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This War Of Mine

I like gaming, but I’m by no means a gamer. Apart from the simple question of time, I have the manual dexterity of a slug on tranquillisers. I play games on my iPad, RISC PC, Atari ST, Mac and Wii (yes, you remember - that console) in varying degrees, but I’m not some hardcore Call of Duty addict. Admittedly, I've played Call of Duty to completion once, but even then I played in single-player mode. Yes, when it comes to gaming, I’m an unsociable bugger that likes simple concepts - and retro-computing in particular. 

However, that’s not to say that something won’t grab my attention every so often - and the something that’s grabbed me right now is This War of Mine.

People play war-games every day, but usually from the perspective of a fighter who seems to heal unnaturally quickly and Call of Duty, Modern Warfare is just such an example. However, what we seem to forget in these situations is one simple truth - war is shitty and affects civilians too.

In real life, people don’t heal gunshot wounds in thirty-seconds by standing around the corner from the action. In real life, civilians get hurt. In real life, they don’t have access to medical supplies and struggle to get basics like food, shelter, fuel and medical supplies.

And this is how This War of Mine starts, with a group of three random people who’ve been thrown together to make the best of a situation in the ruins of a house. They scrape through the rubble, trying to make the best of their life, scavenging food, fuel and whatever else they can get together to survive.

However, one of the party is probably wounded and one is probably sick - and in just one day, they’ll all be hungry. This is where you'll start making difficult choices.

If I were to draw parallels with any other game, it would be The Sims. However in this situation, your people don't care about jobs and interior design. They have one purpose, to stay alive. Controls are simple. With your survivor selected, you tap on the associated icon to perform a task. The game is split into two distinct time periods. During the day, you’ll be getting your three survivors to perform jobs around the shelter, such as chopping firewood, setting traps to catch animals to eat, digging through the rubble and reinforcing your stronghold against looters. However, in the back of your mind whilst making all these choices is the knowledge that if you make a particular object, you won't be able to make something else. You’re cold? Well, you’ll have to build a heater first. Want to eat? Building a cooker would be a good idea. And what are you going to sleep on, or do to pass the time? A cooker might be at the expense of a room heater, a water capture system at the expense of a radio, or some tools at the expense of keeping warm.

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And then the night comes. This is the time where you'll be taking risks to provide for your household, because you'll have less chance of being shot. You'll have to nominate someone to scavenge for you, as well as nominate someone to defend your house - and will you let anyone sleep?

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There's lots of considerations about who does the night-scavenging. Some people are better are it than others - and do you want to try your luck at the military barracks where you might get food and weapons but also a good chance of being shot, or do you go a bungalow in the suburbs and rob some old people? The game is filled with moral dilemmas which will make you think about your choices in life and their consequences.

Your scavenger might make the choice and get wounded, or worse still be killed whilst out. If you do have to fight someone else, it won’t be a glamorous Call of Duty affair. You’ll probably try and draw a knife or a shovel and try to beat your foe in a clumsy melee. 

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The physical aspects can all be maintained, but don’t forget your team’s mental health. The death of a team member will affect them, as will witnessing other atrocities that happen during wartime. There's also the possible consequences from decisions you’ll make when visitors come knocking on your door, which they frequently do. Some bring dilemmas with them, some will want asylum and some will want to trade. The odd smoke, coffee or book will keep your people sane, but do you forgo that to help your neighbours or just stay alive?

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There are lots of ways for your people to die in this game - it is a war, after all. They can be shot by troops, die of wounds, disease and starvation and can also commit suicide - and this makes you start to think after a while, "why the hell am I playing such a game?".

The reason you end up playing the game is simple - you want your people to survive. Whilst I've not encountered it yet, there's supposably an endgame situation in which you can possibly "win", if there's such a term. I've managed 42 days of survival so far, but know there are mistakes that I made that would've allowed me to survive for longer.

What separates this game from others, however, is that it treats death with dignity. If a major event happens like a death or someone leaving the house, you'll be shown a plain black and white polaroid picture of the person with their eyes closed. If you're looking for a game filled with blood and gore, then you'll be disappointed. The presentation endeavours to show the futility of war and whilst there are obvious military casualties, the impact upon the civilian population can be wider-ranging and more profound and a lot of thought has gone into it.

Additional scenarios are thrown into the game to test you further, such as epidemics of looting or severely cold weather and on so many occasions a mistake can cost the lives of your household. When that happens, there's no "Game Over", but instead the choices that you made through the game will be brought back to haunt you, reminding you that in war the lines are blurred. You can survive in lots of ways, but can you live with the consequences?

And this is where I round up. This is a tough game to play, but one I keep coming back to. It's unique for its viewpoint on "The Other Side" of war and it's apparent that 11-Bit Studios, the creators of the game have done a significant amount of research before its production. Sure there's the odd bug or two, but updates are frequent and the game forces you to put yourself in a situation that you hope you'll never have to deal with in reality. The game is relatively inexpensive, its less than a 1GB download from GOG and the endorsement by War Child goes to highlight the impact it's had already. You may not enjoy playing it, but despite this, I'd still recommend that you give it a try to experience something that's all too lacking in gaming at the moment - morale dilemmas and consequences.
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