What am I playing? Civilians Taking Refuge in 11 Bit Studio’s “This War of Mine”

The biggest argument behind ‘videogames are art’ is that videogames are another method of telling a story. The story may be an interactive one, but the creator of that story is using gaming to interact with a player so they experience the story. This week, I look at a game that encourages you to make your own story, in tough situations as I play 11 Bit Studios’ game, This War of Mine.

Most survival games come in two flavors “apocalypse” games, usually with zombies, or “sandbox” survival games, like Minecraft, where they place you in a big area, and it is up to you to make something of yourself. 11 Bit Studios takes a different tac with This War of Mine, it is a survival game, but rather than a fantastic setting, they instead place you in control of a group of people taking refuge in an abandoned building during the middle of a war. There are no ravaging monsters, no wide-open spaces, just a group of people trying to make it through a civil conflict that makes resources scarce, and choices hard.

This War of Mine is actually a fairly simple game, when you delve into the gameplay. 11 Bit Studios made the choice to go with a point-and-click interface that is quite intuitive. Things you can search, things you can manipulate, and the various objects you can use all show different icons so you can figure out how to interact with each thing at a glance. Even the combat system is point-and-click, and it relates to how your group of survivors works.

During the day, your group performs tasks around the house. You gather water, food, and use various tools and utilities to hopefully survive the day-to-day life in a warzone. People get sick, injured, hungry, unhappy and tired, and you have to help them so they do not die, or leave the home for unknown destinations. To this end, you can grow vegetables; build traps and other items to improve your life in small increments, as you have supplies available.

The push for supplies drives the nighttime, the only time you can send out your refugees scavenging the various areas in the game. When the game starts, you have a limited number of locations you can go, such as abandoned houses, apartments, military outposts, even churches. Each location has a different list of available supplies, and potentially different types of people inhabiting them. You can then use a combination of stealth, conversation, or well, weapons to get what you need from each location, so you can bring them back for the following day. How much time you spend at each location is a risk as well, because if you don’t get done in time your scavenger might have a hard time making it back.

It is during the scavenging phase that you really get to see where 11 Bit Studios develops their story. In each location are a selection of various events you can encounter as you play, and how you handle those encounters can determine how your refugees interact at home, and what else happens in the various scavenging locations. Some of these encounters can really test your morality, as you balance the needs of your group against being nice, helping others, or just taking what you need as the situation demands. Some of the events I encountered (and there is a certain amount of random generation to them,) really made me question my choices in the game.

Graphically, The War of Mine also follows a very simple aesthetic. Everything is stylistically blurred until it comes into line of sight, then 11 Bit Studios chose to go with a sort of rough, streaked, black and white style, reminiscent of the quality of movies taken during World War 2. Given the setting, this style choice really works for this game, and it makes your choices feel much grittier. Simple is often better, especially when used well, like this game.

11 Bit Studios managed to put together an engaging story with This War of Mine especially when you realize that your choices really do generate the events around it. Whether you decide to take what you need without regard for others, or try peacefully coexisting with the others avoiding the war in This War of Mine you realize just how artistic a game’s style choices can be.

Next week, all of us in the US are going to be stuffing ourselves over the holiday, so I try a game where I get to feed as well…though the food on the plate is not good for some in Digital Confectioners’ Depth.

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