A few months ago, many Ukrainians were living their lives in peace – suddenly leaving everything behind, running for their lives. Tank convoys passed through the urban area and left to destroy them; Residential buildings, schools and hospitals were completely demolished, in many cases, citizens are still inside; Families were torn apart, as parents were called for weapons, sent to the battlefield without knowing if they would return or when. These events are still happening. The war in Ukraine has brought back horrific images – images that we all wanted to believe were gone long ago.
In fact, until very recently, gaming seems to be the only place where war is still legal: from the colorful, humorous battles in Fortnite to the realistic war gameplay in Call of Duty. It is safe to assume that your sympathy is somewhat dulled by the unbearable ease of killing and destroying in war games. But with a closer look at some of the war games, we can already see the change. The pattern is changing.
A runaway playground, where players can perform the darkest acts without facing any consequences or without compromising their conscience. That’s what many games have to offer. But if we look closely, we can see that the game offers more and more different angles.
Themes and topics that are considered taboo, too strict, or too realistic for games are slowly becoming more popular in gaming. Things like mental illness, loss, grief, cancer and rape are slowly gaining ground, and games are transformed from pure entertainment into a new kind of coping system. In some cases, having fun is not the only purpose – but also to cope, to create emotion, and sometimes to criticize.
Anyone who loses their main character unexpectedly in the game (no worries) knows how real the pain is. The opportunity to live the life of that character for several dozen hours, and not just observe it from afar, creates a unique feeling of deep connection, participation and empathy that is not possible in any other medium. It gives us the ability to understand, accommodate and safely deal with situations that would otherwise be extremely difficult to bear and cope with.
When we were little, sports taught us how to stand on our own two feet and try again and again until we were successful – we didn’t actually die. Likewise – when we grow up, and when the right time comes – the right game can teach us a new kind of lesson: how to deal with tragedy and ordeal without experiencing it ourselves.
From a meta-point of view, war is particularly interesting – because the industry that once glorified it and made it both a gold mine and a legal form of entertainment – is now re-examining it critically, sometimes even adding a therapeutic approach. .
Five video games from the last decade have offered new tech by depicting war from a different angle. It is recommended not only for those of us who are struggling to cope with the current situation in Ukraine, but also for anyone who wants to see a different perspective on the war.
Spec Ops: The Line
The genius of this game is in its amazing twist – what starts out as another military-themed shooter game, reveals a sad, hurtful story about PTSD and the terrible cost of war, which has to be paid by all sides – yes, even the winners, if you will Believe it or not. Specs Ops: The Line uses the war game genre to dismantle the heroic narrative that we’ve all grown up with and criticizes the gaming industry’s exaggerated and warlike moral glories.
In the game, you play the role of Martin Walker – a Delta Force captain sent to Dubai. Its mission is to find and rescue survivors of the 33rd Brigade, who were sent there on a secret mission six months ago. Naturally, things get sour and the team is dragged into a blood-soaked sequence of extremely uncomfortable decisions and events. Funnily enough, as the game progresses and you successfully accomplish more military objectives – your character gradually loses his mind. He begins to question the morality of his actions, experiences flashbacks and disturbing illusions, and wanders in madness until the inevitable tragic end. Well, to be precise, there are actually 4 endings – and none of them are remotely happy. Specifically, Spec Ops: The Line is the most realistic war game, as it gives you a good taste of the devastating effects of murder on one’s soul. And it’s not really fun to play.
Arma 3: Rules of War
In 2006, Christian Raufer, a gamer and member of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), took on an interesting task: investigating war crimes in video games. Following his research, the ICRC issued a statement that created waves and was widely criticized:
“It simply came to our notice then [a worldwide] An estimated 600 million gamers who are in literal violation of international humanitarian law. ” In the wake of the PR crisis in the gaming industry, the ICRC decided to take advantage of the buzz and create a different kind of war game – one that would teach young gamers about human rights in wartime and how important they are.
