The traditional argument of video games being bad for children is something that is still very prevalent in Sri Lanka. But Poland’s Ministry of Education and Science’s decision to include a video game into their national curriculum is a strong argument to the value of video games in modern society.
A first in the history of Poland’s education, the video game, This War of Mine is the first supplementary reading in the form of a video game in its school curriculum and is aimed for students to use in ethics or social studies lessons. As such, game has been made available completely free to download on the Polish government’s website for students and teachers.
A struggle for survival
True to its name, war is the main subject that is being discussed in This War of Mine, but unlike many other war-themed video games, 11 Bit Studios, the developers of the game took a completely different approach.
This War of Mine is a strategy game that puts the player in control of a group of civilian survivors in a city under siege. Stuck in a building that is falling apart, with a small group of civilians with little to no combat or survival experience, the objective of the game is to survive until the announcement of a ceasefire. Of course, no one knows when that will happen because this is completely randomised in the game.
Until the war ceases, the player has to make ensure the health, hunger and emotional state of the characters in the game are taken care of. Not only that, there are both hostile parties and other survivors around as well. With hostile snipers ready to shoot anyone they see, the only time possible to go out and scavenge for food, water and other basic necessities is in the middle of the night.
Of course, with limited food, water, medicine and shelter that’s expected in a besieged city, this inevitably forces the player to make difficult decisions in order to survive. Should you share food with a struggling survivor you encounter at the expense of your own reserves? Save a mother and her children with essential medicine at the risk of one of yours not being able to find treatment when they fall ill? Will you risk injury by defending a woman from being molested by a group of potentially armed and dangerous people, or save yourself and scavenge building material to help maintain and protect your shelter? Each decision affects how the game progresses, and choice comes with real consequences in the game and how it ends.
Empathy through experience
This War of Mine is said to be heavily inspired by Siege of Sarajevo, where civilians had to live through many unmentionable horrors. Not just in Ukraine and Russia, sadly many regions and people continue to suffer similar desperate circumstances, caught in the middle of the conflict.
Much like fiction and storytelling help us immerse in worlds and experience characters having very human experiences that we might not encounter in real life, video games have the power to add that added layer of immersion, to interact with such a world and characters, to not only see, hear or read, but also to experience.
No one should ever have to experience these horrors, but until that day arrives, perhaps video games such as this can help those safe and away from conflict to better understand and have empathy towards those who are affected, to understand their plight and take action to help one another, and to be kinder, more understanding of those who have experienced such horrors. Perhaps the people of Poland recognised this when they campaigned for officials to include the game in the curriculum some years ago.
Seeing a video game become part of a national educational curriculum is something that would have been completely unheard of some years ago, but is evidence to the increased acceptance of video games in modern society, breaking into the mainstream.
It’s also further reinforcement that much like other media, video games too can be entertaining, but also art, exposing us to new experiences, moments and feelings in a completely new way.
By Shanuka Kadupitiyage