This War Of Mine Is A Harrowing Lesson In The Cost Of Conflict

I’ve got Jewish and Arab heritage, so war is a large part of my family history and present. From World War 2 all the way to Israel’s war against Egypt, the current occupation of Palestine, and the US’s involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya, the atrocities of war are never out of my mind for long.

Thus it feels wrong to call This War of Mine a game. It’s not fun, nor should it be. It’s more like an educational resource than a recreational activity, a grim yet perfect way for those completely untouched by war to consider the lives of those most deeply affected by it.

I’ve been playing the Final Cut, an upgraded version of the 2014 title, and it hits hard. You control a small group of civilians trapped in a besieged city while war rages all around. It’s especially poignant today given the prevalence of media coverage surrounding Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the IDF killing a journalist in Palestine, but unfortunately, this is a story that has stayed relevant since the dawn of modern warfare.

I was born in the UK so I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid any actual conflict myself, and I hope This War of Mine is as close as I’ll ever get. It would be disingenuous to say it’s like actually surviving a warzone – nothing can prepare people for that – but by putting you in the shoes of people just trying to survive, it forces you to consider their perspective in a more personal way than any news report.

In one scenario, three people—a cook, a football player, and a firefighter—manage to find a house to seek shelter in, but it’s been hit with a few stray artillery shells and is in desperate need of repairs. I don’t know who lived here before or what their fate is, only that this house is the only shelter we’ve got.

Over time we clear the rubble and scavenge useful materials to build beds, chairs, and a stove, so hot meals can be prepared. Such basic comforts that those of us outside warzones take for granted are invaluable in This War of Mine. A proper bed means rest, a hot meal means a full stomach. All this means people are better prepared for the hurdles in the coming days.

Every day brings a new dilemma. Should we use our last pieces of wood for a bed, or as fuel to cook our final scraps of food? It’s an impossible choice, but it has to be made. The joy of finding even something as insignificant as vegetables reminds me of a story my grandma told me about her time in the Buchenwald concentration camp. One of the prisoners stole a small potato while working in a field and cooked it in the small heater in their barracks. They put some grass on it as seasoning, and everyone took a small bite. She said it was one of the best meals she’s ever had.

There just isn’t enough food left to keep my group fed, though. Unlike real people, I can’t tell them to have a small bite each; they each eat one portion and that’s it. Fortunately, another survivor comes by and we manage to trade some jewelry— enough to keep us going another day or so, but our reality is becoming clear: we need to send people off to scavenge at night.

The first few nights go well. While gunshots and explosions ring in the distance, the firefighter crawls through the remains of buildings that are well beyond saving. I’m sure he feels guilty that he’s gutting them rather than helping to rebuild, but that life seems far behind him now. He manages to gather enough supplies each night to keep everyone warm and fed, and we gradually start repairing the walls and boarding up the windows to keep intruders at bay. But, as the war rages on, people become more desperate and the raids become harder to repel.

The most frightening aspect of This War of Mine is realising how far you’re willing to go to ensure your own survival. At first, I’m angered by those who try to raid our home at night, but when our chef gets sick and we run out of medicine, I know the only places left to ransack are ones inhabited by other people trying to survive like us. I don’t hate them or want them to suffer, but I can’t let one of my own die.

After a couple of weeks of hardship, I was ready to venture to the supermarket controlled by an armed gang. If I had to steal, I’d at least do so from people who could fight back. But with the war becoming more intense and my access to these routes blocked, I could only put my morals aside and start stealing from my neighbours. At first, I stuck to their gardens and hallways just before their homes proper, but once I’d picked those places bare I packed some lockpicks and snuck into their homes like a rat, grabbing whatever I needed. I have no idea how far this would go. I don’t know if stealing food and medicine will lead to these people dying. I’m terrified of finding out.

If I’m agonising over these decisions in a game, I can barely begin to imagine how difficult it is for the people in Kharkiv or Tripoli. Every moment I’m sat in front of my screen is uncomfortable. Even when I fix an old guitar so my group can have some music, the sound of artillery bombardments and gunfire remains. Nothing drowns it out.

There’s no glory in This War of Mine. It’s just the story of people struggling and dying as a war they have no control over wages on around them. It’s bleak, and a lesson in the human cost of conflict. It’s not just a war; it’s my war. It’s my neighbour’s war, the gang’s war, the nurses and doctors trying to keep the hospital open’s war. Wars may be waged by countries and regimes, but they affect innocent people just trying to live their lives more than anything.

The scars of war are felt for generations, it changes everyone it touches, forever. My grandma rarely spoke about her war, but she always kept a full pantry so she’d never have to go hungry again, a habit my mum and I soon learned to pick up. This War of Mine is as relevant today as it would have been at any point in the last hundred years. Hopefully, it won’t be so in the future.

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