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Subject: Train- A Historical Game With No Sense of Historical Truth rss

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William Boykin
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Train is a game which creates strong emotional responses. The strength of the game is that it gets a reaction from everyone who encounters it. The weakness of the game is that it, and the reaction it creates, bears almost NO resemblance to the Holocaust at all. Ms. Brathwaite, the creator of Train has received a lot of notoreity, and even some publicity in the Blog of the Wall Street Journal and an award (The Vangaurd Award, given out by IndieCade at the Ottawa International Animation Festival). So clearly, she's created something that has gotten a lot of buzz and interest, for her project which claims to use game 'Mechanics' in order to translate an 'Experience'- "The Mechanic is the Message".

Problem is- Train has nothing to do with the Holocaust.

For those of you reading this thread who don't know how Train works, here's a quick overview.

Quote:
Players load boxcars with tiny yellow figurines and are asked to move the trains from one end of the course to the other. They pull cards that either impede their progress or free some of the characters. Once a train reaches the “finish line,” the game is completed and it is revealed that the destination of the trains is Auschwitz. Nobody “wins.”


http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2009/06/24/can-you-make-a-boa...

Quote:
Brathwaite explained that every detail behind Train had symbolic meaning, from the number of cards to the actions. She demonstrated to us how the pawns were purposely too large for the boxcar openings so that the player would have to really jam them in there. As more and more pawns were placed in the boxcar, they were no longer standing but crammed in every which way. Then, at the end of the game, the players needed to shake the boxcars to get the pawns out....


http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/SandeChen/20090714/2142/Refle...

Ms. Brathwaite makes a big argument for Train, implying that her work, the 'mechanics' of the activity, recreate an EXPERIENCE that she feels is more representative of the Final Solution than other mediums.

Quote:
Ultimately, I think the power of a game lies in its ability to bring us close to the subject. There is no other medium that has this power.... I’ve talked quite a bit with Jewish educators about Train and how it can be used in education, and I am excited about the possibilities there.
.

http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2009/06/24/can-you-make-a-boa...

Except, however, there is nothing that demonstrates that Ms. Brathwaite has even a basic understanding of the Final Solution.

First of all, lets look at the credits for Train on her blog, "The Mechanic is the Message".

Quote:
Train, 2009

Game Designer: Brenda Brathwaite
Release Date: April 29, 2009

Design Confidante and Sounding Board: Ian Schreiber
Testing: Christopher Schmidt, Michelle Menard, Laura Beukema, Ian Schreiber, Darren Malley, Tyler Hawley
Thanks to: Ian Schreiber (Video Game Designer), John Sharp, Ian Bogost (Videogame 'theorist'), John Romero (Creator of Video Game 'Doom'), David Dirlam, Rabbi Belzer, Steve Meretzky (Video Game Designer), David Fox (Multimedia Producer), Dan Cook, Jason Rohrer (Computer Programer)


http://mechanicmessage.wordpress.com/credits/

NONE of these people are scholars of the Final Solution, the Third Reich, or the Shoah in general. Of these, only ONE person, Rabbi Arnold Mark Belzer, has anything close to a professional background on the subject, and yet his specific field is upon the experience of Jews in China.

http://mickveisrael.org/rabbi.htm

But thats just nitpicking. After all, I don't have a PhD in this field, neither does Ms. Brathwaite. So let me go into a more specific critique of why Train has nothing to do with the Holocaust.

First of all-
Take the actual method of play. Players have to fit yellow pawns, that don't fit well, into model trains to be disposed of. It isn't until half way through the game that the destination is revealed by card play, and the true 'horror' of what the player is involved in becomes clear.

Except-
Thats not anything close to the experience of Perpetrators in the Final Solution.

It is very rare, in all of the literature of the Final Solution and the Third Reich, to find an example where a particular individual was 'forced', or otherwise 'conned' into participating in acts of Genocide. The Einsatzgruppen, the killing units which followed behind the Wehrmacht during the invasion of the Soviet Union, were picked volunteers from the SS, who were indoctrinated and given training ahead of time prior to thier deployment into the Eastern Front.

Extermination camp Commandants, such as Rudolf Hoess (Auschwitz) or Franz Stangl (Treblinka) were also volunteers. They were chosen either because of their experience in either 'political' concentration camp work, such Hoess' work at Dachau, or due to their technical experience in the Euthanasia Program known as the T-4 project, which used gas to kill off the mentally ill and elderly within Germany itself in 1940-1941. Even the lowly concentration camp guards were volunteers- selecting the relatively 'easy' work in the Extermination system rather than serving on the Front.

Even more to the point-
When units such as Police Battallion 101 were given orders to conduct ghetto clearing operations, such as the massacre at Jozefow in 1943, individual members of the unit were allowed to 'step out of line' before participating in the killing. If they weren't up for it, it was ok to 'bow out'.

In fact, at a speech in Pozen in 1943, SS Oberfuhrer Heinrich Himmler stated that absolute obedience to superiors was the key virtue of an SS man- except in ONE circumstance- when that person wasn't able to do 'what needed to be done' in the racial actions of the East. Then, that man could resign, and take his pension.

The point is this-
Train relys upon a 'rope-a-dope' to get people to participate. By not telling them the stakes within the game of their activity, Ms. Brathwaite lures players into 'playing' the roles of perpetrators of genocide. But- for this to really be 'representative' of what happened, the players should be told UP FRONT what it is that they are going to be doing. A better example of this is the infamous 'Zimbardo' experiments, where students where asked by Professorial Authority to use electric shock upon fellow students (who faked their pain and suffering).

The Zimbardo experiment, crude as it is, at least gets to the HEART of the true horror of the Final Solution- which is this.

That the Nazi Regime was able to convince some human beings that other human beings were mere things. And they were able to provide incentives, rationalizations, and out right bribes to get these people to condone, support, or just ignore acts that they knew where inherently 'evil'.

This is merely ONE way in which I feel that Ms. Brathwaite's Train completely misses the point- I could go on.

Train, by NOT establishing the moral stakes of what is occuring up front, comes nowhere close to Ms. Brathwaite's goal of recreating through 'mechanics' the 'experience' of the Final Solution.

Train is not about the Final Solution, in any way, shape or form. What it is about is to fire a salvo into the discussion of "Are there any topics that should be 'sacrosanct'?"

