My grandmother was 21 years old when the Second World War ended. Even though she was not herself a child born of war, she remembers the stigma and negative attitude that existed around children with a German father and Norwegian mother; the war didn’t necessarily end for some of these poor children. I remember her telling me stories that for her family, it was the drastic change in society that made the biggest impact.
Before I continue, let me explain the word “Lebensborn”. During World War 2, children of German soldiers and Nordic women were registered to the Nazi’s “Lebensborn” program and were just one of many examples of the Nazi’s twisted look on race and genes. When the war ended, the Lebensborn children became especially vulnerable to injustice and abuse, both through adoptions and placement in children’s homes and by the treatment from general society.
Made by the Norwegian game developers Sarepta Studio (also the creators of Shadow Puppeteer), My Child Lebensborn tells the difficult story about children born of war, and the hardship of surviving the aftermath of the Second World War in Norway. You adopt either Karin or Klaus, young children abandoned by their parents. As the sole caregiver for the child, the player has to help them survive in a post-war society filled with hate.
My Child Lebensborn is a story-driven nurture game, where each day is split up into four parts, morning, midday, afternoon, and night. During each part of the day, you have two or three “energy bars” – each action you take depletes one of these bars. I have to feed Karin, give her baths and take care of her; reminding me very much of Tamagotchi in terms of gameplay. This also involves buying and making the food, fixing her clothes, and reading bedtime stories.
Karin goes from being a happy child, feeling hopeful and eager to meet the future – to becoming a child that questions her own existence, the spark of life taken from her. And it is my job, as her protector, to restore it. Weighing your choices carefully is important because they shape and form the child as a person – will you fix Karin’s clothes because they were ripped up by the mean children at her school, or read her a bedtime story to calm her down after other the kids were picking on her? Work overtime to earn more money for food or go home to a child that is lonely and scared?
Prioritising is painful in this game, and I constantly wish that I had more time. The dialogue is as sweet and joyful as it is brutal and honest, and it’s up to the player to balance resources and the child’s emotional needs, where each choice you make will have an impact on the child’s personality and view on life.
Parenting a child born of war is far from easy; as the child becomes older, Karin eventually starts to question her own history, wanting to know more about her parents, and why the other children at their school are being so mean to her. This is where the interesting parts of the game come in; the events that happen in My Child Lebensborn are based on real events, which makes them all the more powerful. While it baffles me that people have the ability to be so cruel to a child – or to anyone for that matter – it hurts me even more that I feel helpless to do anything about it.
Because of the game’s design, the only downside would be the inevitable pattern of repetitiveness. Except for some days that carry special events, most days are exactly the same gameplay-wise. Because of that mechanism, I felt like the story went a little bit too slow. When I wanted to know more about the story, I still had to finish every chore before I could move on to the next day, which was frustrating when the storyline peaked. But I guess it’s like that by design; we’re supposed to be on edge, eager to see how the road is being paved for this child.
You don’t have to be a Norwegian to play this game, nor have much knowledge of the country’s history. Even though this is a story being told from a small corner of the world, they are not exclusive to Norway – children from all over the world suffered the same fate, regardless of the conflict, where they are, or what their cultures are.
My Child Lebensborn is an important game. Solely focused on storytelling, the game is made to create an impact – and a powerful one at that. The fates of children born of war is a largely unknown part of war history, and it is about time that we learn more about it.