You are who you choose to be.
Tiananmen is an enjoyable, asymmetric abstract game using a Goban and Go stones. Rules are easy to learn and the game moves at a quicker pace than one may expect. However, this review is not going to focus on the game itself, but on the Political Commentary it is trying to make.
When I was in 7th grade, my History teacher had us play a game similar to Diplomacy. The starting positions were incredibly unbalanced that encouraged smaller counties to make alliances of peace while the larger countries had free reign to do whatever they wanted. At the end of the week, I remember one particular country had run the board and had captured quite a bit of the globe. They were jumping up and down screaming “We won!” when my teacher frankly told them “No, you lost.” She had not given win conditions only what we could do (peace treaties, go to war, etc). We assumed…
She pointed out the death and destruction the aggressive states had accomplished. It was sobering and has stuck with me all these years.
I was hoping Tiananmen would offer the same quiet reflection on the deaths of those student protesters in 1989. I remember watching the tanks on U.S. Television, so the game had an inherited weight with me. However, my 11 year old son had no such connection to the material. No feeling of loss. No feeling of injustice.
We talked about 1989 a little after our plays. We talked about government responsibility, and the temptations of those in power to use force instead of discussion.
So thank you for giving us that opportunity to discuss this.
But unfortunately, I think that Tiananmen does not carry the subject matter with the proper weight. When the students win or the government wins, the winner just out played the loser. End of story.
Tiananmen needs a “No, you lost” moment, a feeling of picking up the bodies of sons and daughters who were slaughtered by their very own leaders.
Can games make political/social commentary? Yes! Freedom: The Underground Railroad is but one example of great play with strong lessons. So it can be done. Tiananmen just needs that lesson baked into the game instead of the memories of the players.
I had a roommate in college who had fled China not long after the Tiananmen incident. He never said if he was there or not, but he definitely knew some people who were there and were killed, imprisoned, or in hiding, because they were no longer in contact with their friends and family.
And after a paragraph like that you write another that draws a neat package or provides an insight, but for me a lot of what passes for "insight" isn't. My insight: same as yours. That government just had a bunch of peaceful protesters killed, then branded them criminals and terrorists and went on with business as usual and nothing approximating justice will ever get done.