From toddlers through adulthood and even into retirement, for some the joys of scavenging, and exploring magical realms in an alternate universe offers hope, happiness and an escape from their everyday lives. And an increasing number of those games are coming out of emerging Europe, playing homage to Slavic history, telling dark tales of the region’s past and the struggles people have had to face, touching on war, occupation and the daily struggle to survive.
The emerging Europe region has produced some very popular games over the last decade or so, while a number of global titles produced by international companies have been developed here, including FIFA. Yet the real story is about independent studios that have gained international success, “establishing … a development culture with a unique, often very dark visual and stylistic tradition, which is beginning to make waves across the global video games industry,” says Marijam Didzgalvyte in Games Industry. The region is now home to more than a thousand game development studios, with over 25,000 people employed by the industry.
One of the biggest games to come out of the region is The Witcher, in which players become Geralt of Rivia, a solitary monster hunter who struggles to find his place in a world where people often prove more wicked than beasts. Battling your way through a medieval world, thwarting plans of world domination, The Witcher series has become such a popular franchise since being turned into a game that Netflix has announced that The Witcher TV series, based on Andrzej Sapkowski novels, will be released later in 2019.
If battling monsters and elves seems too much like fantasy, how about wandering the streets of fictional city: Pogoren, Graznavia, in This War of Mine, inspired by the Siege of Sarajevo in 1992-1996 during the Bosnian War. The game offers players a twist: instead of being military personnel, your mission is to help a group or civilians survive the war. Using only what is available to you, you are forced to scavenge, build and trade in order to make it through another day.
“After the success of This War Of Mine, we felt encouraged that the stories from our region matter,” says Pawel Miechowski from the game’s developer, 11 bit Studios.
In November 2018, 11 bit studios announced the release of This War Of Mine: Complete Edition, exclusively for the Nintendo Switch, which contains the original game as well as other episodes developed over the years.
Keeping with the theme of war, take a step back even further to the 1940’s with Attentat 1942, in a game that tells the story of Nazi occupation from the perspective of those who experienced it first-hand.
In Attentat 1942, you go in search of answers following the arrest of your grandfather by the Gestapo shortly after the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, ruler of the Nazi-occupied Czech lands and leading architect of the Holocaust. The game revolves around trying to understand why he was arrested and what his role was in the whole saga.
Attentat is unique in the fact that it includes rare, digitised film footage, challenging mini-games, and cinematic-style interviews that have been researched and written by a team of professional historians. As part of the game you will speak to eyewitnesses, live their memories, and discover the untold story of your family.
“Attentat 1942 is the first game in a series that will ultimately cover key events of the second half of the 20th century, including the post-war arrangement of Czechoslovakia, the expulsion of Sudeten Germans, the rise of communism, and the Prague Spring,” Vit Šisler, creator of Attentat 1942, told Games Industry.
Alternatively, you can become Henry, the son of a blacksmith, in Kingdom Come: Deliverance whose peaceful life is destroyed by a mercenary raid, at the order of Hungarian King Sigismund, which burns your village to the ground. With nothing left, you join Lord Radzig Kobyla’s resistance to fight in a civil war for the future of Bohemia and restore Bohemia’s rightful king and Sigismund’s half-brother, Wenceslas IV, to the throne.
The list of games and studios from the region is constantly growing, and has gained worldwide recognition, so much so that in 2018 the first edition of the Central and Eastern European Game Awards (CEEGA) was launched. Fifteen countries from the region make up the organisers and partners of CEEGA, its mission being to recognise and promote the best video games from the region.
“Everyone knows about the Knights of the Round Table or the Loch Ness monster, because these cultural tropes have been around for a while now. We’re only scratching the surface here with the subjects that we can introduce from our region, that will soon enter the cultural discourse,” says Paweł Szyszka, one of 11 bit Studios’ game designers.