A follow-up to the BAFTA award-winning My Child Lebensborn is in the works.
My Child Lebensborn was a heart-wrenching game about caring for children born of war. Specifically, children born during World War 2 to Nordic women and German soldiers, and registered in the Nazi Lebensborn programme. It would lead to lives of persecution, abuse and bullying.
The game was released on mobiles in 2018, and won the Game Beyond Entertainment BAFTA in 2019. My Child Lebensborn was released more recently on Steam, and Xbox and PlaySation consoles, in June this year.
Creative producer Elin Festøy confirmed the follow-up game during a GDC panel yesterday on how games shape and reflect our worldview. "We've started on a follow-up to My Child Lebensborn," she said at the end of an illuminating interview. I followed this up with her afterwards to get more information.
"You are correct that we are starting work on a follow-up," Festøy told me in an email. "We are continuously being bombarded with questions from players who want to continue to care for the child in the game, so this has been requested since we launched My Child Lebensborn. And we find this immensely touching, that the players are getting such strong feelings for Karin and Klaus."
Karin and Klaus were the names of the boy or girl you could choose to care for, in a kind of Tamagotchi style of play.
"But I have been hesitant," Festøy added.
"In the game, we are presenting what we consider to be a representative story covering the fates of the Lebensborn children as a group (and this is one of the reasons that the story gets so dark - their stories are that bad and even worse.) It was also important to us to not create gameplay where you could 'win' if you were a 'good parent'. That would indirectly be to say that the Lebensborn children suffered because their parents did a bad job.
"Also," she added, "continuing the stories of Karin and Klaus would mean their two individual lives would become more individual fates, and no longer representative for the Lebensborn as a group. It's very important to me to distinguish between these two things: the representative story in the first game, and following two individual children further in life."
But the team has come up with a solution.
"We will create a follow-up game where the players can continue to care for their child, but where we also create a clear distinction between the sad historical story," Festøy said. "We will do this by doing a jump in time and explaining why we are doing this. The child will be a bit older, it will be later in the 20th century, and your challenge as a parent will be to help the child cope with the traumas it has experienced. As with the first game, caring for the child and helping the child will be at the core of the game. But it will not contain a historical backdrop, just the basis that the child has had a traumatic past."
Whereas the first game surrounded the topic of 'children born of war' and the persecution they face, the second game will focus on "the path towards healing", Festøy said, and how to help a traumatised child. The team will work with specialists again to make sure scenarios are representative of children who struggle.
The working title for the game is My Child New Beginnings, but is subject to change.
Sarepta Studio will once again partner on the game with Festøy's Teknopilot company, though there will be a slight tilt in the balance of responsibility as Festøy is doing a research fellowship at The Norwegian Film School on emotional interactive storytelling, meaning she has her hands full. Sarepta, then, will take lead.
Sarepta is currently also making a game called Project Thalassa, a psychological drama about deep sea divers in 1905 exploring a mysterious shipwreck. It's in development for PC and consoles and a release date is TBA.
Festøy's film background was where My Child Lebensborn originated. She had been making a documentary film called Wars Don't End, about the same topic, but was struggling to make it relevant to new audiences.
"All you can see are old people talking about the war," Festøy explained during the GDC panel. "We've seen that film so many times we're hardly listening." Yes, their recounted experiences of being called "a whore like your mother", or told "you shouldn't have been born", or "you're symbols of the enemy" were powerful, but they were from so long ago they were hard to relate to. "This is a story about bullying, and you really need to be there so you understand the situation from the child's perspective," Festøy said.
From this thought, My Child Lebensborn came, and the idea of your seeing the abuse second-hand through the child you would adopt and care for. A child who would turn to you one night while in the bath and ask, morosely, "What is a Nazi kid?" Lebensborn was an understated game which slowly built a harrowing picture of abuse.
And it was a success, and not only critically. To date, it's apparently sold more than 1.5 million copies worldwide, Festøy told me. "It's really heartwarming to see how this story from a small country like Norway, set in the 1950s, can travel so well and be relevant to players all over the world," she said. "Shows our common humanity, I think, and how bullying and caring for children is a universal topic regardless of cultural background and setting."
There is no release date for the new game, My Child New Beginnings (working title), yet.