This War of Mine is too hard.

There are many kinds of war videogames on the market. First person shooters let you play as a marine, a robot soldier, a WWI soldier, a WWII soldier, a WWIII soldier or an alien soldier. Strategy games let you command armies, squads, nations and empires. You can kill Nazis, robots, ninjas, Rebels and Communists. You can shoot guns, wield swords, fire rocket launchers, operate flamethrowers and throw grenades. You can fly aircraft, command tanks, drive trucks, race humvees, pilot battlemechs and sail ships.

This War of Mine is based on the Siege of Sarajevo. You play as a noncombatant trying to not die.

You can burn your books to keep from freezing to death but if you do your avatar might get bored from having nothing to read. You can trade knives for food and diamonds for cigarettes. If you make a chair it'll save you energy during the day. If you make a bed you will be more likely to survive getting sick. But if you build a bed that's supplies you can't use for boarding up your windows or constructing a system to collect rainwater.

The constant risk of starving to permadeath is not what makes This War of Mine difficult.

Early in This War of Mine you come across a house while scavenging. There is an elderly couple living there. Do you steal the old man's medicine? You live a precarious existence. Small mistakes compound. Your friends are counting on you to bring back food and other desperately-needed supplies. Being a little hungry one day could cause a cascade of problems resulting all of you dead.

On the other hand, stealing an old man's medicine is wrong.

The first time I played This War of Mine I thought long and hard about what to do. I turned the game off and went for a walk. The tenth time I stabbed the old man with a knife while his back was turned so I could practice the game's stealth mechanics.

There are opportunities to do good too. A young woman might come by and ask for help boarding up her house to protect against scavengers. If you accept it'll cost you a day's labor. You'll be a day hungrier with nothing to show for it.

If you accept the moral boost might keep your character from committing suicide.

In This War of Mine you're repeatedly forced to choose between risking your life and risking your soul. You don't know how long the siege will last. It could end tomorrow or it could end in a year. It's a challenge to survive two weeks in This War of Mine. The real world siege lasted nearly four years.

If, somehow, you survive to the end there's no score. Instead, the game shows you photos of the strangers you helped along the way.


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6 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 7:38 PM

Is there any kind of reciprocity mechanism, where you can ask other survivors for supplies and/or help? Or are the altruistic actions always one-way?

If you do something nice for another person, sometimes they'll come back later and do something nice for you too.

I appreciate this review. I have this game on my radar as part of a scheme to provide emotional context when the time comes for teaching my child about the awful elements of the world. I expect to time this around the same time we dump school history for actual history.

This is a top-notch educational videogame right up there with Kerbal Space Program. The question is "when is your child mature enough for it?"

My current prediction is sometime between 10 and 16; I think the most obvious trigger will be something like "showing distress over world events" like a war or famine abroad, or possibly bad riots in the US.

I'm going to push for it before college at least, because having this kind of perception will save so much time when learning anything adjacent to history or politics.

Personally, I'd shoot for 15, judging by the teenagers and children I'm familiar with. But it depends on the kid.

If I had infinite time (which we don't have) I'd start with King Rat by James Cavell before This War of Mine. King Rat is a novel about life in a prisoner of war camp.