I picked up a new videogame a couple days ago. Finally. After spending a couple weeks trying to decide whether it was worth it to get yet another game relying on steam.exe entardening my computer. But, eventually, I caved and grabbed This War of Mine.
If you haven’t heard of this yet, then I’m a little impressed. It’s probably the most immediately viral indy game since Minecraft was…before Microsoft bought it. The basic idea is that it’s yet another wargame—more or less a zombiegame, without any actual zombies—in which you’ve got to survive in a postwar nation [officially the fictional Ulraznavia, Pogoren; pretty obviously Warsaw, Poland] by gathering food and fuel and DIY bullets and whatever; it’s a wargame without any warriors—everyone’s just a normal civilian dealing with the sudden end of the local world.
In that sense, it actually reminds me a lot of State of Decay [very much a zombiegame], in that you’ve got normal people suddenly adapting to an apocalypse and risking their lives scavenging for supplies. Except that, again, there are no actual zombies. Also, it’s a sort of Oddworld 2.5D sidescroller thing.
More than SoD, it reminds me of The Sims. Or, in a way, Lemmings. There’s no driving the characters directly; you just click where you want the guy to go. Which is actually my first gripe: to get a given guy to go dig through something, or cook something, or build something, or go the hell to sleep, you’ve first got to click on his little GIJoe FileCard thing to bring him into focus; that also centres the screen on that guy. Somehow, trying to guess which largely obscured card is related to which of three or four people in the house is like trying to guess when Ray Comfort is joking: I’ve clicked on the cards five times to isolate one guy, simply because the whole house shifting around when I misguess can make me forget what the hell I was trying to do.
Another, newer gripe: the game somehow defies screenshots.
So. Connect the card in the lower right to the guy I wanna control. Then, as with the Sims, I can tell him to go from where he is to wherever he belongs. Unless, as with the Sims, he’s currently all mopey. Plus, unlike the Sims, these people never see the damned sun: the game is so Dreary Europe Greyscaled that I’m pretty sure it looks about the same to me as it looks to anyone else—clouds and smoke and snow and…it makes Detroit look cheerful. In February.
Which, again, is part of the point: War Is All Hell. Which someone once said. Who wasn’t Churchill. Who said that, When You’re Going through Hell, Keep Going. Which is a memo these emotards never got.
Everyone in the game, among those you can control, is a normal sort of guy. Or chick. With one exception. You can get stuck with the Professional Scavenger, who’s useful because he can carry more stuff during raids; you can get the Professional Negotiator, who can swindle people stopping by to trade broken guns for nearly broken crowbars out of more stuff; there’s the Professional Cook, whose little ratburgers are somehow more nutritious when he cooks them for the accidental family; there’s a Guy Who Runs Fast [seriously: I have no idea what his actual occupation was, before The Occupation]; there’s this broad who Likes Children [she didn't live long enough to illustrate what that meant]; there’s a Guy Who’s Slow but Strong [guess what he's like]; and then, just to annoy me, there’s the Soldier Wot Just Deserted His Platoon.
Technically, the Soldier Wot Just Deserted His Platoon serves a purpose. Or two. One’s that, if you have him stay up all night guarding the house, the invisible people dropping by to kill you and take all your stuff kill less of you and take less of your stuff. The other’s a subtle reminder that deserters are by definition emotarded cowards; if and when the Soldier Wot Deserted His Platoon ever kills someone, or robs someone, or hears that Santa isn’t real, the guy goes catatonic—just like the other Professional Pathos Collectors—and won’t move or eat or sleep or do anything but starve to death over the course of a week.
It’s mope or be moped.
As bleak as the game starts out, in wartorn NotPoland in Whatever AD, it grows steadily worse as the first month drags on. Miserable cloudy days registering at a balmy [for Eastern Europe] 20C begin to yield to miserable cloudy days at or below freezing; if you haven’t got a decent furnace compiled from Scrap Lumber and Crushed Dreams by the end of the first month, you’re already dead; if you have, it doesn’t necessarily prevent the need to go outside, during the unrecognisable daytime, to collect and melt snow because your raincollector has frozen solid. The game is essentially Slaughterhouse Five as written by Sylvia Plath. And not in a good way.
All that said: the game doesn’t suck.
I’d say it’s really pretty good for an indy game costing twenty bucks, but that’s really too many adjectives; in fact, apart from the game crashing every once in a while [in fairness, I’ve also got Minecraft running, and LightWave, and half a dozen idlegames churning away in twenty percent of the Chrome Tabs I’ve got open at once], you’d never know it was an independent studio doing this—it’s simply a decent game for anyone to have made. It’s just really bleak, and it’s got the difficulty curve of Fester’s Quest playing BattleToads.
