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Game Features: This War of Mine

Modern military games make war out to be callous, and emotionally arbitrary. They make the tragedy and hardship seem fun.

That’s the feeling Iraq War veteran John Keyser has about modern FPS titles like Call of Duty and Battlefield.

“Rarely do contemporary games portray the civilians whose lives are completely ruined by the constant firefights and bombings,” he recently explained a blog post at 11Bit Studios. “If they do manage to shoehorn a civilian NPC into the game, they’re in a cutscene or otherwise have no palpable presence. Their lives are arguably affected the most and respected the least.”

And so, Keyser has decided to do something about it.

This War of Mine

Keyser has agreed to help 11Bit with their newest title, This War of Mine, slated to be released late this year. According to the studio, the game will provide an experience of war seen from an entirely new angle.

Players won’t be assuming the role of a tactical commander or elite soldier. Instead, they’ll be playing as a group of civilians trying to survive in a besieged city. They’ll have to wait out their days hiding from sniper fire, and scavenge for food and other survival essentials at night.

Players will constantly be faced with hard choices that directly affect their chances for survival. Sacrifices will lie ahead at every turn.

In short, it’s not going to be your typical “run-and-gun” gameplay scenario.

Operation Phantom Fury

According to the studio, inspiration from This War of Mine came from the battle-specific hardships and struggles that civilians and soldiers alike have to endure in any warzone—something Keyser knows about first-hand.

Keyser told Polygon in a recent article that he was in the 3rd Marine Regiment of III Marine Expeditionary Force during the Second Battle of Fallujah. Called “Operation Phantom Fury” at the time, it was the heaviest and most dangerous field of urban combat the U.S. Marines encountered during the Second Iraq War. Keyser served as a hospital corpsman during the operation.

“The very first casualty I saw,” he told Polygon, “was one of my closest friends; a hospital corpsman attached to another platoon. He was still alive when he got [to the aid station]. It was just one of those hopeless situations. There was nothing I could do.”

After he returned to civilian life, he heard about the game project 11Bit had begun, and he wanted to help. According to Polygon, he volunteered to help the studio playtest it for free. Since then, he’s been an outspoken supporter of the project.

"The satisfaction of saving lives rather than taking them puts the gamer’s brain in a new place," John Keyser said on his 11Bit blog, "one that doesn’t attempt to deceive the reality of what the world really is. Gamers don’t like being treated as if they’re the end game of a piece of propaganda; they don’t like being lied to. They like to be given the freedom to think, based on the truth."

“The satisfaction of saving lives rather than taking them puts the gamer’s brain in a new place,” he said on his 11Bit blog, “one that doesn’t attempt to deceive the reality of what the world really is. Gamers don’t like being treated as if they’re the end game of a piece of propaganda; they don’t like being lied to. They like to be given the freedom to think, based on the truth.”

Although, he admitted in a recent interview with Polygon, sometimes the work of testing the game can be too much for him.

“[The game] is definitely very affecting,” he said during the interview. “My mind automatically goes back. I played a build one time and I was kind of taking notes and I kind of had to say, ‘Okay. I’m not going to do this again for a couple of days.”

Keyser is hopeful for the success of the game, and believes it can offer players a new, honest take to the military/warfare genre that can shed some light on the realities of war.

“The engagement … of This War of Mine comes with tight mechanics and a way to reward players so that they’ll keep trying to stay alive,” he said in his 11Bit blog. “It’s the same reason books like A Farewell to Arms and Johnny Got His Gun are still read today.”

This War of Mine is scheduled to be released sometime in 2014.

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