If you love video games and grew up with parents who did not, you’ve probably had a few arguments about their so-called bad effects, foremost among which was desensitization to violence. But in upcoming WW1 management game War Hospital, coming on January 11 from Polish developer Brave Lamb Studios, that’s crucial to the game’s message.
Playing any management or PC strategy game, efficiency is key, and in War Hospital, where you run a field hospital on the outskirts of WW1 trenches, you often have to make harsh choices about who to save and who to ignore. According to lead game designer Jakub Kędzior, the desensitization players will start to feel in War Hospital is the same journey surgeons went through on the battlefield.
“The stories from the real life doctors at the time were that after hundreds of cases, they had seen so many patients, that some of them didn’t even see people as people anymore. They see only bundles of meat and internal organs,” Kędzior told Wargamer, in a recent interview on the WW1 game. “We want to make the point that with so much violence, with so much death, with so much hurt, and so much pain, players become less and less emotional about the choices that they make.
“They start to see the more ruthless side of the choices. So: better to save this or this one? Or: is this giving me less resources or more resources? We want the player to get to this point where he gets desensitized. And then we want him to understand that he himself got to this point, where he started to treat every patient only as numbers, but he started out caring for them.”
For this to work, War Hospital will need to make sure players do care in the first place, but the game has a few tricks up its sleeve to try and make sure of this. “When you know something about people, they become closer to you,” says Kędzior, explaining that each patient comes with a photo and backstory. You might learn that one of them fled from Germany, another was a chess champion, and a third only learned to read in the trenches.
There are also opportunities to interact with patients through dialogue designed to humanize them. “Sometimes the patient will react to your choice, you will see the dialogue option that he’s thanking you because you allow for his operation,” Kędzior explains. “Maybe he begs you not to amputate his leg; maybe he tells you that he has a kid and he doesn’t want to die, because you just declined the operation for him.”
There are opportunities to build up connections with particular players too. Each one has a medical history, and a player you saved once before can end up injured and back in your hospital “What will you do? Will you treat them again and then set them to combat again? Will you take them and send them to HQ? Will you let them just become a civilian because they already fought? And these are the small things that can influence people.”
Kędzior also hinted at more detailed “stories about people” interspersed throughout War Hospital in a manner comparable to Papers Please.
War Hospital releases on January 11, 2024. It’s developed by Brave Lamb Studio and published by Nacon.