then felt guilty about it afterward.

It's really interesting - and very well done. I do think it would be cool if the designers did a second version once they get some substantial feedback from people playing the game.
posted by awfurby at 6:26 PM on November 24, 2014


I helped to make this game. I wrote the background story, which is largely invisible in the game, and most of the character bios. It has been very rewarding, but emotionally exhausting work - especially the research

Thank you for working on this game.

I have experienced war from different sides from this one and this game still makes me want to throw up and go back to it and shake in between- which means you're doing it right. This game is the most explicitly anti-war thing I've ever seen in my life. I continuously feel awful about this game. I can't play more than a few days at a time without needing a long break. I, too, stole food from an elderly couple. We were starving - or so I thought. Everyone was very hungry. I didn't know how long it would take for them to start getting ill and dying. We were out of medicine. Later I found out that they could have lasted a day or two, to where I would figure out a better way to get and trade for food. But it was too late. We took so much that the characters speculated that the elderly couple starved to death. I have not been back to their house.

When I finally lost a character to death, on Day 18, I had to immediately exit the game because I wasn't sure I could play through the guilt. The roguelike interface means that you must play through the guilt or go back to the very beginning. There are no saves. There are never any saves.

This game is beautiful and profound. I'm not sure it's...fun. But it is terrifying and aweful and scary as fuck. You guys did your job right, and please take that back to anyone else you know who worked on this.
posted by corb at 8:11 PM on November 24, 2014 [7 favorites]


I've been playing it and I love a lot about this game. The art, the characters, the overall feel. I think it's really bold and as a big fan of Spec Ops: The Line (Which I would add is a criticism of Call of Duty-types hidden in a Call of Duty-type) I would love to see more games like this.

At the same time as a huge game-nut, it's hard for me to not have a few issues due to certain game design choices (or maybe a lack of anticipation in a hyper-randomized game?).

For example: Having four survivors, three well-rested, and being unable to send out two scavengers makes me go "Well, why not? Oh, because this is a game and it has rules and someone decided that." Suddenly my immersion/sense of disbelief/what have you evaporates. I'm no longer feeling like my scarcity is something that simply -is-.

Is that fair of me?

It's like one of my favorite RPGs this thing where if a party member with a powerful attack is charmed, they can destroy your whole party in one turn, and yet for some reason I'm not allowed to preempt this by killing him. I'm not allowed to target my own party members with my attacks, I can only cure the status or suffer.
Suddenly I see the man behind the curtain and I think he's a little unfair.

It's raised a weird idea in me that in composing a piece of art as interactive game, you have to be careful in how you express what you're going for down to the rules and that is really kind of a neat thing to think on in itself. I look forward to reading interviews about design choices and the like.
posted by ThrowbackDave at 11:11 PM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


You guys did your job right, and please take that back to anyone else you know who worked on this.

Thank you. I posted it on the company wall.

Is that fair of me?

Certainly! This War of Mine is a game after all. There's a ton of design compromises that make sense only when you consider it as such.
posted by hat_eater at 1:19 AM on November 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


There's a reason why works about such tragedies have an appeal. There's a glamor in even suffering, grime, and pain, and even works meant to show how something is bad make the topic appealing.

Am I failing to understand what the word glorify means? People who observe suffering through art and think this is something they want to go through need to grow up. They need to find something worth living for rather than something to hide from their emptiness. It is a pathetic privalege to enjoy suffering, and to create it to add meaning to empty lives. When real tragedy strikes, people to tend to drop this bullshit like a hat. If that seems like a good thing, well, I don't think people who go through this would say it's worth the price.

I've never taken "no such thing as an anti-war movie" to refer to the fact the movies distort war because they need to be entertaining, exactly. The point, which certainly extends to anti-war writing and presumably games, is that the idea of being part of something loud and dangerous and exciting and lawless is attractive to a lot of people - especially young men. In fact I think most artwork that conveys these conditions will inherently be entertaining to many of us - I'd be really surprised if driving military vehicles around shooting guns and blowing thing up is not fun before various dark realities set in. The appeal is even stronger if you can believe that your own story will be of proving yourself against adversity and coming back looking like a hardass. So first your message has to override that appeal, which can be done, but pure tragedy and nihilism and bloodlust is still in itself romantic to more than a few people, more than you'd like to think about. You can talk all you want about how they need to grow up but that's not going to make them go away. It's certainly not just the overprivileged who are susceptible to seeing organized violence as a source of meaning - look at gang culture.

None of this is to say art shouldn't address these things. And their are certainly approaches that do minimize the unintended messages. But to do that you have to think about all the places somebody in your audience might be coming from and not assume they're on the same page about what outcomes are bad ones.
posted by atoxyl at 1:56 PM on November 25, 2014


I've been playing this the past couple of days. Haven't made it much further than the 10th day. It's beautiful to look at, and quite a good game-as-game, and very emotional, and rock-solid on the engine and programming side (not a single crash or glitch or bug), but it is punishingly hard and makes some peculiar design choices (e.g. the oft-mentioned single scavenger mechanic) that I hope will be amended in future patches.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:18 PM on November 26, 2014


oh god, I'm on day 38 and I am terrified of someone dying. This game definitely gets you involved with it emotionally.
posted by corb at 12:43 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Since there's no one here left but us, I can admit that I can't finish my most successful playthrough so far for pretty much the same reason.
posted by hat_eater at 1:26 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


I understand why they wouldn't put multiple character scavenging in the game. To begin with it opens up a lot of new questions to do with NPC scripting, like it would now be possible for a soldier to spot character A, escort them out of the compound at gunpoint, and *while in the process of escorting* spot character B -- the realistic response is to call another soldier over to deal with B, when currently I think NPCs can only alert one another that the player is *present* and not *where they are* exactly, because with only one player character, there's only one place they could be.

Balance concerns too -- if you can bring, say, Boris (high carrying capacity) and Marin (finds parts others can't) along on the same trip, you can fill up on rare parts quite quickly, and then trade them for whatever. Making this game too easy would really ruin it.

I'm having trouble coming up with any actual benefit to multicharacter scavenging apart from, "seems like a logical thing to be able to do," which, yanno, valid as far as it goes, but to introduce the game elements that would make multicharacter scavenging *necessary* could easily mean a whole expansion pack dedicated to bigger areas and larger groups of survivors. Probably with flocking behaviors.
posted by LogicalDash at 11:02 AM on December 2, 2014


Now one thing I do think is buggy is that you can't end the day in winter without the fire in your heater going out, even if you have enough fuel and would have replaced the fuel if you were waiting out the day. It has led me to a lot of "okay, sitting down with a book and waiting for this day to end while occasionally replenishing the heater" stuff. Which maybe is intentional, but feels hard on a gameplay level.

Also, has anyone had the nerve to try Sniper's Junction?
posted by corb at 2:07 PM on December 2, 2014


Sniper's Junction is actually a lot easier than at first blush -- it feels a bit cheap actually; the sniper keeps up an exceedingly steady rhythm and you just need timing to dash between cover.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:23 PM on December 2, 2014


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