This War of Mine

A video game becomes, for the very first time, free educational material for students. It happened in Poland, where 11 Bit Studios is based, thanks to an initiative of the Ministry of Education.

A video game becomes, for the very first time, free educational material for students. It happened in Poland, where 11 Bit Studios is based, thanks to an initiative of the Ministry of Education.

We met a representative from the software house, the Polish Ministry and the Managing Director of Spidor, the trade association of the local video game industry.

Paweł Miechowski, Partnership Manager di 11 Bit Studios

Let’s start from the beginning: in 2014 This War of Mine was launched, inspired by the Sarajevo siege of the 1990s and with civilians as the main characters. How did the idea come about?

The idea was born during one of our brainstorm sessions when we were looking for a leading idea for our new game. Our CEO Grzegorz said he was reading an interview with a war survivor in Mostar, as far as I remember, and he told us about how life had looked like during the Yugoslavian war in there, accordingly to the survivor. Those stories moved us, and when Grzegorz said we could make a game about this, we got instantly ignited by the idea and we all agreed that we definitely would like to do it. We've been looking then at different modern wars, battles, conflicts. The war in Bosnia, the Siege of Sarajevo - these were just a few. Equally important were the stories from our grandmothers and grandfathers who survived the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 and the German occupation and the incredibly hard life they had when Germans occupied Poland. I remember many team members bringing those personal family stories. All these served as examples upon which we created the environment and the events in the game. But keep in mind I'm talking about simple life, emotional moments, events that got stuck in people's minds - these were the inspiration, not political events or any specific military events. It’s a game about regular people after all.

How much time did you dedicate to studying and historically reconstructing the war in former Yugoslavia?

Sorry, but I need to clear things out here. The game takes place in a fictional city being damaged during a fictional war. It's just loosely based on Yugoslavian war, as much as it's been inspired by Warsaw Uprising or Battle of Grozny or modern battle of Aleppo. We wanted the game to be universal story about suffering of ordinary people that have to live through war, not Yugoslavian people or any other. So, I can't say how much we spent on the research, but I can say the entire process of creation of the base game took around two years.

This War of Mine will become free teaching material in all Polish schools for all students over 18 to aid subjects such as history, philosophy, sociology. When you wrote the videogame, did you imagine that the title would have such a significant cultural impact on society?

We knew the game was done in the right way, with a proper approach and respect for such a tough subject like war, but we didn't know it could become this kind of cultural phenomenon. Few years ago, entire games industry was on the verge of a beginning of a new era, an era when some new games being created back then were described as empathy games. I knew we were talking about games who are mature enough and designed in such a way that they can already tackle serious topics like books or movies can do. Like proper works of culture that games are. And This War of Mine was created during that moment, when somehow we could say that both - the audience and the games creators - are mature enough to accept the fact that games are work of culture. I believe I can honestly say This War of Mine was one of those game and also one designed in a very good way. From the perspective of time I can see how big phenomenon it became. Big enough to be noticed by the educational institutions all around the world and finally become a school reading in Poland. This is a milestone moment not only for Poland, or us, but for all game creators all around the world. Their work is finally confirmed as the work of culture on a state level.

Rafał Lew-Starowicz, Deputy Director Ministry of National Education

How did the idea come about to add a videogame, This War of Mine, among the suggested reading for Polish students?

Game titles with great educational potential are available on the Polish computer games market. The prime minister wanted to promote and support this industry. Since 2017 we have implemented coding and computational thinking to the core curriculum for all K-12, classes focusing on esports are emerging, Polish students are among top performers at the International Olympiad in Informatics, we have already 700 centers for mastering IT skills in schools.

Compared to other media, videogames have a unique trait: interactivity. Do you consider it as an added value for learning at school?

It is very well known that interactive software brings new learning opportunities which in my opinion is as much important as fun that children have playing them. Computer and video games are present in their life, so why we shouldn’t take advantage of that and use as an accelerator of their learning competences?

The Polish videogame industry is going from strength to strength. Just recently there was the case of the series The Witcher with CD Projekt Red: the books of Andrzej Sapkowski originated a videogaming trilogy that became famous worldwide and whose success led to creating a Netflix TV series. Now a videogame is part of the suggested readings for students in your country. Does Poland consider developing videogames a culturally significant endeavour?

Of course, it is cultural phenomenon indeed, but not only. Games has potential benefits for example in areas: cognitive, motivational and social. As a result of that we are planning now the pilot project focusing on interactive software usage in schools and providing games for schools via our educational platform with ematerials: epodreczniki.pl. We have spent 80 mln euros already for that platform with open source materials and now we will upload more i.a. educational games. Students after finishing school will know how to invent, and develop games, what opportunities and risks it brings to them.

We have collected a statement from Spidor, the trade association of the Polish video game industry.

Dominika Urbanska-Galanciak, Managing Director di Spidor

The video game industry in Poland is happy to hear that This War of Mine has been included in the reading list by the Ministry of Education. This is an unprecedented event. However, I would like to emphasize that the game produced by 11 Bit Studios has already been awarded by the Minister of Culture in the category of digital culture or announced the best game of the year at the Digital Dragons Festival.

For many years, the video game industry as well as experienced methodologists have pointed to the benefits of using games in education. It is well known that games are used in teaching mathematics, physics and programming. Games for learning foreign languages or history and geography are also being successfully introduced. This War of Mine significantly expands the horizon of educational opportunities. This is a game that we can refer to in literature classes, as well as ethics and social studies. This War of Mine is also an important lesson in civic education. It's a game that shows a different face of war, but which primarily allows the player to make moral decisions. The game is intended for adults and targeted at high school students. It will be available free of charge and details of the access for students will be determined soon.

Once again, congratulations to the developers of the game and I am happy with the educational opportunities they have created.