Thanks to most Call of Duty games and similar titles, war has been reduced to arcade fun in the minds of most gamers. These days, there’s no wider disconnect between video games and the actual hell of war. But some games beg to differ; instead of turning one of humanity’s oldest land-grabbing schemes into couch entertainment, they opted to portray the true horrors of the battlefield and, in turn, have chosen to be anti-war video games.
Their goal is to ultimately bring a message of peace thanks to a more humanitarian perspective of war– usually from the view of the casualties. Sadly, anti-war video games are quite rare, much like anti-war movies. So to save you the trouble of finding them, we’ve compiled the best. May they soothe your gamer rage.
This War of Mine
Most games about war put you behind the gun as a heroic soldier supposedly killing bad guys, thereby glorifying the process. This War of Mine puts you in the shoes of Eastern European civilian casualties during a city siege. All of them are stuck in a hopeless nigh-apocalyptic war-scape where they must ration food, raise up morale, scavenge, and shore up barricades.
It’s a depressing version of The Sims that will make you question your moral code and the value of human life during survival situations. The message is obvious here, war is hell, more so for civilians caught in the crossfire.
This game will have you stealing from disabled people or leaving children to die just to survive a war. Sadly, that’s the reality that a lot of other war video games choose to omit.
Spec Ops: The Line
Spec Ops: The Line is an underrated gem from 2012 with a heavy theme of anti-Western intervention and, to a certain extent, anti-war. You still control a US soldier here named Captain Walker, who was sent to Dubai with an elite Delta Force squad.
As Walker delves deeper into hostile territory, his sanity takes a proportional dive as he commits war-crime after war-crime trying to gain progress in their mission.
By the end of the game, you’ll realize that just about anything they did made the conflict even worse. One of the game’s most controversial scenes is when Walker showered white phosphorous artillery shells on civilians– something that’s not entirely unheard of as a war crime.
While Battlefield 1 mostly competes with Call of Duty in glorifying war and turning it into an arcade shooter fest, there’s a distinct subtext here that’s mostly absent in other Battlefield games. From the trailers to the campaign itself, Battlefield 1 doesn’t shy from anti-war conclusions.
Even in multiplayer, the sound effects, the screams, the fragility of player characters, and the deafening barrage of artillery gave most players an idea of how small their chances are of survival in a similar situation.
And in the campaign, even the main characters die regardless of which side they’re fighting for, further driving the idea that there is no winner in World War 1. Even when the game mostly focuses on the action and cinematics of war, similar to war movies, it’s easy to pick such hints.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War
Speaking of World War 1, Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a melancholic tale about the struggles of four people who were drafted into the Great War. Their destinies intertwine as they try to survive the hell pit of a battlefield into which they were thrust.
At the same time, the game also gave each of their heroes a reprieve either in the form of disillusionment, peace, safety, or even death.
This is an emotional journey that gives the participants of World War 1 more humanization and how love, sacrifice, and friendship can shine even in the darkest of times.
The Metro series– both the novels and the video game adaptations have always had strong anti-war sentiments. They’re post-apocalyptic stories that explore the possibility of what could have happened if the Cold War turned hot and nuclear and transformed Earth into an irradiated wasteland, forcing survivors to live in the Russian metro subway system for centuries.
Metro Exodus sees the protagonist fed up with the war so they decide to escape and find a sanctuary for themselves while also encountering the horrific effects that war had wrought on the land and its people.
It’s not hard to feel as worn out as the protagonists in the game once you have progressed past a certain point in the story.
Most Fallout titles tend to be anti-war video games, and most of them also give players the opportunity to perform a pacifist run where their RPG character won’t kill anyone while finishing the game. Even the initial and iconic monologue starts off with “war, war never changes” in a weary and cynical take on mankind’s dark and destructive nature.
And if the anti-war message wasn’t clear enough, players only need to look at the game’s environments. Everything is a result of nuclear warfare– an apocalypse caused by the hubris and violence of man, and it’s up to you if you will continue that or defy it while trying not to get eaten by giant cockroaches.
Metal Gear Solid Series
Like the Fallout games, Metal Gear Solid games are also solid about their anti-war stance. But if you want the most intense conveying of such an idea in the series, these three titles take the cake:
- Metal Gear Solid 3
- Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
The Phantom Pain is quite a special one as it’s one of the most fully-realized versions of the formula. You mostly play as a weathered mercenary and solider, Solid Snake (and his numerous variants), as he navigates his chaotic and deceptive war-torn world while trying to make a haven for those who were cast aside in war.
With that in mind, titles like Peace Walker and Phantom Pain will even reward you better if you choose not to kill enemy soldiers and recruit them instead (after kidnapping them). Thus, the anti-war content here is not just in the story but also cleverly woven into the gameplay.