I'm not going to get into the question of the aesthetics of Train and the other games in her 'Mechanic is the Message' series. Clearly, they are moving, in their own way, 'beautiful' works of art.

Nor, do I feel that Ms. Braithwaite has to conform to my, or any other historian of the Third Reich or the Final Solution, when she wants to make a product.

Rather, I am challenging the very SPECIFIC claim that she, and others, have made- that any of the games presented in this thread have anything to do about the Holocaust. Further, I would argue that the motivations behind Train and the rest of her 'Mechanic isthe Message' series of games have less to do with understanding the Holocaust- and sharing that understanding- than they do with making a particular politico-philosophical stance.

What is that stance? That artistic sensibility alone is all that matters in video games, and that there is no reason to have any sense of a greater obligation to- well, anything; Historical 'Truth', Societal 'morality', nothing. The fact that this was created, and pushed onto people with the intent of saying "This is the Experience of the Holocaust"- when it ISNT- to me demonstrates that what was important was the emotional REACTION created by playing Train.

In essence- Ms. Brathwaite wants to push peoples buttons with Train.

So why am I so upset? Why go out of my way to post a review of a 'game' that hardly anyone is likely to play, much less purchase?

The reason is this-
I am deeply oppossed to the politicalization of tragedy. Ms. Brathwaite doesn't care about the Holocaust- if she did, she would have gotten someone in the field to look over Train. Rather, she wants to USE the imagery and emotions yielded by the Holocaust for her own ends- to demonstrate the 'artistic', 'philosophical', and 'educational' benefits of 'games'- especially, video games. She's using Train as a rhetorical weapon to fight the culture war that is being waged over violent, 'dark' video games. In essence, the Holocaust is being used to show why games like Grand Theft Auto III are 'art'. If Train is acceptable as a 'interactive experience' (Ms. Brathwaite is careful to not call Train a game), and if it has any form of 'moral center', then it becomes harder to say that ANY game is 'beyond the pale'.

Frankly, I don't give a crap about THAT argument. What I know is this-

The great tragedy of the Final Solution was that people were turned into things- things to be processed, quaruntined, exterminated. And the Nazi leadership's greatest weapon in DOING that was language.

By redefining what it meant to be human, it was possible to redefine what 'murder' or 'genocide' meant.

I cannot stand by and watch, without some protest, as the Holocaust ITSELF is redefined- redefined for a particular political point of view.

Moreover, I am very disturbed that Train was created for the express purpose of furthering an argument about the aesthetics of video games!!!!

Essentially, in my own very personal opinion, I feel that the designer of Train USED the imagery of the Holocaust to specifically to create a game that was 'shocking'- not to promote understanding, but to tweak people's buttons, get a degree of notoreity, promote her career as an 'edgy' game designer, and to argue that there are NO topics that can't be turned into an 'interactive activity'- implying, then, that Congress and other political groups that want to crack down on the video game industry should back off.

IF the game had some connection to the historical 'reality' of the Holocaust, I would feel better. There would be a benefit there- the promotion of understanding of a difficult and dark historical event- that would justify using the event for a political or economic goal. Thus, I wouldn't have a problem if someone made an 'interactive experience' for use at the Holocaust Memorial, or at Yad Vashem- the purpose would not be personal aggrandizement or political gain, but understanding.

The irony is that I actually do share Ms. Brathwaite's sense of aesthetics- games ARE better when they create a strong sense of 'being in the game' and can provoke a strong response. I remember when I played the old Infocom game "Planetfall" and teared up when my robot pal Floyd died.

The thing is- if you decide to go for the jugular, and try and illicit a strong emotional response in a work of art about an historical event, the artist has the responsibility to ensure that that work bears SOME resemblance to the past. There is a moral debt that must be made to the ghosts of the past, and that debt is to remember.

Not create new memories, for the sake of commercial or professional gain. But to bear witness, for its own sake.

The shadows of Auschwitz demand nothing less.

Darilian



Edited to change terrible title




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Quote:
Essentially, in my own very personal opinion, I feel that the designer of Train USED the imagery of the Holocaust to specifically to create a game that was 'shocking'- not to promote understanding, but to tweak people's buttons, get a degree of notoreity, promote her career as an 'edgy' game designer, and to argue that there are NO topics that can't be turned into an 'interactive activity'- implying, then, that Congress and other political groups that want to crack down on the video game industry should back off.


As someone who has met Brenda and observed a play session of Train personally, I can assure you that you are 100% wrong.

Also note: the people who play Train are all volunteers as well.

What Brenda is doing is exploring how games can be about something in new and unique ways. She is pushing the medium's expressive potential, which is more than 99.9% of designers can say for themselves.

There is a difference between reporting historical truth, and creating an experience designed to mirror or mimic another experience. In this sense a game can very much be about something like the holocaust. If you have trouble understanding how this might work, I suggest it is because very very few games - board games and video games alike - aspire to such a mode of expression, and even fewer succeed. The goal is not reporting, the goal is conveying an experience.

Games aren't newspapers.

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Jasonbartfast wrote:


As someone who has met Brenda and observed a play session of Train personally, I can assure you that you are 100% wrong.

What Brenda is doing is exploring how games can be about something in new and unique ways. She is pushing the medium's expressive potential, which is more than 99.9% of designers can say for themselves.

There is a difference between reporting historical truth, and creating an experience designed to mirror or mimic another experience. In this sense a game can very much be about something like the holocaust. If you have trouble understanding how this might work, I suggest it is because very very few games - board games and video games alike - aspire to such a mode of expression, and even fewer succeed. The goal is not reporting, the goal is conveying an experience.

Games aren't newspapers.


Dear Jasonbartfast,

I am worried your response is devoid of meaning. Let's review:

Quote:
What Brenda is doing is exploring how games can be about something in new and unique ways.


Whooo Hoooo! Yes, I gleefully await the INFOMMERCIAL!!!

Quote:
She is pushing the medium's expressive potential, which is more than 99.9% of designers can say for themselves.


Yes, yes, tell me more!

Wait, can you possibly account for your statistic? Note game-designer reader: you are NOT "pushing the medium's expressive potential" GET ON THAT!

Quote:
There is a difference between reporting historical truth, and creating an experience designed to mirror or mimic another experience.


