This War of Mine: From Sarajevo to Syria

While playing Fallout 4, I’ve been left with the feeling that, for a game that is purportedly about the effects of war, there was little real depth to it. This War of Mine (free on Playstation Plus for January) is the exact opposite, and probably has the emotional impact Fallout wishes it did.

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This War of Mine was inspired by the Siege of Sarajevo during the 90s – this was the longest siege of a city in modern warfare, lasting almost 4 years or 1,425 long days. It’s estimated that over 5,000 civilians died during this time. Sarajevo was blockaded, limiting food and supplies entering the city, and under constant shelling. Snipers set up around the city making movement difficult and dangerous for citizens. I cannot image living day to day for years in a city where this was the norm.

The game itself doesn’t focus on soldiers or military combat. In fact aside from some references in the environment or on the radio, there’s little actual details of the war going on. Even the title, This War of Mine, makes the experience of war small, personal. The player character is not a chosen one, or a hero. They do not save their city, and may not even save anyone else. This is a game that is solely about surviving day to day. I found the best strategy is to use your resources in the present, instead of saving them for the future. During the night your home can be raided, resulting in injuries and loss of resources – the bandits can steal materials, so it’s best to use them when you have them. Who knows what tomorrow can bring.

I found this game to be very affecting. I abandoned my first play through as I couldn’t face the consequences of my characters’ situation. They had been without food for a number of days and were dangerously hungry. I didn’t have good enough weapons to risk going to a dangerous area for food, plus my three characters were weak from starvation. The only place I knew they could find food was in a home occupied by an elderly couple. It was them or me. In his pre-war life, one of m characters had been a famous football player, and two days previously he had killed two people in self-defence. I deleted my file and started again, hoping for better luck this time.

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This War of Mine was released on consoles with the addition of The Little Ones to the title, and this sums up everything about this game. This game is about everyday people surviving in a war zone. These ‘little people’, normally the NPCs, are thrust into the players care. Vulnerable, ordinary people that you must guide and watch over until at some point (it’s randomly decided) the war is over. There are no dialogue prompts alerting you that your character is making a big decision, but every night and every day your choices affects your characters and the other survivors around the city.

I don’t know if it’s fun exactly, but This War of Mine is compelling. Even amongst such a bleak situation there is hope. Maybe a trader will come by today and the characters will gain enough food to not worry for a few days. Maybe they will make it until the peace is declared. Maybe. This War of Mine is on the surface a simplistic game, but one which relays its message clearly. The game is especially poignant as America closes its borders.

In Syria the war has lasted 4 and a half years. Over 250,000 Syrians have died with about 11 million people displaced. The UN has asserted that all factions in the civil war have committed war crimes including torture, murder, rape, forced displacement, and blocking access to food and medical aid. Massacres have been committed. Chemical weapons have been used. This is a humanitarian crisis.

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, America’s new immigration policy  was announced, effectively barring people from Muslim countries entering the US. This War of Mine seemed horribly relevant and I donated to Oxfam’s refugee emergency response fund. I don’t know what else I can do. If you can afford to do so I urge you to do the same, we have to do something. If games have given us anything it’s empathy and understanding for others with experiences vastly different from out own. We need support and solidarity for each other now more than ever.

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