The more mind-numbing the video game, the better. Snake, Snood, and Tetris are my all time favorites. I hold this preference for two reasons. Firstly, I don’t have to suspend my disbelief and pretend that I’m doing something important while playing. Secondly, they treat my obsessive-compulsive disorder because matching and sorting things has a tendency to empty my consciousness.
Although my OCD wasn’t diagnosed until my late teens, fear of societal collapse has been a preoccupation of mine from as early as I can remember. I used to have a dream where I was falling into a black abyss; there was a terrible weight on me, and that weight was the debt of sovereign nations. Reading too much National Geographic supplemented with a healthy dose of PBS was probably the root of this neurosis. But is this worry really so far-fetched? Famine, disease, and anarchy have always scared me much more than ghosts, zombies, or Freddie Krueger. They, in fact, are real. Resource wars across the Sahel, global warming, and mass migration are on the rise. This War of Mine speaks to a real threat that is not only emerging, but has already emerged.
In This War of Mine, you control a band of people struggling to scavenge for food, rest adequately, and fight off vagabonds in the midst of a fictional European civil war. There’s a lack of medical supplies, industrial production, and medicine, coupled with an abundance of squalor, misery, and violence. It feels like how I imagine Aleppo has been for the past three winters.
Unfortunately, despite a great premise and beautiful aesthetic (the developer deserves credit for both), This War of Mine fails as a game. You see games, in my opinion, are burdened with the task of being entertainment first and foremost, and due to its slow and cumbersome gameplay, This War of Mine does not meet this basic requirement.
A video game is not the best venue to tackle weighty dystopian themes, something for which journalism is better equipped, among other art forms not destined to be judged by their entertainment value. For comparison, read The Road, written by Cormac McCarthy (or watch its film adaptation), which succeeds in illustrating an imagined dystopia with nary a worry about its fun-factor.
By the time I finished figuring out how to make my character throw a punch, my mind had drifted back to my own resource war: the competition to have my creativity and education fulfill me and provide a livelihood in a world of almost 7 billion people. This war is insignificant in comparison to the war that so many people who were born browner than me in nations closer to the equator are facing. Nonetheless, in my war I’m busy competing with Chinese nerds, Indian whiz kids, and hardworking Africans in the global marketplace. I don’t have time for “playing” in an imaginary resource war while fighting the one that I’m already a part of.