This is a false dichotomy. I have yet to find a post on this site that demonstrates the belief that a boardgame should be a equatable with history / reporting.

Quote:
In this sense a game can very much be about something like the holocaust.


Wait -- so the experience of playing this boardgame is to mirror / mimc the holocaust? Really? Let's see...my hunch is the vast majority of players need to begin their 400 calorie diet!

Thanks for the tip!

Quote:
If you have trouble understanding how this might work, I suggest it is because very very few games - board games and video games alike - aspire to such a mode of expression, and even fewer succeed.


I have trouble finding the meaning in your reply, but I am trying.

Now, PLEASE describe FULLY how the author's mode of expression succeeds in making its players feel as though they are partaking in the holocaust in a way different than say, Eisenhower's trip to the camps or any GI or other Allied soldier's experience....

I guess it's okay. The train games sell well.

Please reply to the OP with a meaningful response next time. Your statements were interesting and strident, but needed a modicum of support.

Edits: quotation problems.
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Jasonbartfast wrote:
There is a difference between reporting historical truth, and creating an experience designed to mirror or mimic another experience. In this sense a game can very much be about something like the holocaust.


I think a part of Dar's point is that a major flaw in Train is that it asks participants to engage in sharing a part the perpetrators' experience of the Holocaust that vanishingly few perpetrators actually experienced: that they had no idea what they were a part of until it was too late.

In Train, as I understand it, players don't know they're sending tokens representing Jews to a death camp until later in the game. Dar's is saying that his historical research shows that the perpetrators did know what they were being asked to participate in and even had the opportunity to opt out of it.

That's a difference that is significant enough to say that the experiences really are not at all comparable.
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ross826 wrote:


Whooo Hoooo! Yes, I gleefully await the INFOMMERCIAL!!!

Thanks for letting me know up front that you aren't going to seriously consider what I write.


Quote:
Wait, can you possibly account for your statistic? Note game-designer reader: you are NOT "pushing the medium's expressive potential" GET ON THAT!


I can think of less than 10 games in existence designed this way. Please let me know if you know of / can find any.

However, I will correct myself and note that this was not meant to be a value judgement. I'm perfectly fine with games designed to be fun / interesting (I own quite a few myself). In this case, however, common sense trumps statistical data. Do you, as a sighted person, need a scientist to tell you the sky is blue?

Quote:
This is a false dichotomy. I have yet to find a post on this site that demonstrates the belief that a boardgame should be a equatable with history / reporting.


Actually, it's not. Does watching a Ken Burns doc make you feel like you're actually experiencing a war? You misinterpret my point: that reporting is a goal, so is creating a feeling. Feelings are subjective, reporting, ideally, is not.

Quote:
Wait -- so the experience of playing this boardgame is to mirror / mimc the holocaust? Really? Let's see...my hunch is the vast majority of players need to begin their 400 calorie diet!


Point taken - "the holocaust" is too broad a term in this sense. Of course, Dar did not take this into account, neither did I, neither did you.

Quote:
I have trouble finding the meaning in your reply, but I am trying.


The equivalent of saying "la la la I can't hear you" over the internet.

Quote:
Now, PLEASE describe FULLY how the author's mode of expression succeeds in making its players feel as though they are partaking in the holocaust in a way different than say, Eisenhower's trip to the camps or any GI or other Allied soldier's experience....


What? How can a player experience something through Eisenhower's trip? Games give you a unique experience that film, books, documentaries, etc cannot.

But since you asked, here is the executive executive summary of my MIT Master's thesis, which was on this very topic.

Experiences are structured. They have a set of traits that define them. Making a sandwich does not feel like a walk in the park. These structures consist of various interacting elements. In the sandwich case, the pace of the event (adding ingredients one at a time) helps define the experience. Making a sandwich requires less effort than going for a walk (usually). (For more on this see Lakoff and Johnson 1980, Mark Johnson 1987).

Games, as structured experiences consisting of smaller interacting parts, can tap into this. By designing a game with a similar structure, you can make a game experience resonate with another, real-world experience. Two examples:

Elude, a game that models the subjective experience of depression:
http://gambit.mit.edu/loadgame/prototypes.php#elude

Akrasia, a game that does the same for addiction:
http://gambit.mit.edu/loadgame/prototypes_2008.php#akrasia

(I can send you citations if you are interested in the academic discourse surrounding these ideas.)

The goal of Train, then, was to tap into this idea to make players feel like participants in the holocaust. That the game is voluntary is part of the whole point.

The setup of the game is designed to be foreboding. Muted, dark colors. Smashed glass. An actual SS typewriter. The game does not look fun or inviting.

Quote:
I guess it's okay. The train games sell well.


It's a single game. One copy. It doesn't sell.

Quote:
Please reply to the OP with a meaningful response next time. Your statements were interesting and strident, but needed a modicum of support.


If you want to argue a point, you have to do better than just saying "you don't make sense."
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BradyLS wrote:


In Train, as I understand it, players don't know they're sending tokens representing Jews to a death camp until later in the game. Dar's is saying that his historical research shows that the perpetrators did know what they were being asked to participate in and even had the opportunity to opt out of it.


I'm not a WWII scholar, but if this is in fact the case then the point is well-taken.

I would like to point-out, however, that people in this thread are quick to say that others do not know what they are talking about, but have not met Brenda or played the game themselves.
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I'm going to make one last point, and then bow-out because this isn't worth my time.

There is a difference between simulating something ("reporting") and creating a game designed to communicate a subjective experience.

In other words, a game that models a system is different from a game that recreates an experience.

Even the most complex war game won't leave you with PTSD.
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Jasonbartfast wrote:
I'm going to make one last point, and then bow-out because this isn't worth my time.

There is a difference between simulating something ("reporting") and creating a game designed to communicate a subjective experience.

In other words, a game that models a system is different from a game that recreates an experience.


Not true. No game "recreates" an experience - not Advanced Squad Leader, and not a game with model railroad rolling stock and yellow pawns.

The best any game can do is simulate certain elements of an experience - that is, unless you've invented a 100% complete virtual world, supporting all sensory input.

Most, thematic games (and I use that term not in the tortured BGG sense, but in the general sense) attempt to convey what they can of an "experience". Not all try to evoke an emotional response, however.

