Paweł Schreiber: How did you come up with an idea for the game ‘This War of Mine’, which, unlike other war games that show the war from the perspective of a soldier, presents civilians’ point of view?
Paweł Miechowski: We like breaking conventions – both thematic and those linked with the gameplay. In our previous project Anomaly, we reversed the tower defense formula. The idea for This War of Mine comes from the head of our company, Grzegorz Miechowski. We’ve been working on a prototype of the game – it was already well-prepared, but it lacked a main theme. We’d already been through many brainstorming sessions when Grzesiek told us that he had recently read an interview with a man who survived the war in the former Yugoslavia. Because the story really moved him, he thought that it could be a great plot for a game – a story of civilians trying to survive a war. The whole team immediately fell for this idea.
PS: While developing the game, you also drew inspiration from the accounts of survivors.
PM: We spent a lot of time talking with a developer of indie games who escaped the beleaguered Sarajevo with his mother [as a child]. For some time they lived near the city, but finally, they managed to escape with the help of UN peacekeeping forces (Blue Helmets). He described the war seen through the eyes of an 8- or 9-year-old child. The idea was also consulted with a filmmaker who directed a documentary about Aleppo. Besides that we would rely on war experiences of our family members – even though, unfortunately, people who still remember those times are passing away, it is still quite easy to reach out to them. I myself know many stories told by my grandma. The whole team was going through something amazing and extraordinary – we were so concerned about this project, that everyone would share their family story. Of course, we would also read many interviews and accounts about Sarajevo, the battle of Grozny…
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PS: ‘This War of Mine’ is this kind of game in which losing is just as important as reaching the last quest – or even more important. It’s quite a surprising solution in a medium which is naturally focused on guiding the player to a happy ending. After all, the reason why video games were created was for the players to win them.
PM: I think that the medium is getting more mature. The early-stage games didn’t have the means to tackle a wider range of human experiences and emotions. As a very young medium, it was rather focussed on simple gameplay solutions based on competition and an adrenaline rush. But the new games, whose concept was similar to ours, were released over the course of time, for example, Papers, Please or That Dragon, Cancer – all of them depicted human tragedies. I think the different means of presenting such experiences are rooted in the traditions of the ancient Greek theatre. The comedy was for entertainment, but it was tragedy that led to catharsis and the release of strong emotions. The video games industry has just entered the path of discovering that entertainment – in other words, comedy – doesn’t have to be their only goal — they can also present tragedies. It just so happened that we’re among the teams that take part in this change of perception. After all, even war shooters are comedies because they aren’t aimed at a complete catharsis, but at light entertainment and a feeling of satisfaction. The fact of breaking such conventions is a part of the video games’ evolution process.
PS: Can we judge whether the success of such productions as ‘This War of Mine’, which do not avoid hard and difficult topics, will be long-lasting? Is it a temporary trend or a marked tendency?
PM: I’m sure it’s not a temporary trend, but another level in the evolution of this medium. People want and need even more complex and diverse plots, which is why video games work out new narrative methods to develop their stories. Sometimes we go to the cinema to have a laugh, but sometimes we do it to feel different emotions, even to cry. What you see is deeply moving, but you want to continue. People need to both laugh and cry. And video games are going to fulfill these two needs. They should show happiness and great fun, as well as fear, hatred, love, tolerance… It seems to me that we are pursuing the direction of expanding the range of emotions and topic that can be tackled in games. If we examine award-winning films, we can notice that they are usually difficult, serious topics. According to the statistics, a typical player today is older then he or she was some time ago – the statistical age isn’t 20 anymore, it’s 37. Sometimes what they expect from a good shooter is entertainment, but when they want a change they run The Last of Us or This War of Mine and end up with tears in their eyes.
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Originally written in Polish, translated by AS, Apr 2018