Little Insurgents is a family-friendly recommended from age 8 game intended to maintain the heroic mode of remembering the Warsaw Uprising, a failed military struggle that claimed the lives of over thousand people. As such, it represents a peculiar intersection of game conventions and memory discourses. The game employs richer intermedial dynamics than Uprising44 , starting with the very title.
Some of my favorite quotes
The monument commemorates the child participants of the uprising. The Little Insurgent monument, however, is highly controversial: Its opponents say that it glorifies using children in warfare and presents war as an adventure Kowalik, The design of the board game Little Insurgents shows the effort to evade these controversies.
The main topic is the activity of Scout Military Mail during the uprising, and each player takes command of a patrol of named young scouts, represented by individual tokens, delivering orders between various points on the map of Warsaw; the game is mostly cooperative players need to avoid common danger as undelivered orders eventually lead to losing access to whole districts, which may in turn lead to failure , but includes an element of competition as well, based on the number of delivered orders per player -- there is, however, no sensible diegetic explanation for this competitive aspect.
The educational brochure in three languages constitutes a paratextual element in the sense of Genette It was written by a historian and was added to the game to provide some background on Scout Military Mail. Its establishment came not only as a fulfilment of the need to stay in touch with the loved ones, but also served as one of the symbols of the functioning of the legal Polish State, and proved that the society was capable of self-organisation in extreme circumstances. Letters were duly distributed by boys and girls -- mail carriers devoted in their service to free Poland Ozimek, The quote shows the ambition of underlining the heroism of young insurgents, the self-organization of the Polish underground state, the importance of non-military services during the uprising, and the influence of Scout Military Mail on civilian population.
Indeed, to say that the game employs violence filter would be an understatement; it rather forms an airtight violence cover , taking the sanitization of war to borderline absurd levels. In the basic version of the rules recommended for children and inexperienced players , there is a token of a German soldier, moving on the board in an automated way. A scout who meets the soldier goes to prison and effectively loses the next round. In the next one, however, the scout automatically leaves the prison; after that, the player can choose where to deploy the scout.
This element of the game demonstrates a stark contrast between its historical topic and its procedural rhetoric. Being caught by the enemy during the Warsaw Uprising could lead to all kinds of harm including death , while in the game meeting an enemy is shown as a rather inconsequential and entirely reversible event.
Wolfgang Streeck, How Will Capitalism End?, NLR 87, May–June
In the advanced rules, the German soldier disappears, and the only parameter informing the players on the risk of failure is based on losing districts: a rather abstract and purely symbolic decontextualized mechanism which limits the agency of players, but does not make consequences tangible. This design choice has problematic implications: if one was to take the procedural argument deriving from the game rules seriously, Little Insurgents proposes a simulation in which the success of the Warsaw Uprising is fully dependent on underage scouts from the Scout Military Mail.
Despite the educational content of the game communicated mostly in traditional forms such as drawings, a map, or a written brochure , the procedural rhetoric of Little Insurgents puts the whole responsibility for the uprising on a small group of characters, and obfuscates the complex social, political and military factors contributing to the outcome of the historical event. The confusion goes even further as Little Insurgents actually makes it possible to win the Warsaw Uprising. Victory comes automatically at a predefined moment the victory card is placed in a specific place of the deck , suggesting that the uprising was not only possible to win, but that time was a crucial factor in victory -- an assertion that is highly dubious given the already unexpectedly long duration of the uprising.
The topic of victory and failure in Little Insurgents and other Polish history-themed games is explored in greater detail in one of my previous publications Sterczewski, As in the case of Uprising44 , in Little Insurgents discursive omissions create a game space conveniently cleared of any potentially problematic elements.
It seems as if the designer had decided that delivering civilian messages was not heroic enough for a game; it is a discursive move similar to choosing a member of a military elite unit instead of a regular insurgent as the protagonist of Uprising Two add-ons to the game -- Liberator and Poczta Cywilna [ Civilian Mail ] -- lead to a further convergence of military and civilian themes. Liberator adds a mechanic of intercepting air-drops from the Allies; among the supplies, underage scouts can find grenades. Grenades can be later used in a direct fight, as implied by the rules, resulting in regaining control of the districts.
Civilian Mail adds a new type of tokens -- personal letters, but delivering them is treated as a task additional to delivering orders. They also do not mention casualties of the Scout Military Mail. In Little Insurgents , the heroic narrative of the Warsaw Uprising combined with game conventions focused on pleasant experiences and the possibility of winning converge in a product devoid of any problematic content or non-hegemonic threads of Polish cultural memory.
The Warsaw Uprising in Little Insurgents does not carry even the faintest taste of tragedy -- the representational layer, the procedural rhetoric and the paratexts of the game all contribute to the depiction of war as an exciting, but rather benign adventure in which nobody can get hurt permanently. Enemy Front , a first-person shooter released by CI Games in , is a more accomplished game than Uprising44 , and emerges as more discursively complex than Little Insurgents.
The game is a good example of the tension between standard, heroic conventions of games and an attempt to play into more tragic modes of Polish cultural memory. It is a very conventional shooter with serious ambitions, and this contrast is apparent in several aspects of the game. The teaser trailer described in the introduction to this article was clearly targeted mostly at Polish players, and it appealed to a popular mode of Polish cultural memory, which could be described as heroism born from tragedy.
Lech Nijakowski describes the consequences of this notion as follows:. In this discourse Poles are great not only by their culture, religion and civilization, but also by bravery and heroism. Poles are victims not in the sense of defeated losers, but in a religious sense -- as offerings.
While the Warsaw Uprising is not the only setting of Enemy Front , it is certainly singled out as the most important one, both in terms of plot and composition: the story of the game is told achronologically, with levels set in the Warsaw Uprising serving as a tentpole of the narrative and providing both the opening and ending sequences of the game. The protagonist of the game is Robert Hawkins, an US-American war reporter writing about anti-Nazi resistance movements in Europe; due to certain plot developments he becomes a resistance combatant in various countries himself, and becomes especially attached to the Polish Home Army and the Warsaw Uprising.
Hawkins is a generic over-the-top action hero not unlike the protagonists of popular war-themed action movies who can singlehandedly take down a military base full of enemies. In relation to the topic of the Warsaw Uprising, he is a typical figure of an outsider who needs to be introduced to the new phenomenon, mirroring the player or viewer who is also not familiar with the setting.
This is clearly a narrative choice made with international market in mind, but it also has another dimension: a foreigner from the West deciding to join the uprising gives it an external justification, shows it as an example to follow, as well as puts the whole event in the broader context of anti-Nazi resistance in Europe. In terms of game space and characters, Warsaw of Enemy Front is much more lively than the Warsaw of Uprising44 ; civilians are still scarce, but they do appear in several significant scenes, and more traces of their presence are visible.
Notably, the first civilian we meet in the game is a priest taken hostage by a German officer, whom the player needs to liberate in a slow-motion action sequence. This scene is a telling example of another important aspect of Polish cultural memory: the connection between patriotism and Catholic religion.
One of the other levels inspired by a historical event of Enemy Front depicts the defence of the insurgent post inside the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw; the player is positioned as part of the group that clears the church of enemies and prevents it from invasion. In a medium that typically avoids overt positive religious references in mainstream productions, underlining these two scenes is significant as it reinforces the message that the player fights for the right cause transcending the materiality of military struggle; the uprising has not only a political rationale, but is also metaphysically sanctioned.
The comparative procedural analysis of the levels set during the Warsaw Uprising with those set in other places reveals a meaningful contrast. The levels situated outside Warsaw are much more action-like and highlight the exceptional combat prowess of Hawkins who personally kills dozens of enemies and fulfils tasks of epic scale; a telling example is a level in which Hawkins blows up an entire heavy water production facility in Norway and escapes it as the whole construction crumbles right behind him.
Contrary to this, the parts of the game depicting the Warsaw Uprising are more toned down, often accentuating the difficulty of the situation and the advantage of enemy forces, and showing urban warfare as a much more cooperative, collective, tactical endeavour: most of the time Hawkins fights as a member of a squad.
Apparently, the historical matter of the Warsaw Uprising is treated with certain reverence and caution, and the designers try to maintain the representation of the event as dire and dramatic.
This is not to say, however, that the uprising levels are much more realistic; the protagonist still happens to personally rescue the whole squad or take down several tanks. Enemy Front , however, does not avoid showing civilians like Uprising44 and Little Insurgents do. The high-octane action stops for a while and is replaced by a sequence using mostly environmental storytelling Carson, , that is familiar from exploration games or from non-combat scenes in the Bioshock series.
The player is free to explore various rooms of the building and catch several vignette-like glimpses of different human experiences of the uprising: a nurse searches for lost meds, doctors lose a patient during an operation, several patients roll over the beds in pain, lightly wounded people try to pass time with small talk, a makeshift morgue is filled with bodies wrapped in linen.
Most of the patients of the hospital are insurgents they can be recognized through their white-red armbands , but there are some civilians as well. Significantly, there is one point in which the player gets an opportunity of heroic action -- one of the insurgents lying on a bed starts bleeding suddenly, and the player can help him. However, the fact that the player is granted the possibility of a heroic deed even in the single place of the game where combat prowess is useless is a confirmation of the weight of the heroic game convention; apparently, the designers did not want to strip the player of agency for too long in an assumption that it would be unpleasant to them.