And if a game that attempts to model some respect of reality does succeed in evoking an emotional response, it is important that it does so without "taking shortcuts" with the relevant facts. Because if it does, it succeeds only in being cheap manipulation, void of "enlightenment".
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Dar --

Let me restate in my own words and you tell me if I've got it, or not.

1. In order for games to transcend the level of abstracts and become actually about something, there has to be a point of identification between the player and his/her representative in the game. That's what allows emotional attachment to sneak in and allows a narrative to start to take place. The obvious example would be mighty heroes (in fantasy adventures) or generals/commanders (in wargames), but it could be anything as long as the indentification is meaningful and consistent. Even something as abstract as Tresham's Civilization could work, because the player could identify with a dynastic lineage or even a generic "national character."

2. The problem with Train is that, in its claims to historicity in both theme and mechanics, it purports to present a meaningful point of identification between (A) the player and (B) the unknowing dupes who sent Jews to Auschwitz. However (B) is a null set; there was never any such thing as unknowning dupes sending Jews to Auschwitz. There were fully cognizant participants, and fully cognizant nonparticipants. But no one (historically) was ignorant.

3. Therefore the whole attempt of Train to transcend the nature of abstract mechanics is a conceptual failure from the very beginning. Whatever point it is trying to make is incoherent, irrelevant, and meaningless, and it treats the greatest crime of the last 100 years as a coat of cheap paint. It is as meaningful, and as offensive, as a game where you are in charge of sending monkeys to the moon via rockets; and halfway through, the game designer tells you that rockets = trains, monkeys = Jews, and the moon = Auschwitz. I.e. there is absolutely no connection between the ostensible meaning as delineated by the theme and the mechanics, and the meaning that the designer wants you to walk away with.

Is that about right?

What do you think of her other game, Middle Passage? Is that more coherent, as each player is the captain of a slave ship and making (abstracted) decisions that the captains actually made?
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Train, to me, looks like a simulation of devaluing life (a big part of the Holocaust) rather than a simulation of what the actual Nazi logistics people experienced. Perhaps it is using the iconic situation of the trains to stand for the larger situation of the Holocaust.

Even if it fails as simulation, it appears to get the desired result of making devaluing life shocking or horrifying. I can think of some ethics students who would benefit from playing a game like Train.
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Having read some brief descriptions of Train and Middle Passage and their genesis here:

http://www.boardgamenews.com/oldsite/index.php/boardgamenews...

I've come around to the idea that there are other effective—perhaps even better—ways of sharing an experience that we're already familiar with: documentaries, interviews, and histories, for example. One-on-one conversation is likely the very best.

From the article at the above link:

About Middle Passage:

Brathwaite assembled a collection of tiny wooden figures, then had her daughter group them into “families.” After her daughter was finished, she picked them up by the handful and placed them on a makeshift boat. Her daughter was confused: Why would she take the parents but leave the baby? Why wouldn’t brothers stay with their sisters? “No one wants to go,” Brathwaite explained. That’s when it started to click.

About Train:

Perhaps part of this reaction came from the fact that Train isn’t “fun,” by any stretch of the imagination. “Why do games have to be fun?” Brathwaite asked. Schindler’s List isn’t fun. “No other medium is like, oh, it’s gotta be fun.”

In junior highschool, our class had to watch a film called "Night and Fog" which revealed in film the atrocities of the Nazis. After viewing that, I'd say that the Holocaust "started to click" for me.

Sometimes a parent or relative will share experiences and in those moments, when a teacher isn't delivering a lesson or assigning reading, things "start to click," too.

When Braithwaite talked with her daughter about the experience of slaves in the the transatlantic crossing to the Americas, she was simply doing, IMO, what a good parent should do: talk to their child honestly about difficult subjects. She used what she called a "game" as a tool in that conversation.

I'm left with the impression that Braithwaite thought the game was delivering the "truth" to her daughter. I'd say it was Braithwaite herself and the "game" was a helpful device in the conversation where a truth was finally understood.

So at this point, I would say that Train is a kind of helpful device that looks and is used like a game for an individual to share a discussion about the Holocaust. But it is not, in my opinion, a genuine game. It seems to me it is more like the dolls abused children are sometimes asked to use to describe how someone behaved inappropriately towards them. No child is having fun with the doll in a situation like that, any more than people are having fun playing Train, but certainly it is helpful in communicating a painful experience.
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Jasonbartfast wrote:
ross826 wrote:


Whooo Hoooo! Yes, I gleefully await the INFOMMERCIAL!!!

Thanks for letting me know up front that you aren't going to seriously consider what I write.


Quote:
Wait, can you possibly account for your statistic? Note game-designer reader: you are NOT "pushing the medium's expressive potential" GET ON THAT!


I can think of less than 10 games in existence designed this way. Please let me know if you know of / can find any.

However, I will correct myself and note that this was not meant to be a value judgement. I'm perfectly fine with games designed to be fun / interesting (I own quite a few myself). In this case, however, common sense trumps statistical data. Do you, as a sighted person, need a scientist to tell you the sky is blue?

Quote:
This is a false dichotomy. I have yet to find a post on this site that demonstrates the belief that a boardgame should be a equatable with history / reporting.


Actually, it's not. Does watching a Ken Burns doc make you feel like you're actually experiencing a war? You misinterpret my point: that reporting is a goal, so is creating a feeling. Feelings are subjective, reporting, ideally, is not.

Quote:
Wait -- so the experience of playing this boardgame is to mirror / mimc the holocaust? Really? Let's see...my hunch is the vast majority of players need to begin their 400 calorie diet!


Point taken - "the holocaust" is too broad a term in this sense. Of course, Dar did not take this into account, neither did I, neither did you.

Quote:
I have trouble finding the meaning in your reply, but I am trying.


The equivalent of saying "la la la I can't hear you" over the internet.

Quote:
Now, PLEASE describe FULLY how the author's mode of expression succeeds in making its players feel as though they are partaking in the holocaust in a way different than say, Eisenhower's trip to the camps or any GI or other Allied soldier's experience....


What? How can a player experience something through Eisenhower's trip? Games give you a unique experience that film, books, documentaries, etc cannot.

But since you asked, here is the executive executive summary of my MIT Master's thesis, which was on this very topic.

