Video games often depict wars but they are almost universally focused only on a single side of the conflict: that of the active participants or soldiers. Unfortunately when it comes to real war those that volunteered to fight are not the only ones caught up in the fray. Thousands of civilians are fighting their own battles against hunger, disease, and depression in a bid for survival. 11 Bit Studios' This War of Mine is a game about trying to survive in the middle of a conflict you have no part in, and it's shaping up to be something every gamer and perhaps every human capable of empathy should experience.
If you've ever played FTL, you'll be right at home in This War of Mine. A small band of survivors that you can control have holed up in an abandoned house as a place to gather supplies and shelter from the elements. Left click on a survivor to select them and right click on what you want them to do and they'll usually begrudgingly do it.
And there's a lot to do if you want to survive until the end of the conflict. This length of time is decided at random when you start a new campaign, along with the randomized environments and characters. You need to gather materials and build what you can out of what you find, like a water collector and filters to keep hydrated or a stove to make your meals more palatable. Mostly the day time is when you try to keep your characters as healthy as possible as they slowly deteriorate from the terrible conditions.
Once the sun has set and it's relatively safe it's time to scavenge. You can only send one character out at a time to scavenge while the others are assigned either to sleep or guard your homestead. Whoever draws the short straw has to set foot outside the safety of home. Several different areas will be available for looting like warehouses or others' homes, with the likelihood of what you'll find specified to make things easier.
During my playthrough our compatriot found himself in the home of an elderly couple who said they had nothing they could give to help. I was told that this was a large part of the morality choices of This War of Mine in which you have to decide what to do. You could steal everything that isn't nailed to the floor and leave the couple to fend for themselves (I was assured that if you decided to come back to the same home after that they would both be very much dead), take just what you need, or leave them alone and suffer yourselves. There's no direct system telling you whether or not you're a good person, so that is all up to the player's own conscience.
The narrative is minimal. What war you're trying to survive through or even what country you are in are both facts that are left unspecified. Each character has a profile which gives some background on what their life was like before the war, and scavenging will sometimes reward you with personal letters so you can read about how the people you just killed for their supplies used to volunteer at the soup kitchen for homeless puppies.
Back to our elderly couple. Just to show me how it would work, the developer proceeded to not only steal everything possible but also punched the husband in the face repeatedly. This showed off some of the psychological factors at play. Our character was now not only hungry, and slightly sick, but his horrible actions had also made him sad. Mild depression meant the character was no longer perfectly reliable and would refuse to do what you asked of him from time to time in a fit of helplessness.
This War of Mine is the kind of game that helps those of us who've never had to deal with adversity to understand how bad things can get in places under siege. Maybe it could even allow you to empathise more when news reports come on about conflicts on the other side of the world. Then again, maybe it's just a fun survival strategy game that happens to be inspired by an article about surviving a war. Regardless, it's something that any fan of the genre, and anyone looking to try out a unique concept and setting, should definitely keep a look out for when it releases on PC.