What I’m Playing Now: This War of Mine

I’ve been guilty of not posting enough on the site. In the hopes of changing that, I’ll be starting a new feature called “What I’m Playing Now,” which will be exactly what it sounds to be.

Rather than long, elaborate critical pieces, “What I’m Playing Now” will be short, focused reflections about a particular game or set of games I’m currently enjoying, be they video games, board games, or tabletop RPGs.

To start it off, I’ll be talking about a short video game that I’m playing: This War of Mine.

“Hey there, what are you doing?”
“Hi, I’m just looking for food.”
“I have a lot of food. If you do something for me, I’ll let you have some.”
“What would I have to do?”
“You know what I want.”

I’m playing Arica and I’m scrounging for food and supplies at the bombed out grocery store when I hear this dialogue across the door that’s in front of me. I sneak closer and peak through the keyhole. I see a man in full military garb wielding an assault rifle who is trying to win favours with a young woman. She balks at his advances but he remains insistent. After a few more seconds, he becomes violent and hits her across the face with his assault rifle.

I’m watching this from the relative safety of the other room. In my mind, I know what’s about to happen to the young woman. I hesitate a moment, but then I surge. I crash through the door  and begin assaulting the soldier with my shovel, the only weapon currently in my possession. After a brief exchange, he’s dead, but I’ve been shot and need some medical attention. The young woman managed to safely escape.

This War of Mine is full of moments like this, though the scene I described is particularly intense in that, contrary to many other games, it offers no real reward for “doing the right thing,” whatever the right thing may be. In fact, Matthew Gault’s experience with the same scene demonstrates how your choice can drastically alter the course of the game.

In the past, I’ve said that Starflight‘s morality system is the best I’ve ever seen simply because it doesn’t exist. This War of Mine follows this example, and it leads to some brilliant moments of morality and ethicality.

Perhaps even more telling is that This War of Mine causes me to ask whether the scene would have played out the same way if I had been playing a male character. After a moment of reflection, I answer with “Yes.” However, I’m deeply frightened and ashamed that I have to think about what I would answer to that question, and even more-so that the answer might have been “No.”

About Erik Bigras

Erik Bigras is an independent scholar. He studied as a PhD Candidate in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He graduated with a BA in Anthropology (2009) from the University of Prince Edward Island (Canada) where he focused on the creation of subjectivities through digital media. He's been playing video games since the mid-1980s, but expanded his gaming interest to table-top RPGs in the early 2010s.
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