I killed an old man in This War of Mine

Killing spree
Killing spree

I had killed thousands of lives in virtual world. I killed them using cold weapons in Mount & Blade. I gave them head shots in Call of Duty. I teared them into pieces by my magics in World of Warcraft. I killed them so I won and got promotions, rewards, and more power. I got everything in these worlds by killing. So in these world we are killing for fun. The mechanics and systems behind these games are designed to encourage killing in certain areas and circumstances. So in these kind of games, I don’t remember how many lives taken away by me because I kill everyday and the lives are actually similar to my character.

More options
More options

Then I met sandbox games. In Skyrim, Fallout New Vegas and Watch Dog, mechanics and systems provide more variations on solving a problem. You can choose to kill since that is the most traditional way. But you have other options, such as bribe and persuasion. Compared to the games mentioned in the last paragraph, these games are less violent and more optional. Still, I don’t remember how many lives I killed too because killing is just one way to solve a problem (mostly a task) in the worlds. I am care about finishing a task instead of my way to finish it.

This War of Mine
This War of Mine

However, I killed an old man in This War of Mine. I killed him in a game one month ago but I still remember all the details of my behaviors and my mental process. And I still feel guilty. I Let me tell you that. My character was a cooker at that night, one of my companions was in charge of night watching at home and the other one was badly sicked in bed. I was going outside to scan for resources. I need food for my group and I need medicine to save my companion. Hospital was taken up by a group of soldiers so I had to test my lucks on an shabby building. It was said that there are foods and medicines but dangers as well so I took my pistol. Entering the building is pretty simple because it is a big building and few people lived here. I tried to be polite at beginning avoid entering the room which is taken up by others. I scanned for hours but failed to find anything useful. Even my character were murmuring that he is hungry.  So I decided to take a risk. I entered a kitchen which is obviously belong to someone else. Then I got some food successfully and no one spotted me. Since I had stolen something, then I think I should steal more since there was already a penalty for stealing. So I walked around and entered a bedroom. All I spotted was the clear icon floating on the bed which showed that there was items inside. So I clicked that and my character found medicines! Oh, I can save my companions life! I took them. Suddenly, a dialogue popped out, “Don’t take the medicine. I need them”. Then I found that there is an old man lying on the bed. Obviously, he was ill. Actually, in the game, I always try to help others. I traded my medicine to one of the son whose father is ill to save his life. I went outside to help my neighbors. But now I was taking other’s medicines, I was taking his life supplements away. Without any hesitation, I pulled out my gun and shot at his three times before he died. I run away and back to home. Finally, my companion still died in sickness because it was too severe and I was killed when suffering a robbery later.


Why I kill that old man? I keep thinking about it. Rationally, killing a non-enemy using bullets is a waste of bullets and they are precious in the game. The instant thought is that I took his medicine so he would die. I was just try to make it easier. It was nice to him. But now I can admit that I killed him because I felt guilty to steal his medicine and his existence was evidence of my guilty. So I killed him for my own relief.

Emotions in game is precious and important. So one interesting question is why I feel guilty to that exact old man instead of the former bodies on my game experience path. Personally, I feel the followings might be part of the reasons.

First, in This War of Mine, there is no exact goal for players. Players struggle with survival everyday, but the game never says that is your goal. Without a goal, players cannot blame killing to game. They have to take their own responsibility for their own behaviors.

Second, when a character kill someone his mood and his companions’ and his moods will be low for several days. Exposed to others makes players more affected by social opinions.

Third, NPC are responsive to the world. If the old man was just lying down or kept saying before I took medicine. I won’t feel he reacted to my behavior. Then I do not care about him any more.

Fourth, I died from robbery from someone else. I feel the hopelessness when suffering it.

That is all. There is no conclusion for that. Just hope I can think more about emotions in games.

5 thoughts on “I killed an old man in This War of Mine

  1. Ok, I’ve never heard This War of Mine until you mentioned it, and I really want to play now. I think there is still a goal in the game, however, it’s an indirect goal which the game gives you without words called – survive. The point why the game successes is because it made you want to survive as many days as you can. It gave you options and freedom to manipulate anything you want in the game, but take it away when you need it the most. I would love to give it a try, you did a good job in describing this fantastic gameplay.

  2. You don’t need a conclusion. You cover an extremely interesting topic regarding your feelings towards games. Specifically in how This War of Mine was able to solicit such guilt from you. Your title is catchy and I love how you start with how you have killed thousands of times before with no emotion. Until you killed the old man that is. I have not played This War of Mine but reading your post really makes me want to try. I want to see how the game was able to lead you down a path of disparity – Such that you were reduced to your pure survival instincts. To have a game corrupt a player to that degree, especially a noble one like yourself, speaks bounds about the quality of the game itself. Thanks for the nice read

  3. You successfully made me want to play ‘This war of mine’. Because I think I never experienced the guiltiness in game. And the way you analyze the reason why you feel guilty about killing that old man was quite interesting. I really think this is a subject something that we can dig into as a designer. How to make people feel guilty or feel sympathy and etc.

  4. This was a powerful post. Beyond making me want to play “This War of Mine,” I think you hit on something that is usually left out when people discuss violence and video games–that the process of killing so many people can normalize the experience, but what happens when it does the opposite? I don’t really believe that the first time someone plays a shooter it doesn’t impact them emotionally in some way. I even remember feeling a little troubled playing a car-based shooter at age six called Twisted Metal.

    But I digress. I wonder why hearing about what is an ostensibly negative experience in This War of Mine makes everyone want to play that game? Do we crave realism without consequences? Or is it something else? Your post is very intriguing and I am wondering if other people who’ve played this game have had similar experiences.

  5. I’ve heard of this war of mine before but I never had any desire to play it until I read your post. Now I can’t speak to the merits of the game, obviously, but you do raise an interesting point. My question is do you think that this concept should be implemented in more games?

    You remember killing the man because the game setting made you feel immersed to the point of establishing emotional connections to the characters, and good games often do that. But at the end of the day you didn’t shoot anybody. You sent a 3D rendered piece of code into another 3D rendered piece of code. Looking at games rationally like this, through the eyes of a developer as well as a consumer greatly discredits the idea of desensitization caused by video games.

    But what if this sort of thing would really desensitize us? What if we felt so guilty about killing the man in the video game that it actually wore on us? We know that’s irrational and so eventually we dismiss it but the next time we play the game we’ll be a bit more callous and cold. What if becoming that way towards characters designed to cause us emotional investment will cause us to act the same way to our fellow man?

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