Playing This War of Mine was tough for him, and he took a number of days to do so, confronting difficult memories along the way. But “he’s glad that someone’s done this hard topic because he’s seen people there, and he’s been shooting people, and he knows that the war is not like in the movies,” said Zajaczkowski. “He’s forever reviewing all our changes to the game. We’re in constant contact with him.”

Struggling to survive

This War of Mine doesn’t lead you by the hand. It makes you figure things out for yourself. “Failure is a part of the game because you have to learn all the mechanics,” said Zajaczkowski.

“From the very first day, you have to take care of the most basic things. You don’t make long-term plans, you have to survive day by day.”

This fits with the experiences of conflict survivors, who initially expect everything to return to normal after a few days. “You think that the Americans will come or something will happen,” said Zajaczkowski. “But as more days pass, you never know when it will end. So you stop thinking about surviving the month, you start thinking about tomorrow. You wake up, do your stuff, and hopefully survive another night.”

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This War of Mine scavenging

Above: Choosing where to scavenge is tough. Easy targets are often home to good people.

Image Credit: 11 Bit Studios

Likewise, in the game, you never know how long you have to survive. And your survival may depend on making tough choices.

“There’s a balance in the game,” said Zajaczkowski. “You don’t have to be hostile. You can be friendly, but other people can be either friendly or hostile. Sometimes you’ll be a good guy and someone will use you. You’ll give them medicine and in the night they will come and kill you.

Taking food from others is as good as killing them, too, but what choice do you have? “You know by stealing their food, you are killing them,” said Zajaczkowski. “You’re not putting a pistol to their heads but you know that old people won’t be able to survive. So you are trying to be the good guy but you know inside you that you killed those guys.“

Difficult decisions

Just as the game forces you to make difficult decisions, 11 Bit also had tough choices to make during development. Just how realistic should they make a game about such a dark topic?

“From the beginning we knew that we would like to publish the game on our own because big publishers influence the development process,” said Zajaczkowski. “For example. I’m not sure all publishers would allow us to show some scenes that are part of the game.”

“There’s a rape,” he explained. “You’re not the person that’s doing it, but you hear that someone’s been raped. That happens during a war. I can imagine some publishers would say remove it because when people hear rape they already think, ‘Oh that’s a bad game.’”

This War of Mine still

Above: This War of Mine is dark, gritty, and often depressing.

Image Credit: 11 Bit Studios

And does the game feature women and children dying, as a real-life conflict would? “There are children in the game at the moment,” said Zajaczkowski. “There are children that are looking for medicine for their mother. There are still borders that we have to decide if we want to cross.”

“You could put a scene where soldiers kill a whole bus of school kids, but you have to ask yourself, ‘Whats the point of that?’” In the end, the studio decided not to show any children being shot, as I clarified with Zajaczkowski just a few days ago.

11 Bit’s choices became more relevant as the reality of war appeared in Eastern Europe once again, in Poland’s neighbor, Ukraine. “When we started working on the game one and half years ago, no one even imagined the things that have happened to Ukraine,” said Zajaczkowski. “Everyone believed that war was a thing of the past.”

“Here we are one year later and there’s conflict on the Russia/Ukraine border and there’s some people in ISIS fighting in Syria. War is not a thing of the past.”

And that, really, is the point of This War of Mine. “It’s not about war in Europe, or the States, or Asia because we want to give people the idea that nowadays war can happen anywhere,” said Zajaczkowski.

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