– Eric Chen
This War of Mine is a strategy game developed and published by 11 bit studios and can be purchased on Steam for $19.99 USD. It is a beautifully crafted game that puts you in a pair of shoes you’re probably not accustomed to: the innocents and casualties of war. That’s right, you aren’t playing as some big-shot hero in a war this time. In fact, instead of the typical “Play” option, it says “Survive” so buckle up because it’s going to be a rocky ride. This is inspired by the 1992 – 1996 Siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War.
Right off the bat you may notice that there is no tutorial. You get a little bit of backstory to each of the characters you start with and that’s it – the game starts and the clock is ticking. I mention this because it serves as a good metaphor: you probably have at least some idea of what to do if you are suddenly thrown into a survival situation. You are in an abandoned building with a few others and you see some things you can salvage. Time to get to work. Your day starts nice and early at 6:00 AM and typically ends at 8:00 PM, at which point you have to choose how to proceed through the night by assigning tasks or letting people rest. These decisions are rather difficult for many reasons: everyone of course is already tired from working all day so who is still well enough to scavenge for resources? On top of that, you have to take into account how much they are able to carry and how they would hold up in any encounters be it friendly or hostile. Bargaining is huge when you are trying to survive and each character has special traits so it’d be smart to assign them the appropriate roles. Quite frankly, you are playing as a leader who doesn’t actually exist and these people’s lives are resting on your decisions.
Now, this game only focuses on one small group. We know that the media reports information in a manner to paint the portrait they want and will use the numbers that benefit them most, which tends to be on the lower scale when it comes to casualties. For instance, during the Iraq war, there were multiple household surveys that were taken to estimate the number of casualties. The first survey, published by The Lancet, generated an estimate of 98,000 “excess deaths” and in a second survey, published four months later, the numbers rose to 650,000 people (civilians andfighters) that died as a result of the war. This is considered on the low end and only covered actual deaths. The estimates on displaced people, both internal and external, are between 3.5 million to 5 million and possibly more! This War of Mine starts you off with a single group of three individuals. Although This War of Mine is based on a different period and is a simplified reflection of reality, resources are definitely going to be spread thin if these numbers serve as any indication of what kind of devastation war can bring and your decisions are by no means trivial.
One factor this game leaves out is the option to be isolated. Now, resources are obviously the most important thing but none more so than time and there is a clear trade-off: being isolated (either by or against your will) allows you to have access to all the resources you come across. However, you lose efficiency in time compared to a group, but the group setting must distribute its resources. Both in This War of Mine and in real life scenarios, time management is crucial. When are hostiles most active so you know when to hide and when to scavenge? How much time would it take to build a bed? Do we have enough fuel for a fire to make it through the night and cook some food? Resources are running out but we know there are a lot of hostiles nearby so scavenging would be extremely risky, but can we survive until they move on? Surviving during war time is no joke, especially when you are barricaded in with absolutely nowhere to even attempt to run to for shelter. Being caught in a civil war means more than likely you are surrounded by hostiles whether intentional or not and the need to gather resources quickly and stay out of sight becomes that much more critical.
Although set in a very different time period, the impact of war never changes and some of its effects were noted by one Carrie Berry, a child merely 6 years of age when she was caught in the war erupted in Charleston back in 1861.  Carrie began her diary entries at the age of 10, beginning in August of 1864 and ending in January of 1865 which provides some insight for the daily routines that take place during war in a warzone and examples can be seen below:
Monday, August 1, 1864
It was raining this morning and we thought we would not have any shelling today so I nurst Sister while Mama would do a little work, but before night we had to run to the cellar.
Tuesday, August 2, 1864
We have not been shelled much today, but the muskets have been going all day. I have done but little today but nurse Sister. She has not been well today.
Wednesday, August 3, 1864
This was my birthday. I was ten years old, But I did not have a cake times were too hard so I celebrated with ironing. I hope by my next birthday we will have peace in our land so that I can have a nice dinner.
