Brukel – my game of the year24th November 2019
I get through many games, and this year, there have been plenty I enjoyed the hell out of. But Brukel… Brukel is hand-down my game of the year. This game is important. Brukel is a walking simulator that then becomes a psychological horror experience, all based on the real experiences of the developer’s grandmother’s life during World War II. If you’re not a horror person, don’t leave yet! First, I have a post on easing yourself into horror, which you should try – because I really don’t want it being a horror experience to prevent people from playing. Second, I’ll stick a spoiler thingy at the bottom of the post (just in case it doesn’t work) explaining exactly what you can expect. I will say, the horror in this game is less about jump scares and ghosts and all that good stuff, but instead, the fear stems from the fact that it represents someone’s actual experience.
If you’re interested in World War II, if you feel strongly about preserving experiences that are being erased, if you’re passionate about education, or if you just like a good horror game, keep reading!
You play as the developer, Bob De Schutter, exploring the house his grandmother, Bie, lived in during World War II. You have your phone and a list. You walk around the house at your own leisure, finding everything on the list and taking photos – when you photograph something from the list, you get a recording of Bie talking about it, giving you insight into her everyday life at that time. There are also some ‘hidden’ items – they’re not on the list, but still give you Bie’s interviews. There are also some items that give you some commentary by Bob himself.
Now, pro tip for anyone not well versed in the horror genre: you always check the controls before starting – it gives you a clue. If there’s a key to press to run, it’s either there because there’s a lot of walking and the dev doesn’t want you to get bored, or it can also mean being chased or fast actions. Crouching generally means you might have to hide. If there’s a dedicated key to looking behind you, yeah, you’re going to get at least one chase sequence. Going into Brukel, you notice there’s run and crouch. Uh-oh. But then you go in, and you can’t run – so you know you’re safe for the moment.
Once you finish the first chapter of your leisurely exploration, the nightmare begins. This is the majority of the game – trying to survive Bie’s experiences during World War II. Of course, I don’t want to give away what happens – I think it would really diminish the experience. I will say that it’s a psychological horror experience, rather than straight-up horror. And personally, the scares are more about the reality of Bie’s life, rather than jump scares and apparitions.
So why is it my game of the year? Because it’s important. First-hand accounts of World War II are disappearing. Of course, there are many interviews, written accounts, documentaries, and even plenty of games exploring World War II. However, Brukel is an opportunity to get as close as possible to the experience. And more uniquely, it is the experience of a regular person – someone just trying to live their life, and things suddenly exploding around them.
We will never truly feel what it was like, but this is as close as we can get. I will never know how my grandad felt when, as a child, he was out after curfew in Warsaw and bumped into a Nazi officer. But in Brukel, when I turn around and suddenly there’s a Nazi soldier right there in front of me, for a split second, I get a fraction of that experience, before my brain registers that it’s just a game. (Not to leave that on a cliffhanger – the officer tied my grandad’s shoelaces and told him to hurry home.)
My grandad didn’t talk about his experiences – and discussing Brukel with my mum, and talking about our family history, I discovered that my mum had never heard the shoelace story. It seems I only got to hear it because he was giving my teeny tiny self a lesson in not oversimplifying things. Likewise, my mum knew about the moment when the Nazis came to arrest my great-grandad, and my grandad threw himself at one of the soldiers, clutching at his legs begging him not to take his dad away – and they left without my great-grandad. I had no idea until my mum told me during our Brukel conversation. The only other thing I know was that my grandad developed juvenile arthritis, hiding in damp basements during the Warsaw Uprising. That’s it. That’s all I know about his experiences of World War II.
Not only does Brukel have moments where I could imagine what my grandad experienced – obviously, not the exact same circumstances, but similar enough that I could feel for him and his experiences. But as I know so little of my grandad’s experiences, all the other moments in the game give me insight into the different experiences he may have had.
The developer wants to get Brukel into classrooms, and I think that’s a goal we should all get behind. Brukel has so much potential to spread real understanding that other media just can’t accomplish. I urge everyone to head over to Steam and grab it, and tell everyone you know about it – everyone needs to know about it.