PAX East 14: 11 Bit Studios Talk This War of Mine and Empathy Gaming

After being announced earlier this year, 11 Bit Studios’ This War of Mine remains a sharp and treacherous look through the eyes of civilians trying to stay alive in a war-torn setting. Following in the footsteps of “empathy games” like Papers, Please, the game approaches survival with all of the seriousness that a novel or feature film would. At PAX East 2014, 11 Bit Studios shed some more light on their emotionally driven survival game and the influences that surround its subject matter.

This War of Mine is a game that embraces the growing development trend dubbed “empathy gaming.” These games tackle touchy subject matter, forcing players to make extremely difficult decisions and using the human element to approach mature subject matter. It’s built around the growing trend of survival elements in games, where your goal isn’t to progress or achieve victory, but simply to endure harsh conditions and keep your team alive. You will have to make dangerous decisions to simply survive and be forced to weigh your options that can leave civilians’ lives on the line.

“Will you kill someone to steal their antibiotics to heal your family?” 11 Bit Studios said. “Either way, you need to make careful decisions, because you’ll be facing the consequences of them.”

This War of Mine’s design was influenced by the poignant 2013 gem Papers, Please, a game where you were forced to make difficult choices quickly, while also providing for your family and coping with the consequences of your actions. This War of Mine aims to stretch the morality spectrum even thinner with ethically foggy decisions at every turn. For example, you can rescue another civilian to join your survival team (which allows for more skills and activities), but you will be required to provide extra resources and rations for them to stay alive with you. This scaling aims to add urgency, scrambling the moral compass and personalizing the decisions of the player to the game itself.

In addition to Papers, Please, 11 Bit Studios cites the real-world survival story “One Year in Hell”, a personal account of a civilian’s journey to survive in a war-torn Bosnia, as a heavy influence. Much of the subject matter looks at war in the darkest and most unsettling light, but was chosen to highlight the importance of survival and the ambiguity of morality under troubled times. Much of the aesthetic design takes cues from modern-day environments in conflict, including Yugoslavia, Syria and Libya, which were researched for This War of Mine.

11 Bit Studios are also looking into allowing players to include their own face and name for characters, which would add personal connection to the avatars in the game. However, this has yet to be confirmed for the final release.

With the success of games like Papers, Please, “empathy games” are becoming a real phenomenon in the market today. This War of Mine looks to be another big step in making games more than just simple entertainment. When asked about the genre of This War is Mine, the studio teased the importance of its potent subject matter and how it will drive players through the experience.

“This isn’t exactly a genre,” 11 Bit Studios said, “but it’s a phenomenon of games that work on the level that your emotions are most important to what happens. We want this to be a very serious experience for players. Some people think games are supposed to only be entertainment, but we believe that we can perceive games differently, just like Papers, Please did.”

This War of Mine is slated to hit PC’s later this year.