That it’s bleak doesn’t bother me. That it’s supposed to bother me bothers me. It’s a unabashedly antiwar wargame; every pixel screams at you in its lofty chauvinism against anything but flowers and bunnies. And that’s okay: when people are against war for any better reason than having heard that being against war is cool, I tend to agree with them. I mean: war is great for advancing technologies, and redistributing power and wealth, and making for compelling television; but, I can kinda see where millions of people getting all killed to death over landgrabs and disagreements about imaginary friends could be called less than optimal.
But, personally, I don’t really care. My monkeysphere pretty much covers me, and people I allow to be in the room. If you’re across town when my power goes out, I just pretty much assume that you’re dead now.
So, a wargame, for and about people who aren’t built for war, isn’t really for me. Which isn’t really news. I’ve talked about this before, where other wargames are concerned, with normal people; and it appears that I’m the strange one. MondoHebe once mentioned that, as much as he likes Rise of Nations [for people under, say, ninety, that was a palaeolithic RTS, around the turn of the century], he’s got to break his own moral standards to play it; if he were actually EndersGaming real people, he’d be less cavalier about sending thousands of soldiers to their certain deaths.
Then there’s me. And, to quote MondoHebe again, I’m…this:
‘The thing with Gremlin is…you know how people say they couldn’t care less? When they even get that right? Actually saying “couldn’t” for a change? When Gremlin says it—if he bothers to say it—he actually means it. I’ve seen the guy come impossibly close to getting literally killed; he reacted with annoyance, like The Spectre of Death was interrupting something important.’
So, when I’m playing an antiwargame, and seeing how horrible and unthinkable and unspeakable it all is that war destroys lives and destroys hugs and destroys puppies…I get intellectually that these things bum people; I just don’t get it emotionally. Because I’m not emotional. Because I’m one of the one percent, or so, who actually don’t get mopey about stuff. That’s really the definition of sociopathy: not killing people for no apparent reason; more not killing people, because people don’t matter that much. Sociopathy is pretty much not wandering across the street to stomp on a worm because, while the worm might be a little repulsive if it trolled its way over to slither onto me, it’s over there where killing it would necessarily involve first standing up. Not to put too fine a point on it, but: there are people alive today because I’m that apathetically lazy.
I get the bleakness and horror and melancholy and depression of this antiwargame; I just can’t empathise. Because I’m in that one percent of people who, while playing zombiegames with blood and guts and a lack of remorse for murdering everyone, isn’t really wandering too far from my dayjob. I like games where I get to kill every organism I meet, because I can do that from the comfiness of a microfibre beanbagchair eight feet wide. And because I objectify people, meaning that I see no practical difference between real puppyhuggers and polygons.
I get the sense that, for most people, when the mopey emotards in this game starve to death, it just kinda seems fair. Because, for most people, that makes the most sense. For me, there’s a lot of screaming at the screen: ‘Get up! You purposeless retard! Eat! Food! Now! No…because you’re an idiot.’ It’s mostly just frustrating.
But then, that’s what videogames really kinda are. They’re things of no consequence that I’m attempting to manipulate into doing what I’d like them to do. And, unlike people, which really kinda share the same definition, I never get arrested for slapping videogames around when they flunk at doing what they’re told.
So, really, it’s not easy to explain what I think of this game. It’s a sort of Kurt Cobain kinda thing: it’s the worst at what it does best; and, for that, it’s blessed. It’s perfectly awesome at being the last thing you’d ever wanna play—usually because it’s just an endless stream of postwar suck; unless you’re me, and it’s just another group of idiots trying to think for themselves. Which I tend to discourage.
Apart from making my achromatopsia a little redundant, it’s amazing to look at. Granting that it’s 2D with lenticular sidescrolling backgrounds. The thought that must have gone into its mechanics is impressive: X raw materials to make Y useful elements which last for Z hours before you’re back to looking for more stuff out in the vestiges of the world. And there’s a realism to it: a papercut becomes a wound over time, and then a death sentence. Hunger becomes starvation, and lethargy, and stagnation, and death again. People too emotarded to eat eventually Charlize their ways out into the night, never to be heard from again; and then Viggo gets to try to go on, unsafe in the knowledge that they likely died an hour later. Even the unbearable boredom of sitting for hours in an unpowered, unheated building is represented, and offset only by the certainty that wandering outside to collect snow to drink is suicide.
It’s a good game. It’s just disturbingly frustrating. And probably really despressing. But it’s good.
It’d give it something like four thumbs up, out of five.
Have a webcomic, so I can throw in a joke: