Mystery Teaser From Relic’s Twitch

Well, that’s something. Relic, the makers of Company of Heroes, Dawn of War, and the new Age of Empires game, are teasing something on their Twitch stream. What we see is a map of Italy with the occasional overlay of 40s war propaganda films, so it’s safe to say that this is an expansion for Dawn of War 3, best game ever this is related to Company of Heroes somehow, though whether this is a new game entirely or a DLC a whole 8 years after release isn’t certain.

Here’s what we’re seeing.

If you want to sit in on the stream with us and find out what the reveal’s about, you can get to it here:

-Jack Trumbull

PDXCON: Coming Soon

We’re getting to that time of year: GameCon season. We just saw Slitherine’s Home of Wargamers event just a few days ago, and now Paradox is hosting an event for their big games, which is very exciting. Paradox is known more for strategy, both grand and skim flavors, than wargames, though we feel that they are adjacent to our hobby here.

There are panels that start on Friday (May 21st) and go on for the whole weekend, dealing with their flagship games, mostly seeming to be CK3, HOI4, and Stellaris, as well as their less grand strategy games, such as Empire of Sin, Cities: Skylines, and Surviving the Aftermath. Notably, there seems to be a lack of content for Imperator and EU4, though more panels for those games could be announced. We’ll definitely be reporting on any big news from the event, but if you’d like to check it out for yourself, you can sign up here.

Tank Designer, my beloved.

Personally, I’m looking forward to the HOI4 panels, since we can get a good look at the new features rolling out in the currently unnamed expansion. Also of note is the NOCB podcast doing a liveshow on Friday, which is very exciting for them, and I’m eager to hear our game journalist comrades’ thoughts on the event. We’ll be chatting about the event in our Discord, which you can join here. Looking forward to talking with everyone about the event!

-Jack Trumbull

Stellaris: Nemesis Review

3.0 already? Stellaris has only been out for a few years, but we’ve just hit another large milestone, as the official third full version of the game released with a new DLC, as is Paradox’s wont. Nemesis brings some new and, in my opinion, greatly needed, changes to the late game, but there aren’t unfortunately many changes to the early game.

The free 3.0 update that came alongside Nemesis added, among other features, a new espionage system, somewhat similar to the system in Hearts of Iron 4. Essentially, an empire will know vague details about other empires in terms of scientific advancement, military strength, etc., based on the “Intel” level the empire has on them. Various things can give you more intel on other empires, but the main way to do so is to assign an envoy to an empire. That’s all in the free update.

Spooky business.

What Nemesis adds is the ability to use the envoy as a spy in the target empire. Based on the amount of time they’re placed in the other empire, the spy can embark on several missions against the other empire, varying from relatively harmless intelligence gathering to active sabotage of buildings and infrastructure. These missions all have difficulty levels, which is based on the encryption level of each empire involved, and you can use “assets” gained through missions or over time to help increase a mission’s success chance… there’s a fair amount of depth to this minigame.

Unfortunately though, as interesting as it is, it’s somewhat lackluster and a hassle to engage in. Most empires only have a few envoys, and the utility of using an envoy for espionage rather than to increase diplomatic weight or to bolster a Federation seems, to me, to be lesser. I want to note that I tend to play in larger, more crowded games, with many empires, so the effect of a single spy on one of 15-20 other empires isn’t as impactful as it might be for a player in smaller galaxies. It’s a shame because I like the system, but the reward for putting time and resources into it doesn’t measure up to what you’re missing out on. 

Space Geckos are always the equivalent to Civ’s Gandhi. Hate these dudes.

The other main features of Nemesis, however, are quite good. The “Become the crisis” or the Galactic Custodian role both deal with the end-game of Stellaris, and heavily change what that can look like through playthroughs. First: the “Become the Crisis” option. This option allows empires to take the place of the normal end-game crisis themselves. By taking one of the ascendancy perks through the Unity tree (which needs some TLC but that’s a discussion for another time), you can start down your own path to megalomaniacal interstellar supervillainy. Fun! The long and short of it is that you get “Menace” points for doing various dickish, bastardly, and otherwise evil acts, and with these points, you unlock various benefits over time, somewhat like the Federation tree, but for evil guys. Which you will be, if you follow this tree.

Being the crisis culminates in the player getting ships that can destroy stars, which they use to fuel a certain kind of doomsday weapon. If they charge it up, they win. This drives an interesting form of end-game conflict, where players would normally fight intergalactic hordes of eyeballs, evil robots, or ascendant empires, other empires (or you!) will now be the end-game Big Bad. It’s reminiscent of the very good “realm divide” feature from Total War: Shogun 2, where everyone hates you when you get strong enough. And you will indeed be strong if you follow this path successfully, as the empires that build up Menace get various bonuses that let them perform space genocide/ imperialism more efficiently. It’s a fitting climax to a game, and makes me wish other Paradox games had this kind of climax to campaigns. As a brief aside: I haven’t been able to play many full games of Stellaris since the release of the DLC, so I can’t comment on how likely the non-player empires are to take this path, but I had heard they might not be super likely to at this time, so keep that in mind.

Image shamelessly stolen from Stellaris Dev Diary 199 because I hate playing the bad guy.

The other big option is that of Galactic Custodian, sort of the “good guy” counterpart to becoming the crisis. Essentially, much like how the Galactic Community can elect Council Members, so too can the Galactic Community can nominate a Council Member to be Galactic Custodian. What this does is turn that empire into a super Council Member, or, as my nerdy historian brain likes to think of it, into a Cincinnatus. A temporary dictator, meant to directly counter crises (and indeed, AI are more likely to vote for someone to fill this spot during a crisis), and is given extra privileges to be able to do so. At first, this is limited to the ability to manipulate the voting period of the Galactic Community and the ability to build a Galactic Defense Force, which is like a Federation fleet but draws from the entire Community, rather than a single Federation. However, the Custodian can pass measures to increase their power and term limit, eventually making their seat indefinite. 

But why stop there? The Custodian can then proclaim a Galactic Imperium, with themselves as the head. This measure, if passed, grants many privileges to the now Emperor, who will become in many ways, the top dog of the Galaxy. All empires in the Galactic Community are still nominally independent, but the Emperor can propose strict laws on what relations member empires can have with each other. Of course, unhappy member empires can, with the new espionage tool, attempt to undermine imperial authority and spark a civil war over the Imperium, with the Galactic Community returning to the spotlight should the rebels succeed.
This kind of flavor is huge in spicing up the mid-late game of Stellaris matches, giving players more to either strive for, or be wary of. It promotes large, climactic, end-game conflicts that can tell a great story, and that is the driving factor of what makes grand strategy games so interesting: the stories told by the rise and fall of empires. With Nemesis, there are far more options than before for empires to both rise and fall. If you like freedom in your Stellaris games, get Nemesis.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

-Jack Trumbull

Stellaris: Nemesis is Releasing Soon (and so is Dick 3.0)

Soon, it will be time for my space foxes to ride again, to conquer the galaxy with new bits and bobs. That’s right, a new Stellaris DLC is coming out this Thursday (that’s April 15th), and boy is it chock-full of new things to do with your space empires.

Nemesis has several interesting features, key ones listed below:

  • Espionage: now as a formalized system, you can both learn more about other spacefaring races and feed them misinformation about your own. You can also, of course, get up to mischief with your spies to sabotage and steal from your competitors.
  • Crisis Schmisis: your empire can take the mantle of “Galactic Custodian” to protect from end-game crises, giving you emergency powers to beat back the hordes of… whatever the crisis is. Or, you can also become the crisis yourself, following a path of choices that lets you become a galactic supervillain, complete with the ability to “end all of existence.” Sounds fun!
  • New ship sets: Cosmetic ship sets, which are always nice. These in particular are influenced by famous sci-fi pieces, so keep an eye out for some familiar looking craft!

As usual, the DLC will release alongside a free update, that marks Stellaris’s ascension to 3.0 (the “Dick” update, named after noted author Philip K. Dick), which is pretty remarkable, considering HOI4 is still working on their 1.11 update. Anyway, if you’d like to get back out there in the galactic space and conquer things in the name of the empire/the hivemind/space communism/ your bottom line, looks like Nemesis could be a good fit for you. Expect a full review, though likely later this month.

-Jack Trumbull

Rogue State Revolution Preview

“Com 2 Basenji” my government’s travel agents say online. “Basenji very nice, we haev big cities and monuments and no secret bases.” I still don’t have many tourists.

Rogue State Revolution is a pretty unique game that sees you stepping into the shoes of a dubiously elected President of a not real Middle Eastern Republic that may or may not actually be a republic, depending on how you act. As President of Basenji (or “Presenji” as I am going to call it), you can hire ministers, direct the economy, order around troops, engage in diplomacy… there’s a lot going on here in what you could think is a small package. It’s still early on, but I’m really liking what I’m seeing so far.

First off: RSR is not a wargame. There’s a bit of pushing troops around on the map, but it is not a very deep system and is, so far, the blandest part of the game. I don’t think this will be the case always, as this is a an early preview and there are parts of the game that are blocked off due to still being in development. Right now, we have a pretty simple rock-paper-scissors system between tanks, helicopters, and AA units, along with infantry thrown into the mix. Combat is pretty straightforward “attack and you both lose health”, but there isn’t much thinking that goes into tactics other than overwhelming enemy forces with numbers. This can be difficult to do, as your frequent opponent will be rebels who resent your leadership, they pop up anywhere in Basenji, covered by fog of war in the desert. It can be fun hunting them down and destroying them, but the hunt is more satisfying than the kill in this case. However, bringing us to Basenji in general…

Basenji is a procedurally generated state, each time you play, a different mix on the country will appear. I’ve booted up a few Basenjis myself, and as Presenji I’ve found different sets of challenges in each Basenji, but there are a few common themes. Basenji comprises five districts, each with a varying amount of cities, villages, and people, who can have an array of values. Making these people not hate you enough to throw you out is the first goal of the game, and that can be hard to do, as every policy you enact will piss someone off. On top of that, there is a region with an ethnic minority group that you will need to attend to, lest they decide to ignite a wide-scale rebellion.

To stave off the likely defenestration of the Presenji, there are several steps you must take. The first step will always be to grow your terrible economy, to ensure you have the funds to pay for things that will help you survive. Next, start supply chains of your industry so you can produce and export goods to continue to grow your economy. Finally, use these funds and put them back into the economy or… hire more soldiers to put down any revolt. It’s basically up to the player, what kind of Presenji they want to be.

The way actions are given to the player on a given turn (in one-month increments) is through ministers. Ministers are the most important cog in the machine of Basenji, as each minister will let you take an action a month. These actions are the core of the game, covering things like building roads, building other economic buildings, adjusting the budget, taking diplomatic actions… a lot is covered by these actions. The difficult thing about your ministers is that they are all modeled as people, and have their own positive traits and shortcomings that you have to keep an eye on. And of course, they may ask you for favors or grant you missions, which the Presenji would be wise to complete, as ministers with high loyalty are more likely to stick around and give you bonuses… while low loyalty ministers may actively sabotage you. Nasty stuff.

The individual ministries of the ministers are also an important place to keep an eye on, as these are what build out the policies and characteristics of Basenji. You will task a minister to research certain policies, which sometimes unlock passive traits that toggle on, such as minimum wage giving people higher happiness but draining money from your treasury each month. Other times, these policies will unlock buildings, which is what is currently letting me build a secret base to house my [REDACTED BASENJI PROJECT, PRESENJI EYES ONLY].

So far, the game has some rough edges, and to be frank, I was somewhat apprehensive when I saw the subject material that it may be tone-deaf. However, I’m pleased to say that the writing for the game has been very good so far, and pretty tongue-in-cheek. Supplemented by some FMV scenes, you get a good sense of the witty character of the game, as well as tutorial missions showing off how to operate as Presenji. All-in-all, I’ve found myself pleasantly surprised by RSR, and there are some rough edges, particularly with the military aspects, but I have faith that RSR can grow into a regional superpower in this niche.

Vietnam’s Call of Duty- 7554: Glorious Memories Revived

With a prayer for accuracy from the artillery-gentlemen on the hill, Hoàng Đăng Bình and his allies in the Viet Minh 204th regiment charge forwards to liberate Đông Khê from French colonial forces. Over the next hour the dedicated band of heroes liberate prisoners, assault bunkers, hold off waves of attackers, and finally liberate a small town from occupation. It could have been a level in any Call of Duty or Medal of Honor game, and that is the most fascinating part of playing 7554.

I may be terrible at First Person Shooters, but diving into Vietnam’s only major historical videogame production is worth my repeated (probably avoidable) deaths. From the Battle of Hanoi in 1946 to the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ in 1954, 7554 provides the perfect fodder for exploring how non-western companies and governments navigate historical memory and the business of selling videogames.

If you’re interested in watching the playthrough that inspired this article, head over to our Youtube channel.

7554‘s availability makes it one of the few non-western, non-Japanese historical war-themed games available for consumption outside their own domestic markets. This gives 7554 a unique and interesting seat amongst the many domestically produced propagandistic games that have been appearing around the world for nearly 20 years. (My repeated attempts to track down playable versions of Chinese produced wargames for the home market are a testament to the difficulty in finding anything working).

A brief overview: 7554 takes place during the First Indochina War, or the Anti-French Resistance War, placing the player as a Việt Minh fighter attempting to oust the French Colonial forces from their homeland. The game does its very best to present the conflict in purely those terms, with the focus on the Việt Minh’s tactical and strategic decisions over any attempt to engage with the political component of the conflict. It makes sense, 7554 was developed with help from the government of Vietnam, and they were very clear about what could and couldn’t be represented, according to the developers.

For instance, there is no multiplayer in 7554. Chiefly this is due to the fact that there cannot be any instance of shooting Việt Minh soldiers by the player. This extends much farther to the fact that the French forces on display in 7554 don’t include any of the 10s of thousands of Vietnamese who fought against the Việt Minh. Instead the French Forces are comprised of white and black Frenchmen, clearly indicating the colonial nature of the player’s opposing forces.

Materially, the game does an excellent job of portraying the hodgepodge of weaponry that would have been available to both sides. Weapons of Japanese, French, American, German, and Soviet make are all scattered throughout the game. The missions themselves play out in well done environments and are generally playable, though feel trapped in a world made in 2003. This is no real fault of the developers. They were working with the tools they had at hand a managed to make an interesting game with it.

Scattered throughout 7554 are key moments, usually cutscenes, that show the main characters or their comrades performing over the top heroic deeds. This initially struck me as hammy. But the more I played the more I realized that this is exactly the same kind of thing players see every time they boot up Call of Duty or any of the other myriad of shooters from the decade of the 2000s starring American soldiers. The propaganda is definitely tailored to the audience, with over the top heroics in 7554 replaced with awesome shows of technical force in later Call of Dutys.

There is a lot to talk about with this game, and I might make a second piece once we reach the conclusion of the main campaign. For now, I’d highly recommend checking out our Let’s Play if you have any interest in how this game portrays the conflict.


Images from Hiker Games Website

The First World War and Horror in Videogames

“Then there staggered into our midst French soldiers, blinded, coughing, chests heaving, faces an ugly purple color, lips speechless with agony, and behind them in the gas soaked trenches, we learned that they had left hundreds of dead and dying comrades.”[1]

There is something especially terrifying about the First World War as a lived experience that ensures it crops up again and again as a horror setting. It’s easy to see why. The First World War, especially on the Western Front, has become the popular definition of madness, incompetence, and wanton violence of modern war. There’s good reason for this association, even though it was not the first nor the last war to have these terrible characteristics in spades as the previous decade’s wars can attest. The First World War effectively undid the notion of war as something glorious or worthwhile that had been growing in the time with European tension.

In gaming, we tend to see WWI handled in one of a few ways. The futility of the conflict is generally highlighted, even if the narrative might present the war as a pseudo-Second World War, like Battlefield 1. That persistent futility might be highlighted alongside the sorrow of a war that lacked the recognizable morality of the Second World War, like Valiant Hearts. Other games, more traditional wargames generally, focus on the logistics and politics of the war, because at least there player input can matter along the Western Front. But occasionally a game comes along that dives headfirst into the literal ‘horror’ of the Western Front. It’s easy to see why the Western Front presents such a cohesive background to a horror game, especially horror games that play at Lovecraftian feelings of human futility. Trench warfare, outside of some special circumstances, reduced the impact of personal initiative to virtually nothing. There was little an individual could do during an offensive to personally impact their own or their comrades’ chance for survival. Similarly, the everyday living conditions brought forth the worst combination of monotony and terror imaginable. Front trench living was endless discomfort, terrible food, the noise of shelling, the smell of decay and necessarily lapsed hygiene. Add to this industrialized warfare, new terrible weapons, and the inability of either side (for a good chunk of time anyways) to make any progress, and it becomes clear that the First World War is as close to a literal Hell on earth as any mass amount of humans had been subjected to in a long time.[2]

Exploring the Cathedral is a chilling, and depressing experience

First World War Horror

Now let’s talk about a couple specifics shall we? A game that clearly demonstrates the ‘First World War as madness’ motif is the excellent Eternal Darkness. A launch title for the Nintendo Gamecube in 2002, Eternal Darkness tells the centuries long story of a family’s attempt to stave off an invasion by Lovecraftian elder gods. As such, the story progresses across hundreds of years and contains one level set in a field hospital in a cathedral during the Battle of the Somme. The player character, a wounded soldier, must creep around the ancient church to figure out why his wounded comrades are disappearing from their beds. Long story short, it turns out the eldritch being living beneath the church used its immense power to scramble the brains of world leaders to ensure a war occurred over his home, thereby supplying him with the necessary violence and bodies to sate his undying hunger. Grim stuff, but it plays into the idea of pulling reason out of the madness of the First World War. It can’t have been for nothing, so it was ancient aliens. The story itself does a good job of highlighting the endless violence of the war and the pointlessness of its continuation through the constant shelling and overwhelming number of wounded and dead bodies you have to walk by. I always found the use of an external force to create the madness of modern warfare a telling sign of the popular revulsion people have felt in the face of the Western Front’s butchery. In Eternal Darkness, you are just one small pawn in a broad chess game. Very familiar.

Combat is brutal and loud in Conscript

A new game coming out in 2021, Conscript, places players in the trenches at Verdun in an homage to classic survival horror games like Resident Evil and Alone in the Dark. Here players traverse an increasingly dead section of trench solving puzzles and dealing with a slipping grasp on reality. It’s a dour little gaming experience (only a demo so far) but highlights again the descent into madness that is so easily placed alongside First World War stories. The monotony of trench life allows for a slower paced game in which the player character must collect keys, salvage weapons to defend themselves from barely human German soldiers, and creep past the physical horrors of rotting comrades, bloated horses, and deadly gas. Conscript highlights all the visual aspects of an extended period on the front lines and keeps players uneasy, as they should be.

A lost soul of the Thirty Years’ War

Other Wars and Horror

There are games that set themselves against the horrors of other wars, of course. Amnesia: The Dark Descent makes several references to ghost stories surrounding atrocities committed during the Thirty Year’s War, and the terrible Vietnam shooter Shellshock Nam ’67 throws every horrible Vietnam movie cliché it can at the wall. With most of these settings, and the First World War for that matter, the common thread seems to be the breakdown of the understood normalcy of war. The Thirty Years war brought unprecedented horror to the German countryside, and I don’t need to go into detail here about what the American Vietnam War did to the popular perception of war in the United States. In Amnesia, the souls of long dead traitor soldiers who were lost in the Prussian woods ended up as the disfigured creatures seen above. The long memory of war can easily play into horror stories because of the former’s connection to all that is negative in humankind. In Shellshock, the violence of boobytraps, civilian casualties, and the blurred lines between insurgent and innocent takes the player down along a fairly straight path of horror, culminating in the fight against a cult leader-like NVA commander. What this says about American perceptions of Vietnam, I’ll save for another article.

[1] Gerard J. Fitzgerald, “Chemical Warfare and Medical Response During World War I” Am J Public Health 98.4 (April 2008), 611-625.

[2] I don’t mean to undermine the absolutely hellish circumstances that surrounded most conflicts in the 19th century and earlier. WWI stands out in the scale of this horror that it visited upon societies that were generally not subjected to this sort of extended violence. This fact comes out in the overwhelming writing that flowed from the pens of veterans of all nations after the war’s conclusion. A fact that stimulated the creation of narrative war horror.

Way of Defector: Exploring North Korea’s Defectors through Gaming

By Joe Fonseca. Originally posted on ‘Overactive Academic’ in 2018

Though the humanitarian aid worker tried their best, bribing the public security officer and eventually securing my release, their efforts were for naught. Two days later, unable to shake off the intensified searches put on by the police, I collapsed somewhere on the road outside Changchun, starvation and exhaustion overtaking me.

So ended my first attempt to escape from North Korea. An experience that, despite the simple mechanics and presentation of Way of Defector, allowed me to really reflect upon the danger some North Koreans face for a slim chance at bettering their lot in life. It also made me think about the way this indie game, produced by the small South Korean studio Dev Arc, portrays North Korean Defector stories and the uses such a simple game can have in an academic setting.

Set up like a board game, Way of Defector allows players to choose, “various scenarios based on true stories to create your own defection story.”[1] The game progress in turns of four phases, wherein the player can make decisions for their character about how they spend the day. This can include resting to eat and regain health, working illegally to earn money, or inquiring after the whereabouts of brokers who can help secure you passage to the South. The success or failure of each of these attempts is resolved by throwing dice, which are modified by the player character’s skills, the amount of time dedicated to the task, and any potential helpful items, (heavy work pants, for example, make physical work easier). Throughout the game, during any action, random events may occur. These take the form of small narratives, the outcome of which the player can influence through their choices. As this game simulates the most common escape path through Northern China, the player character is also pursued by Chinese public service agents, who wander about the map in periods of calm, or else ruthlessly track defectors while executing a ‘crackdown’. Meeting one (or more) at a location requires every action to be done with extra care, represented by opposed dice rolls, to see whether the player character can outwit or outrun the authorities.

The mechanics of play are simple enough for those without gaming experience to quickly pick up the basics after tool tips and pop ups explain character stats and potential actions. This leaves the player able, in my own experience at least, to become more engrossed in the emerging narrative of the escapee. The way this story forms is based in part on the character you choose and on the actions you decide to take.

Several characters are available, each with their own starting location and a specific ability that affects the game. When players begin, only the first character, Kim Young-sung, is available, with more unlocked as the player makes progress. These characters are fictional, but based on developer conducted interviews, according to a developer’s answers on Steam’s discussion board, “It is based on real defectors. We did interviews with defectors cause we’re Korean. But this game don’t have specific storyline. You’ll make your story within various random events.”[2] This is perfectly reasonable given the potential danger and added restrictions of using an actual individual’s lived experience. This decision allows players to feel less confined by any individual’s real life choices and instead allows them to experience their own journey, however brief it may be. Yet it is worth considering the accuracy and authenticity of the experience offered.

Though the physical appearance of the game may not engross players the way a high profile and highly graphical game may, the simple construction and minimalistic mechanics allows players the ability to lose themselves in their imaginations. It is impossible, of course, to fully experience what a North Korean defector would through playing this game; I did not die from exhaustion after a two-day pursuit near Changchun, nor is my leg broken or my stomach empty. Yet as a way of developing empathy in players, Way of Defector succeeds.

I played cautiously, avoiding those who offered shelter or information, believing it could be a trap. I stayed in the countryside, avoiding patrols to the detriment of my health. And at the back of my mind through all this was the understanding that the greatest danger that could befall me was being sent home. After a forty-minute session, I had ended my first attempt in failure, but the game had succeeded in making me try to approach a situation from the perspective of a fugitive, and in so doing humanized the too-often maligned people of North Korea, who are, by and large, mere victims of the unforgiving wiles of history and modern power politics.