Experiences are structured. They have a set of traits that define them. Making a sandwich does not feel like a walk in the park. These structures consist of various interacting elements. In the sandwich case, the pace of the event (adding ingredients one at a time) helps define the experience. Making a sandwich requires less effort than going for a walk (usually). (For more on this see Lakoff and Johnson 1980, Mark Johnson 1987).

Games, as structured experiences consisting of smaller interacting parts, can tap into this. By designing a game with a similar structure, you can make a game experience resonate with another, real-world experience. Two examples:

Elude, a game that models the subjective experience of depression:
http://gambit.mit.edu/loadgame/prototypes.php#elude

Akrasia, a game that does the same for addiction:
http://gambit.mit.edu/loadgame/prototypes_2008.php#akrasia

(I can send you citations if you are interested in the academic discourse surrounding these ideas.)

The goal of Train, then, was to tap into this idea to make players feel like participants in the holocaust. That the game is voluntary is part of the whole point.

The setup of the game is designed to be foreboding. Muted, dark colors. Smashed glass. An actual SS typewriter. The game does not look fun or inviting.

Quote:
I guess it's okay. The train games sell well.


It's a single game. One copy. It doesn't sell.

Quote:
Please reply to the OP with a meaningful response next time. Your statements were interesting and strident, but needed a modicum of support.


If you want to argue a point, you have to do better than just saying "you don't make sense."


Thank you for responding. Initially I was very disturbed by what I read to be an empty reply in support of a possibly horribly anti-semitic game. I felt that brief, unenthusiastic, and to me, vague support for such a game was a bad thing.

Your response helped me get a better sense of the game and your understanding of it, so thanks.
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The point of my post here is to (hopefully) ask specific questions, or point out parts of the review, to further my understanding of the point you are trying to make:

Darilian wrote:
Train is a game which creates strong emotional responses. The strength of the game is that it gets a reaction from everyone who encounters it. The weakness of the game is that it, and the reaction it creates, bears almost NO resemblance to the Holocaust at all. Ms. Brathwaite, the creator of Train has received a lot of notoreity, and even some publicity in the Blog of the Wall Street Journal and an award (The Vangaurd Award, given out by IndieCade at the Ottawa International Animation Festival). So clearly, she's created something that has gotten a lot of buzz and interest, for her project which claims to use game 'Mechanics' in order to translate an 'Experience'- "The Mechanic is the Message".

Problem is- Train has nothing to do with the Holocaust.

Ms. Brathwaite makes a big argument for Train, implying that her work, the 'mechanics' of the activity, recreate an EXPERIENCE that she feels is more representative of the Final Solution than other mediums.

Quote:
Ultimately, I think the power of a game lies in its ability to bring us close to the subject. There is no other medium that has this power.... I’ve talked quite a bit with Jewish educators about Train and how it can be used in education, and I am excited about the possibilities there.
.

http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2009/06/24/can-you-make-a-boa...

Except, however, there is nothing that demonstrates that Ms. Brathwaite has even a basic understanding of the Final Solution.

[q="Darilian"]First of all, lets look at the credits for Train on her blog, "The Mechanic is the Message".

Quote:
Train, 2009

Game Designer: Brenda Brathwaite
Release Date: April 29, 2009

Design Confidante and Sounding Board: Ian Schreiber
Testing: Christopher Schmidt, Michelle Menard, Laura Beukema, Ian Schreiber, Darren Malley, Tyler Hawley
Thanks to: Ian Schreiber (Video Game Designer), John Sharp, Ian Bogost (Videogame 'theorist'), John Romero (Creator of Video Game 'Doom'), David Dirlam, Rabbi Belzer, Steve Meretzky (Video Game Designer), David Fox (Multimedia Producer), Dan Cook, Jason Rohrer (Computer Programer)


http://mechanicmessage.wordpress.com/credits/

NONE of these people are scholars of the Final Solution, the Third Reich, or the Shoah in general. Of these, only ONE person, Rabbi Arnold Mark Belzer, has anything close to a professional background on the subject, and yet his specific field is upon the experience of Jews in China.


Can you provide sources showing that people without a credit next to their name (Dan Cook, John Sharp, Michelle Menard, Laura Beukema, Darren Malley, Tyler Hawley) are NOT scholars of the topics you listed? I visited the credits page and could not find any more information there.

Darilian wrote:
But thats just nitpicking. After all, I don't have a PhD in this field, neither does Ms. Brathwaite. So let me go into a more specific critique of why Train has nothing to do with the Holocaust.

First of all-
Take the actual method of play. Players have to fit yellow pawns, that don't fit well, into model trains to be disposed of. It isn't until half way through the game that the destination is revealed by card play, and the true 'horror' of what the player is involved in becomes clear.

Except-
Thats not anything close to the experience of Perpetrators in the Final Solution.

It is very rare, in all of the literature of the Final Solution and the Third Reich, to find an example where a particular individual was 'forced', or otherwise 'conned' into participating in acts of Genocide. The Einsatzgruppen, the killing units which followed behind the Wehrmacht during the invasion of the Soviet Union, were picked volunteers from the SS, who were indoctrinated and given training ahead of time prior to thier deployment into the Eastern Front.

Extermination camp Commandants, such as Rudolf Hoess (Auschwitz) or Franz Stangl (Treblinka) were also volunteers. They were chosen either because of their experience in either 'political' concentration camp work, such Hoess' work at Dachau, or due to their technical experience in the Euthanasia Program known as the T-4 project, which used gas to kill off the mentally ill and elderly within Germany itself in 1940-1941. Even the lowly concentration camp guards were volunteers- selecting the relatively 'easy' work in the Extermination system rather than serving on the Front.

Even more to the point-
When units such as Police Battallion 101 were given orders to conduct ghetto clearing operations, such as the massacre at Jozefow in 1943, individual members of the unit were allowed to 'step out of line' before participating in the killing. If they weren't up for it, it was ok to 'bow out'.


Do you believe that they were truly "volunteers"? Or do you think that the idea of them being "volunteers" was more for propaganda? It seems like the people were in a "die at the front line or help kill these defenseless people" sort of scenario.

Darilian wrote:
In fact, at a speech in Pozen in 1943, SS Oberfuhrer Heinrich Himmler stated that absolute obedience to superiors was the key virtue of an SS man- except in ONE circumstance- when that person wasn't able to do 'what needed to be done' in the racial actions of the East. Then, that man could resign, and take his pension.


