I’m a firm believer that interactive media can elicit stronger emotional effects than just reading a book or watching a movie. But can playing video games change someone’s perspective on war and the refugee crisis?
Many video games feature war or armed conflict as a central inclusion to their story arc. War facilitates a reason to shoot people, defend a base, or just kick some ass. And you’ll almost always be completing your objectives as part of the in-game military or government.
This War of Mine: The Little Ones uniquely puts you in control of those most vulnerable during war, the civilians.
Without much instruction, the game thrusts you into an abandoned house, one where you and your randomly selected group of survivors must hunker down until a ceasefire. The problem is, you don’t know when that day will come. Through my three playthroughs thus far, none of the groups I was given made it to the end.
The difficulty spikes in the game come from the unexpected nature of every encounter. One night may be completely calm and routine, but following the next day, half of your group could be lethally wounded by raiders that also stole most of your supplies.
The setting of This War of Mine is all too real. It’s inspiration comes from the Siege of Sarajevo, a battle for the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina that represented the longest siege of a capital in modern history. Lasting for 1,425 days between 1992 and 1995, the siege claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people.
This War of Mine recreates the danger the Bosnian war presented by blocking off previously loot filled areas with fights and sniper fire. The Little Ones add-on even subjects children to these perils. The horrifically recognizable sniper alley of the Siege of Sarajevo manifests itself in “sniper junction” an in-game scavenger location, and tragic odes to the real-world travesty are seen everywhere in the game.
While slightly underutilized, the inclusion of children into the game hammers home one of the game’s central selling points; “In war kids are still kids”. I often used their inclusion in the game to warrant the atrocities I committed. I didn’t want to add to the bodies littering the city, but I soon realized I had to kill in order to live.
I found no joy in robbing an elderly couple in order to feed my group of survivors. I tried to morally justify it by saying that they had lived a long life and that my group was still young.
I often risked too much for a simple set of bandages or basic crafting supplies, and got my best scavenger killed in the process.
I gathered toys for the children instead of feeding my group for the day, causing one of the adults to become immobile from starvation for several days.
I chose not to intervene when a soldier was attempting to rape a woman. I decided the supplies were more important and the risk of being shot was too great.
And those were the choices I had the most control over. I didn’t get to choose who would attack me on sight. I made no decision as to whether I would be raided multiple nights in a row. I especially had no choice when my first playthrough ended because my final survivor killed himself.
This War of Mine: The Little Ones is not a fun, light-hearted romp. It is a grossly realistic look into the human element of war, including the often forgotten or downplayed numbers of civilians trapped by shelling and snipers.
While the Siege of Sarajevo took place more than 20 years ago, present day wars still ravage humanity in places like Aleppo, Syria.
Video games existed two decades ago, but their arguably mainstream appeal today would allow games like This War of Mine: The Little Ones to have a widespread impact on our collective thinking.
Will one game alter the perspectives of everyone who plays it? I doubt it. But games like This War of Mine have created a new entry point to dialogues on touchy subjects such as the refugee crisis.
You can’t solve a problem without first addressing its existence and I see video games as a way to shine light on the iniquitous pieces of humanity, whether they dwell in the past, present or future.