As a learning tool, Way of Defector’s position as a mixture of biographical account and narrative fiction allows it to serve as a launchpad for discussing the dangers facing North Korean defectors and the issues surrounding North Korean Defector texts, depending on the class level.

Debates about the accuracy of defector texts and their use as political tools in South Korea bear mentioning. In one of the most high-profile cases, Shin Dong-Hyuk’s admission of mistakes in his immensely popular narrative Escape from Camp 14 cast doubt upon the veracity of these survivor stories as a whole. Not only did foreign observers question the truth of his story, the mistakes was quickly pounced upon by North Korea in an attempt to discredit defector stories wholesale.[3]  Around the same time, the harrowing story of Yeonmi Park was damaged by the conflicting interviews she gave. Mary Ann Jolley, writing for The Diplomat, laid out these inconsistencies, but included Park’s own response, that the language barrier and mistaken childhood memories contributed to errors.[4]

While these revisions engendered suspicion, North Korea’s possession of family members, fears of reprisal, shame and psychological blocks, are all factors in hindering the veracity of these narratives. Added to this, the history of defector narratives, including immediate post-war defectors being utilized by South Korea as propaganda tools, and the skepticism that can come from the modern celebrity lifestyle of some defectors makes dismissal easy.[5] Yet accepting and using cross-referenced defector narratives remains one of the best ways to obtain information from North Korea, as maintained by North Korean Specialist Bradley K. Martin.[6] Finally, the argument remains that inconsistencies matter less than the creation of the narrative itself. John Cussen of Edinboro University argues that these works form the core of a new genre of North Korean literature, that they are necessary counterpoints to North Korean centric fiction, and that, “the experts are wrong to disdain the memoirs… because the border between fiction and nonfiction is not the imporous, thread-narrow, determinate line that they imagine.”[7] Way of Defector plays into potential discussions of all of these topics, and makes a case of the utility of games as a not just a story telling tool, but as a way of engaging with historical and current events.

In a high school history or social studies classroom, Way of Defector can serve alongside lecture as an excellent introduction to the struggles of the North Korean people, as it possesses such a low skill barrier and cheap cost. Students can attempt to complete a single run through, documenting their troubles and successes, and reflect upon the hardships faced or the specific struggles that were heretofore unknown, like the role of churches or the dread of being told you will not be paid for your labour because your secret origin was discovered. For better or worse, the game does not hit upon the more vicious dangers North Koreans may experience in China, including sexual slavery and human trafficking, though the end game loss conditions are accompanied by paintings of a firing squad or your collapsed body.

In first or second year university courses, I can envision this game being used along with others to discuss the impact and value of propaganda in interactive media, examinations of North Korea in media, especially if the instructor decides to contrast North Korean representations in the West and South Korea, or to discuss the arguments that surround the validity of North Korean defector stories. In any case, the length of the average game (30-60 minutes) and the easy of entry, both financially and in relation to game skill knowledge, makes this an interesting candidate for classrooms as well as personal exploration.

What do you think about these kinds of touchy subjects in video games? How about their use in the classroom? Please let me know what you think about this kind of article, if you’d like to see more, if I’m completely off base, of if there are other historical video games that you think I should take a look at. All the best,



[1] “Way of Defector on Steam.” (Retrieved December 15 2017).

[2] Beautifullcastle[developer]. “Game length?” Way of Defector General Discussion. (Retrieved December 15 2017).

[3] Shoichet, Catherine and Madison Park. “North Korea slams defector over inaccuracies in story.” CNN World. January 20, 2015. (Retrieved December 15 2017).

[4] Jolley, Mary Ann. “The Strange Tale of Yeonmi Park: A high-profile North Korean defector has harrowing stories to tell. But are they true?” The Diplomat. December 10, 2014. (Retrieved December 15 2017).

[5] Martin, Bradley K. “The problem with North Korea’s celebrity defectors.” Global Post. January 22, 2015. (Retrieved December 15 2017).

[6] Martin, “The problem with North Korea’s celebrity defectors.”

[7] Cussin, John. “On the Call to Dismiss North Korean Defector’s Memoirs and on Their Dark American Alternative.” Korean Studies. 40. (January 1, 2016), 148.