The same question applies here as it does above. Could people REALLY just resign and take their pension, or would the SS make the man seemingly "disappear"?

Darilian wrote:
The point is this-
Train relys upon a 'rope-a-dope' to get people to participate. By not telling them the stakes within the game of their activity, Ms. Brathwaite lures players into 'playing' the roles of perpetrators of genocide. But- for this to really be 'representative' of what happened, the players should be told UP FRONT what it is that they are going to be doing. A better example of this is the infamous 'Zimbardo' experiments, where students where asked by Professorial Authority to use electric shock upon fellow students (who faked their pain and suffering).


So do you feel the players not being told all information prior to the game hinders the experience of this game? Does it take away from the point of "you just sent people to a concentration camp" the player is supposed to feel? What about other games that withhold information from the players?

Darilian wrote:
The Zimbardo experiment, crude as it is, at least gets to the HEART of the true horror of the Final Solution- which is this.

That the Nazi Regime was able to convince some human beings that other human beings were mere things. And they were able to provide incentives, rationalizations, and out right bribes to get these people to condone, support, or just ignore acts that they knew where inherently 'evil'.


True indeed.

Darilian wrote:
This is merely ONE way in which I feel that Ms. Brathwaite's Train completely misses the point- I could go on.


Does it miss the point completely? People were convinced to play a game that shipped these yellow "pawns" in crammed trains to a destination. Did the players who played this game see these pawns as people, or not? Have you played Puerto Rico? Whether we admit it or not, the "colonists" do seem more like slave trade. Do people think of these tokens to represent people, or mere things to move the game along? Do you think the SS thought of what they were doing as a game?

Darilian wrote:
Train, by NOT establishing the moral stakes of what is occuring up front, comes nowhere close to Ms. Brathwaite's goal of recreating through 'mechanics' the 'experience' of the Final Solution.

Train is not about the Final Solution, in any way, shape or form. What it is about is to fire a salvo into the discussion of "Are there any topics that should be 'sacrosanct'?"


The game is about the Final Solution in that the theme of the game is about it. Do you believe more that the game doesn't REPRESENT it well enough? Also, have you ever fired your own salvo about which topics should be 'sacrosanct'? I believe people do that almost every day.

Darilian wrote:
I'm not going to get into the question of the aesthetics of Train and the other games in her 'Mechanic is the Message' series. Clearly, they are moving, in their own way, 'beautiful' works of art.

Nor, do I feel that Ms. Braithwaite has to conform to my, or any other historian of the Third Reich or the Final Solution, when she wants to make a product.

Rather, I am challenging the very SPECIFIC claim that she, and others, have made- that any of the games presented in this thread have anything to do about the Holocaust. Further, I would argue that the motivations behind Train and the rest of her 'Mechanic isthe Message' series of games have less to do with understanding the Holocaust- and sharing that understanding- than they do with making a particular politico-philosophical stance.


Do you believe her making a politico-philosophical stance could lead to people trying to better understand the Holocaust?

Darilian wrote:
What is that stance? That artistic sensibility alone is all that matters in video games, and that there is no reason to have any sense of a greater obligation to- well, anything; Historical 'Truth', Societal 'morality', nothing. The fact that this was created, and pushed onto people with the intent of saying "This is the Experience of the Holocaust"- when it ISNT- to me demonstrates that what was important was the emotional REACTION created by playing Train.


Wait, video games? I thought we were talking board games here. When did we shift mediums?

Darilian wrote:
In essence- Ms. Brathwaite wants to push peoples buttons with Train.

So why am I so upset? Why go out of my way to post a review of a 'game' that hardly anyone is likely to play, much less purchase?

The reason is this-
I am deeply oppossed to the politicalization of tragedy. Ms. Brathwaite doesn't care about the Holocaust- if she did, she would have gotten someone in the field to look over Train. Rather, she wants to USE the imagery and emotions yielded by the Holocaust for her own ends- to demonstrate the 'artistic', 'philosophical', and 'educational' benefits of 'games'- especially, video games. She's using Train as a rhetorical weapon to fight the culture war that is being waged over violent, 'dark' video games. In essence, the Holocaust is being used to show why games like Grand Theft Auto III are 'art'. If Train is acceptable as a 'interactive experience' (Ms. Brathwaite is careful to not call Train a game), and if it has any form of 'moral center', then it becomes harder to say that ANY game is 'beyond the pale'.


If you are deeply oppossed to the politicalization of tragedy, how do you feel about the war in Iraq? Afghanistan? The constant warring in the middle east? People use these to further their political agendas daily. Once again you reference video games but I see no mention in either the gamesutra or WSJ articles relating to "video games".

Darilian wrote:
Frankly, I don't give a crap about THAT argument. What I know is this-

The great tragedy of the Final Solution was that people were turned into things- things to be processed, quaruntined, exterminated. And the Nazi leadership's greatest weapon in DOING that was language.

By redefining what it meant to be human, it was possible to redefine what 'murder' or 'genocide' meant.


I agree about redefining what it was to be human, and about murder and genocide. The regime did that to further their own political stance.

Darilian wrote:
I cannot stand by and watch, without some protest, as the Holocaust ITSELF is redefined- redefined for a particular political point of view.


A lot of things get redefined for a particular political stance. It is done in America every day, and I'm sure across the globe. Do you have issues with this?

Darilian wrote:
Moreover, I am very disturbed that Train was created for the express purpose of furthering an argument about the aesthetics of video games!!!!

Once again, please reference where video games fit in.

[q="Darilian"]Essentially, in my own very personal opinion, I feel that the designer of Train USED the imagery of the Holocaust to specifically to create a game that was 'shocking'- not to promote understanding, but to tweak people's buttons, get a degree of notoreity, promote her career as an 'edgy' game designer, and to argue that there are NO topics that can't be turned into an 'interactive activity'- implying, then, that Congress and other political groups that want to crack down on the video game industry should back off.


I do not know the designer so I cannot argue against or for your point about their motivation. However, I once again see a "video game" reference here that I would like clarified.

Darilian wrote:
IF the game had some connection to the historical 'reality' of the Holocaust, I would feel better. There would be a benefit there- the promotion of understanding of a difficult and dark historical event- that would justify using the event for a political or economic goal. Thus, I wouldn't have a problem if someone made an 'interactive experience' for use at the Holocaust Memorial, or at Yad Vashem- the purpose would not be personal aggrandizement or political gain, but understanding.