Thursday, August 11, 1864
Mama has been very buisy to day and I have ben trying to help her all I could. We had to go in the cellar often out of the shells. How I wish the federals would quit shelling us so that we could get out and get some fresh air
Thursday, October 13, 1864
We had quite a here last night. Some body trying to steel our hogs. They did not get them though. They will be right smart if they do. I have hemmed a foot towel and that is all I have done to day.
Thursday, November 3, 1864
I ironed some this morning and sewed some this evening. Me and Zuie went up to see Aunt Marthy.
The first few entries mentioned the frequency of shellings and amount of musket fire that made them all constantly take shelter until the fighting subsided. Carrie and her family were fortunate enough to have survived the fights and the troops eventually moved on, leaving her town war torn and ravaged. Their lives before the war involving school, work, and church was all but in shambles around them but they focused on immediate needs: daily survival. Carrie mostly assisted with chores such as cleaning up after dinner, ironing, washing clothes, and sewing/knitting. As seen above, people did also attempt to plunder and steal so resources will always be scarce to someone. Being able to barter and trade is essential, which is a core mechanic in the game but it does give the option to steal from others while strongly discouraging it. I personally never explored the option to steal but that’s not to say the thought hasn’t crossed my mind on more than one occasion.
The majority of us would never have to deal with such a situation – at least not in a warzone. This game gives a very unique feel and experience to the situation at hand and yet still an extremely isolated and tame scenario compared to what atrocities and daily difficulties follow times of conflict. I can definitely feel the weight of my decisions and especially so in the beginning when I knew what I wanted to do, but time wasn’t waiting for me to stroll around to check out everything. There was definitely fear of being unfortunate enough to have robbers come by before I got enough resources to focus some time on weaponry for defense but it’s a decision I made and would always prioritize on in a real situation. If you’re trying to survive, at least make an effort to make it as comfortable as possible so decent food and a good place to sleep is top priority.
What would your priorities be in this situation? There is an option to steal from other settlements as well so would you become the robber if you were given the chance? I know in theory I would never rob someone at gunpoint but honestly I can’t say I wouldn’t do that when someone I’m close to or responsible for is on the brink of death and I know a nearby group has some medicine that can help but are unwilling to part with it. If bargaining won’t work, then some extra persuasion might be required but there’s also the risk of getting myself killed in the process so it is very difficult to say. These are the kinds of decisions you need to constantly make and quite frankly I sometimes have difficulty just deciding what type of food I want to eat against the plethora of options I have. I can’t say that if my decisions were narrowed down to just eating barely edibles I scavenged for and stealing some freshly cooked food while on an empty stomach, I may be a little more rash like the person that tried to steal one of Carrie’s hogs. How well do you think your moral standards would hold up?
This game provides an experience like none other that I’ve played and quite honestly, I say that is the main reason you would get this game. It wasn’t particularly enjoyable since you are playing a survival simulator. This isn’t like those survival games where you’re just blasting heads off zombies and trying to make it through the night that way. No, you have to manually tell each person what to do and plan ahead for everything all while feeling the results of your decisions constantly. The fate of these survivors rests on your decisions and how quickly and efficiently you can make them. It is quite stressful at the start, but once you get enough resources and create a plan, it does feel pretty good knowing you were able to at least keep everyone warm and fed enough to make it through another night. I’m sure others like Carrie and her family are full glad to have been able to make it through the fighting and be able to still carry on the next day. Sometimes just having family and loved ones or even just some companions with you can help push you through another day.
 Figures can be found on http://web.mit.edu/humancostiraq/ under Displacement: Refugees and internally displaced. Other studies can be found from UNHCR’s website http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e486426.html
 Diary entry on August 24, 1864 shows when The Yankees leave and Sept. 2 notates trade routes.
theSebie is an indie game review site started by Cindy back in June 2015. Her and a team of content creators discovered that gaming is a powerful medium that can reflect many of society’s deepest issues.