Going forward, Bohemia Interactive Studios decided to create a game by picking up Camo Gauntlet. Remove? Arma 3: Lodge of War – Official DLC for the popular Arma 3 game from 2017. The main focus of the game was to provide a fully enhanced battlefield, where the rules of international humanitarian law apply. Like other war games, the laws of war punish gamers for violating human rights (i.e., firing on civilians or parachutes, destroying hospitals or schools, looting civilian property) – and rewarding them for relatively favorable actions such as clearing minefields. Since war is inevitable, the ICRC says, we can at least try to convince future generations that the rules apply to war as well. Mr. Putin, anything to add?
Brave Heart: The Great War
Ubisoft’s 2D animated adventure game from 2014 lets you travel back to the horrors of World War 1. However, you will not visit again as a brave soldier. Instead, you’ll be playing the role of Vault, a loyal dog sent to the French front with his favorite men: Emil (a middle-aged man who joins the army to protect his daughter and baby granddaughter), Freddie (an American volunteer in the French army), and Anna (a Belgian nurse. Helps wounded soldiers on the battlefield, while searching for her father captured by the Germans), and Carl (Emil’s German cousin, who was exiled from France and enlisted in the German army, forced to fight on their side).
Through Walt’s eyes, you’ll get to know each of the four characters and experience their heartbreaking stories (and the millions of others whose lives were quickly shattered, or worse). To ensure the historical accuracy of the game, the team behind it read the actual characters of the time, listened to the actual accounts of the battle, and even traveled through the locations depicted in the game. This is all true, and you can expect to find yourself crying after watching the trailer.
This war is mine
Of all the games on the list, TWOM is probably the only one that gives you an idea of what the Ukrainian people are feeling these days. In this beautiful, tough and fierce game you will not play as some heroic elite soldiers, but as a group of civilians enjoying a relatively normal and peaceful life until the war started, until very recently. From people facing questions like which dish to order from the menu – they turned into survivors who didn’t even know if they would live to see another day. The goal of the game is to survive until the end of the war, and just like the reality – there is no way to know how long it will last and how horrible it is. A group of survivors is randomly created from game to game, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. As a group, they need to collect food and medical supplies, in enemy patrols, snipers and in most cases – other survivors who will do anything to get their hands on your supplies and save themselves.
The real challenge here comes from the impossible dilemma you have to face in this game: will you hurt other survivors to save your loved ones from starvation? Would you take a friend out to get medicine for a young girl? How far are you willing to go to survive? And the decisions you make can lead to your death? Ethical dilemmas in games have always been a fascinating thing and they are becoming more and more popular in games. Developers are well aware of this and use it to enrich their games and create interesting Reddit discussions about player choices.
However, in the specific case of TWOM, these choices are extra important and play a powerful role in themselves. One by one, these dilemmas basically deprive the players of any decisive thinking and any belief in moral absolutism. Terms like “good” and “bad” and the concepts they represent become very vague when your own life and the lives of your loved ones are on the way. And when these dilemmas turn into reality near us, they become even more obscure.
This 2013 award-winning sympathy game was created by independent developer Lucas Pope. It is considered one of the best examples of video games as an art form and was also adapted into an award-winning short film.
In 1982, the fictitious communist country of Aristotle and its neighbor Kolechia had just emerged from a six-year war. You play as an immigration inspector at a border checkpoint, with seemingly simple tasks: controlling the flow of people trying to cross the border and deciding who is allowed to enter the aristocracy. Based on the documents submitted to you by people at the border, you must determine whether they are law-abiding citizens, spies, terrorists or smugglers.
Initially, this is a very simple task. But as the game progresses, more rules apply, as well as more factors and dilemmas that make it difficult to reach the right decision. Would you allow a woman with faulty documents to enter the country just because her husband entered a second earlier? Would you believe the story of a dying child waiting on the other side? Would you turn to people just to make some money, or collaborate with a mysterious underground organization? Or risking oneself for a bunch of strangers – breaking the rules and betraying the big brother – who is always watching – how?
The darkness of the game where the brightest shines. It lingers slowly and shows you so cunningly that under the right circumstances – anyone can become a racist fanatic and even violate human rights. Yes, even you.
Written by Sahar Lewenstein, Director of Creative Marketing at Overwolf