Do you believe the game conveyed SOME of the reality? Tightly packed trains on the way to a camp? If an 'interactive experience' was set up for understanding, what would you have in it? What would be suitable for understanding the experience?

Darilian wrote:
The irony is that I actually do share Ms. Brathwaite's sense of aesthetics- games ARE better when they create a strong sense of 'being in the game' and can provoke a strong response. I remember when I played the old Infocom game "Planetfall" and teared up when my robot pal Floyd died.

The thing is- if you decide to go for the jugular, and try and illicit a strong emotional response in a work of art about an historical event, the artist has the responsibility to ensure that that work bears SOME resemblance to the past. There is a moral debt that must be made to the ghosts of the past, and that debt is to remember.


The game does try to have people remember how horrible things were with crammed trains and the overlying theme. Do you believe the game does not bring this out?

Darilian wrote:
Not create new memories, for the sake of commercial or professional gain. But to bear witness, for its own sake.

The shadows of Auschwitz demand nothing less.

Darilian


After reading the whole review, my one question is: have you played this game yourself, or are you basing this review solely off what you have read? If so, please make this known as some of the statements, such as:

"Train, by NOT establishing the moral stakes of what is occuring up front, comes nowhere close to Ms. Brathwaite's goal of recreating through 'mechanics' the 'experience' of the Final Solution."

make it seem like you have actually played this game, since you state it does NOT do what it was designed to do.
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Imagine if Puerto Rico just sat there, number 1 on the ratings because of the 1000 people who have played it scoring it 10. but only 2 copies were ever made, and the designer refuses to share the rules, the components, and so on. Oh sure, Andreas gave lectures about the game, but otherwise? Nope.

I couldn't say if Puerto Rico was a brilliant game, or an exploitative representation of slave traders. Having not played the game, I'd find it hard to make balanced comment.

Still, if Puerto Rico was the groundbreaking masterpiece that some people suggest it was, Andreas would be holding back the discussion of our games, and the development of them. We'd have no Race for the Galaxy, for instance.

That's kind of how I feel about Train. It may be groundbreaking, and if it is, then most people interested in game design are missing out.
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Darilian wrote:
Train is a game which creates strong emotional responses. The strength of the game is that it gets a reaction from everyone who encounters it.

Problem is- Train has nothing to do with the Holocaust.



From reading the various materials, I have to admire the self-promotional skills of the designer in generating such buzz about her work. She has certainly created something -- not a game obviously, but more of that later -- that has given her a great deal of free publicity that represents a great deal of time and effort that would probably be better spent elsewhere. Of course, since I am currently spending my time commenting about the designer's self-promotion, I am as guilty of that as anyone.

I do hae to disagree slightly with the second comment quoted above. As Martin Van Creveld has pointed out in his work some time ago, the Final Solution involved a fairly small percentage of total freight moved by Germany in support of the war effort. Nevertheless, even though the percentage may have been small, the actual amount of work required to implement the Final Solution was huge. And it involved effort by a number of Germans not enlisted in the SS -- trainmen being only one element of the population that would have been involved in some fashion or another. For example, one of the camps in the Auschwitz complex was run by civilian employees of IG Farben (kind of an early privitization thing). And, lest we forget, the SS had relatively willing accomplices outside Germany as well -- French and Hungarian police, train workers around Europe, and the like. Irrespective of whether it was actually true that death camp guards were volunteers or not, these other folks were caught up in a situation where the end result may well have not been apparent from the beginning (though by 1944 and certainly by 1945 they pretty much had to know womething bad was happening).

To that very limited extent therefore the "Train" thing does sort of, in a very limited, artificial and superficial (even silly) way, illustrate or model the dilemma Himmler's willing or unwilling accomplices faced whenever they became aware of the consequences of their active or passive participation. The superficiality enters naturally when the subject ot Train faces absolutely NO adverse consequences to them or their families for failing to participate. (This is NOT to excuse those who ran the trains etc. However, "Train" does nothing to recreate the fear and deprivation of those times in any way. Hence, superficial.)

What I object to most here is the willingness of a very skilled self-promoter to besmirch a perfectly acceptable and even social hobby by calling her product a game. This "Train" thing seems to me nothing other than a poorly designed, unsupervised and unlicensed social science experiment with some incidental historial references. While others may differ, there is nothing "game" like in her product -- the experimental subject makes no choices, there is no goal, there isn't really even any point to the exercise other than a decision to participate in the manipulation or not. That is NOT a game by any standard.

So why did I spend all this time responding to this thread? Like the original poster, I am outraged at the trivialization of the horror of the Final Solution, I am outraged at the self-promotion and lack of historical sense and I am disgusted by the stupidity of those who continue to puromote empty "experience" at the expense of truth and understanding.
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Moved from the Reviews forum to the General forum for Train.

-MMM
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She's nothing but a worthless "artist" who discovered that she could milk the final solution for free publicity.
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I admit, I find this all very curious.

Making a game about being slavers (Puerto Rico), about perpetrating genocide (Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery), about playing as the Germans during World War II, where presumably your troops are, in their off hours, helping to kill untold numbers of Jews, Gays, Gypsies, and others (Axis & Allies and more wargames than I can count), all in the name of profit is cool, but Train is all kinds of wrong?

Besides being an instrument for teaching people about the holocaust, the game also serves a second purpose, it teaches people about the medium of games. The reason the game works is because our society has this perverse view that since games are fun, it's totally cool to be a slaver or to perpetrate genocide, and Train uses that belief in order to pull off it's effect.

Because we are so used to doing whatever to meeples no matter what they represent, we are willing in Train to stuff them into trains, not looking at what that really means. And then when the players are told, they react with horror, because they realize just what subject they are treating so non-chalantly.

What would be the effect if people playing Puerto Rico actually thought about what it is exactly they are celebrating in the name of fun, or players of Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery, or, players of wargames.

A lot of games we have are celebrating atrocities commited by humans against other humans (slavery, or genocide, or mass rape and murder), and all in the name of profit (after all, the game makers only made the games in order to make money).

Comparing Train to those games, I can't help but think that Train is a huge step forward.
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jumbit wrote:
She's nothing but a worthless "artist" who discovered that she could milk the final solution for free publicity.


