War is a horrible and terrible thing to happen to any country. The event itself kills, maims, and destroys cities, where the loss and devastation are immeasurable. But what many sometimes don’t realise involve the horrors that happen after a war is finished; PTSD in soldiers and civilians involved in the conflict; landmines continuing to maim over thirty years later. Or in the case of My Child Lebensborn, an innocent child who is the patsy for everyone to outpour their despair and hate at the atrocities that happened to them from an evil fascist empire. This is a game that puts you in the role of the carer, making some tricky decisions, and reflects a time where it was so difficult after World War II.
You play a Norwegian who decides to adopt a child after the Second World War. The child in question can be a boy or a girl (Klaus or Karin) and is around eight years of age. The Lebensborn program was set up by the Nazi Party to give the children of SS or high-ranking officers special VIP treatment. These kids were raised to be the master race and then when the war ended, were adopted. In this case by you.
My Child Lebensborn is like a more realistic Tamagotchi whereby you are left to raise a small child, making sure it’s fed, clean, and entertained. Yet at the same time you’ll need to manage resources like work, money, and the child’s mental well-being. The game narrative reflects how the child goes to school and the other pupils and teachers find out about their lineage; there is a lot of bullying to be had. The child often comes home in a melancholic mood or has been bullied and it’s up to you to try to make it better, or to prepare them for the hardship of what life has to offer.
The storytelling part of the game is very clever, giving you insight into the history bit by bit. It explores the themes of bullying, adoption and the aftermath of a great war, yet it is all done in an intelligent and considerate way that is affecting. It’s a very unique perspective on a game and it works extremely well indeed.
My Child Lebensborn has mobile and tablet roots and the transition to console is competent, yet at times it can frustrate as all you will want to do is sit and tap at a touchscreen in order to select various options. However, even on Xbox the game is simple to use – your child stands or sits opposite you on the screen in your Norway home, and the cycle of daily life plays out until after a month or so you complete a chapter in their lives. You have the option of going to the kitchen where you can prepare the food you buy from the shop and feed your child at the table. You can also sit in the kitchen, sewing and mending clothes if you have a spare moment, or crafting new items like a scarf or a fishing rod.
The hallway is where you talk to your child before they go out to school, or greet them when they come back. You can also play catch here with the child. Further to that are elements which see you play hide and seek, do some drawing or homework, or go outside to the woods to collect mushrooms and head to the lake to go fishing. The last room in the house is the child’s bedroom where you put them to sleep, reading a story to help them settle. The moment you switch their light out the day ends. But then there is also a study where you can read your journal or look through the family album, read newspapers with current events, take in your mail, and write back. It’s a busy life and tricky to balance everything. Yet that is the point of My Child Lebensborn.
The game looks good, what with it employing a hand-drawn animation style. The child’s animations are fantastic with some expressions that will break your heart at times, whilst other moments will fill you with joy. The world around you is simple but effective, and whilst there is no type of voice-over to be had, the audio and sound effects are fine yet simplistic. A bare-bones score and some discordant chords play when things aren’t going well with your child.
The story and narrative that My Child Lebensborn tells is a sad, astonishing one, but it is one that needs to be told. The way children are affected after the war is something I never thought about, but this has certainly opened my eyes. The gameplay is good and I like how hard it is to balance the child’s well-being mentally, with the more basic needs. It certainly reminds me somewhat of “Papers, Please” but is ultimately unlike anything else. Yes, the controls and interface are awkward but if you can get a grip on those, then you should definitely have a go at raising My Child Lebensborn.
You’ll find My Child Lebensborn available from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S