Maria Janion in her essay on depicting war in Polish literature also writes about this dialectic of the mythical and the specific:. In Polish social consciousness and in Polish prose, interconnected with mutual projections, the myth transformed into stereotype has devoured the concrete; such myth defends itself from the concrete as it poses the biggest danger to it, because it contains an irresistible truth of the detail, experience, memory -- not yet mistified, not yet solidified into a safe and easy shape of a collective platitude Janion, , pp.
There are two more scenes featuring civilians in Enemy Front , both highlighting the tension between the martyrological narrative and game conventions. In the first one, the player character witnesses from a window an execution of a small group of civilians, accused of being insurgents; the desperate denials do not save them. However, in a short while he will be storming through the courtyard where the execution took place, and thus the killed civilians will be avenged.
The initial helplessness of the hero is downplayed by his ability of violent retribution. Martyrology of the innocent victims is made visible and heroic agency of the protagonist is maintained. Thank you!
An encyclopedia of philosophy articles written by professional philosophers.
Again, the existence of civilians in Enemy Front serves only as a backdrop for heroic deeds of the protagonist. Civilians are deprived of agency and are uniformly obedient and thankful to the insurgents. It is also worth noting that this is heroism without sense of tragedy: even if the fate of the whole city can be regarded as tragic, this tragedy is not connected to the protagonist: effects of his actions are always positive, he is never presented with a significant choice or confronted with unintended consequences of his own deeds -- he only reacts to the atrocities of others, in a linear way determined by the plot.
Interestingly, both Uprising44 and Enemy Front end with an image of civilians evacuating Warsaw through the Vistula river together with the insurgents, towards Soviet positions at the end of the uprising. The most common way of leaving Warsaw does not appear in games probably because it did not offer similar narrative opportunities and would be much harder to align with the heroic action convention of military shooters.
Are different, more nuanced depictions of civilian experience of war thinkable in Polish games and -- more broadly -- pop culture? Inspired by testimonies of the sieges of Sarajevo, Leningrad and Monrovia, as well as the Warsaw Uprising Kowalczyk, , This War of Mine shows the consequences of warfare on civilian populations including the psychological ones , the everyday struggle of acquiring and managing limited resources, the internal diversity of civilians and conflicts between them.
Suffering and fight for survival do not have any sublime, external meaning. However, even if This War of Mine strongly connotates being set in the Balkan region, it is politically decontextualized -- it does not tell a story of any specific place, nation or interest group. It can be argued that decontextualization opens space for a more universal message, but it is also a safe choice that allows for abstracting from specific discourses and refraining from taking political stances.
This War of Mine as a game about the Warsaw Uprising or its immediate aftermath would probably be much riskier, especially in terms of reception in Poland. Questioning or problematizing the dominant modes of remembering would probably be met with significant resistance from the participants of Polish gaming culture. Comparing the intramedial rhetorics and intermedial dynamics of the analyzed games with other popular media about the Warsaw Uprising, like literature and film, and their plurimedial contexts Erll, , it seems that Polish games are less complex and more hegemonic in terms of their construction of cultural memory, and that they do not undergo a comparable level of criticism and scrutiny.
A valuable recent example of such a relatively complex media texts would be the film Warsaw 44 [ Miasto 44 ] Komasa, , a high-budget production on the Warsaw Uprising, which quite successfully merges popular appeal and an inclusion of topics like war trauma, civilian casualties, plurality of stances on the uprising and internal conflicts of the insurgents, all without falling into standard martyrological tropes of sacred suffering.
Uprising44 , Little Insurgents and Enemy Front are examples of games that aim both at reinforcing national identity through propagating a certain vision of history and achieving success as commercial products of interactive entertainment. Sometimes, as in the case of comparing the levels related to the Warsaw uprising in Enemy Front to the rest of the game, it can be observed how genre conventions change possibly because of ideological ambitions tied to them.
The theme of civilian experiences of war was chosen as the focus of this article both for the problematic status of non-combatants in Polish cultural memory and its underrepresentation in games in general. Further exploration of these issues may shed new light on the ways games interact with national identities and deal with marginalized, controversial and complex themes. Games such as those described in the article can simultaneously reinforce hegemonic discourses, like strong national identities, militarized perspective on history, conventional gender norms etc.
As game studies are predominantly globalized and focused on Anglophone games and gaming cultures, more research into specific, local phenomena could contribute to diversification and decentralization of the field and greatly improve our understanding of the relationship between games and cultural memory, social discourses and ideologies.
Aleksander Nevsky. Becla, W. Board Times , August Bednarek, A. Recenzja: Uprising44 [Review: Uprising44 ]. Gamezilla , October 2.
Berents, H. E-International Relations , October Bogost, I.