Would you be willing to say that to her face? You seem quick to judge considering you are on another continent. Any basis for your statement besides you trying to a reaction from people, like right now?
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chearns wrote:
I admit, I find this all very curious.

Making a game about being slavers (Puerto Rico), about perpetrating genocide (Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery), about playing as the Germans during World War II, where presumably your troops are, in their off hours, helping to kill untold numbers of Jews, Gays, Gypsies, and others (Axis & Allies and more wargames than I can count), all in the name of profit is cool, but Train is all kinds of wrong?

Besides being an instrument for teaching people about the holocaust, the game also serves a second purpose, it teaches people about the medium of games. The reason the game works is because our society has this perverse view that since games are fun, it's totally cool to be a slaver or to perpetrate genocide, and Train uses that belief in order to pull off it's effect.

Because we are so used to doing whatever to meeples no matter what they represent, we are willing in Train to stuff them into trains, not looking at what that really means. And then when the players are told, they react with horror, because they realize just what subject they are treating so non-chalantly.

What would be the effect if people playing Puerto Rico actually thought about what it is exactly they are celebrating in the name of fun, or players of Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery, or, players of wargames.

A lot of games we have are celebrating atrocities commited by humans against other humans (slavery, or genocide, or mass rape and murder), and all in the name of profit (after all, the game makers only made the games in order to make money).

Comparing Train to those games, I can't help but think that Train is a huge step forward.


It's true we don't think about what it means with the games we play, especially since there is no real-world context. Train has that context, which makes it shocking.

It's the same with video games too...Medal of Honor has you killing soldiers left and right. Doesn't that mean anything to people? Of course not, since it's a game. Train seems to go out of its way to try and have people make that "real world" connection.
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ImaginaryRoot wrote:
jumbit wrote:
She's nothing but a worthless "artist" who discovered that she could milk the final solution for free publicity.

Would you be willing to say that to her face? You seem quick to judge...

I think he was just parodying the OP's "argument" (as well as his logorrheic style, by counter example).
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Darilian wrote:


The irony is that I actually do share Ms. Brathwaite's sense of aesthetics- games ARE better when they create a strong sense of 'being in the game' and can provoke a strong response. I remember when I played the old Infocom game "Planetfall" and teared up when my robot pal Floyd died.


Dude!

Not cool.

Have the common decency to use a spoiler tag.
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"Subject: Train- A Historical Game With No Sense of Historical Truth"

The whole OP argument hinges on that this game claims to be historical as opposed to using a historical event to evoke an emotional response with no claims of being historically accurate.

I skimmed some of the links for the game and can't find claims that it is meant to represent actual participants in the holocaust's experiences.

Is there a link to where such a claim is made?
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Hmmm.

An aside, before I address some specific comments that people have made here.

I'd posted much of this before, in a previous thread about game design and the Holocaust. By the time I finally weighed in, the conversation had more or less stopped. I only finally made this review because I had told some people that I would write out what I disliked about Train in a review if the game ever was entered into the game database. I only found about it existing on Sunday, so I wrote my review, and took a couple of days off from BGG.

In NO way did I think that a review thread (now General Thread) about a this game would ever get so much attention- a game thats not being sold, nor really even played that much. Only talked about.

This...disturbs me somewhat.

So here are some responses/rebuttals to comments made over the last couple of days.

First, Dysjunct. Since I like him, I'll do him the honor of fisking his post.



dysjunct wrote:


1. In order for games to transcend the level of abstracts and become actually about something, there has to be a point of identification between the player and his/her representative in the game. That's what allows emotional attachment to sneak in and allows a narrative to start to take place. The obvious example would be mighty heroes (in fantasy adventures) or generals/commanders (in wargames), but it could be anything as long as the indentification is meaningful and consistent. Even something as abstract as Tresham's Civilization could work, because the player could identify with a dynastic lineage or even a generic "national character."

Totally agree with that. As I said earlier, I admire Ms. Brathwaite's work as a game designer- but not her history, as you're leading up to in point 2.



dysjunct wrote:

2. The problem with Train is that, in its claims to historicity in both theme and mechanics, it purports to present a meaningful point of identification between (A) the player and (B) the unknowing dupes who sent Jews to Auschwitz. However (B) is a null set; there was never any such thing as unknowning dupes sending Jews to Auschwitz. There were fully cognizant participants, and fully cognizant nonparticipants. But no one (historically) was ignorant.


Yes-agreed. This is, indeed, the heart of my historical critique.

dysjunct wrote:

3. Therefore the whole attempt of Train to transcend the nature of abstract mechanics is a conceptual failure from the very beginning. Whatever point it is trying to make is incoherent, irrelevant, and meaningless, and it treats the greatest crime of the last 100 years as a coat of cheap paint. It is as meaningful, and as offensive, as a game where you are in charge of sending monkeys to the moon via rockets; and halfway through, the game designer tells you that rockets = trains, monkeys = Jews, and the moon = Auschwitz. I.e. there is absolutely no connection between the ostensible meaning as delineated by the theme and the mechanics, and the meaning that the designer wants you to walk away with.


Again, agreed. Spot on first time.



dysjunct wrote:

What do you think of her other game, Middle Passage? Is that more coherent, as each player is the captain of a slave ship and making (abstracted) decisions that the captains actually made?


At her current wordpress site, "Mechanic is the Message", I see nothing about Middle Passage, and so have nothing really to say. IF the design is as you say it is, I would have fewer problems as a historian.

Darilian
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sbszine wrote:
Train, to me, looks like a simulation of devaluing life (a big part of the Holocaust) rather than a simulation of what the actual Nazi logistics people experienced. Perhaps it is using the iconic situation of the trains to stand for the larger situation of the Holocaust.

Even if it fails as simulation, it appears to get the desired result of making devaluing life shocking or horrifying. I can think of some ethics students who would benefit from playing a game like Train.


If one were to 'de-historicize' Train to make it into some form of analogue experience, similar to the infamous Zimbardo experiments, Sbszine, I might agree with you.

But Train makes pains to prove how 'historical' it is, with the shattered glass to symbolize Kristallnacht, an SS typewriter, and the like. For Brathwaite to so aggresively claim that the game 'is' about the experience of the Holocaust, and then be so wrong in recreating the nature of the moral choice of perpetrators, is anathema.

Darilian
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