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

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Martí Cabré

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FWIW, Julio Cortázar was Argentinian.
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James King
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marticabre wrote:
FWIW, Julio Cortázar was Argentinian.

His living in Argentina would definitely make sense as to where he got the inspiration for "Graffiti" from. After all, Argentina was most definitely under a military dictatorship for a while.

 
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Jeffrey Allers
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ShreveportLAGamer wrote:

I applaud her for delivering a thought-provoking experience that should appall those who are not well read in history enough to recognize the lessons of history underlying the game's premise and which they *should* already know. After their "Train" object-lesson experience, they'll certainly be far more likely to have both learned and remember that lesson of history.


First, to be perfectly clear for those who haven't read this enormous thread, I have always applauded the EFFORT of Brenda Brathwaite Romero in stretching the game design medium beyond entertainment. This needs to be explored more!

Now on to the running debate:

Your conclusion is exactly my critique of the game: it exposes most people's ignorance to the most tragic historical event in the last century, despite some very clear clues (she breaks a window, then tells you to load boxcars with game figures!).

If the goal of the game was to scold those who don't care about learning about--and from--history, than a trivia game would have been just as successful.

Keeping the theme of the game a "secret," however, taints the social experiment (and the game cannot function without its theme). Compare it with Brathwaite Romero's first game in the series, in which she demonstrated to her daughter how many Africans died on the ships coming to America, and then how the families were split up (and BTW I thought that her use of game pieces was an excellent way to illustrate these points to her child). The theme of the game was known from the beginning.

You ask me what I would propose in it's place? First, if her goal really was a social experiment and not a simulation of a specific historical social experience (in order to teach a timeless lesson, of course), then I would try to construct a "game" that was detached from any specific historical theme, yet could be applicable to many throughout history.

The idea of "following rules," even when they seem ethically wrong, is a fascinating subject for a game, since a game really is its rules. I'm sure there have been many tense moments in role playing games, for example, that have simulated this situation better than Train. Perhaps there could be a cooperative element to increase the peer pressure. Perhaps the rules would become more offensive as the game went on, even as the inoffensive goal of the game (the winning condition) remained the same. And there could even be moments when the game is turned on its head--where players may be so committed in keeping the "bad" rules that they start to see incentives for breaking the good ones. This kind of game experiment could be applied to all sorts of real situations, from ultra-nationalism to corruption in politics and big business. These are just thoughts, but it's a complex design problem.

That's why I admire the simplicity of Train's design, but unfortunately, I think it only succeeds on a superficial level. That doesn't mean it can't be modified by the designer, and that's something I'd certainly like to see (or see the growth in her future work in analog boardgames). That is, after all, what criticism is for, right?
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Isaac Citrom
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I too have been following this thread and I have to agree, I still don't get Romero's point.

If it clicks in my head that the game's mechanics is related to the Holocaust, then at that point I may well decline to continue with the game; but, not for any moral reasons regarding blind rules following, rather because I would find the game offensive.

If, however, I did not come to the realization of what was being symbolized, then what moral lesson has been effected. I see no psychological event here in that case.
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James King
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jeffinberlin wrote:
ShreveportLAGamer wrote:
I applaud her (Brathwaite)for delivering a thought-provoking experience that should appall those who are not well read in history enough to recognize the lessons of history underlying the game's premise and which they *should* already know. After their "Train" object-lesson experience, they'll certainly be far more likely to have both learned and remember that lesson of history.

First, to be perfectly clear for those who haven't read this enormous thread, I have always applauded the EFFORT of Brenda Brathwaite Romero in stretching the game design medium beyond entertainment. This needs to be explored more!

Now on to the running debate: Your conclusion is exactly my critique of the game: it exposes most people's ignorance to the most tragic historical event in the last century, despite some very clear clues (she breaks a window, then tells you to load boxcars with game figures!).

If the goal of the game was to scold those who don't care about learning about -- and from -- history, than a trivia game would have been just as successful.

No, I very much doubt that. Rather, Brathwaite should have created a rule whereby each player upon making a move or action is asked a strategy-assessment question that probes for his/her perception of doing something that evokes real-world events.

For those who show no recognition whatsoever of their doing something that patterns itself after historical events, I believe at the mid-point of the game would be a good time for Brathwaite to bring the game to a halt by first giving the Satayana quote, "Those who do not learn from the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes" and asking, "


jeffinberlin wrote:
Keeping the theme of the game a "secret," however, taints the social experiment (and the game cannot function without its theme).

On the contrary, since it's a test of historical pattern recognition, it would counterproductive altogether to give away the underlying subtext from the outset.


jeffinberlin wrote:
Compare it with Brathwaite Romero's first game in the series, in which she demonstrated to her daughter how many Africans died on the ships coming to America, and then how the families were split up (and BTW I thought that her use of game pieces was an excellent way to illustrate these points to her child). The theme of the game was known from the beginning.

Since chattel slaves were originally never citizens who lost their status in society but were brought here from another country altogether, their historical model is altogether different in construct from that of the Jews of pre-Nazi Germany.


jeffinberlin wrote:
[You ask me what I would propose in it's place? First, if her goal really was a social experiment and not a simulation of a specific historical social experience (in order to teach a timeless lesson, of course), then I would try to construct a "game" that was detached from any specific historical theme, yet could be applicable to many throughout history.

There has actually been a poster on BGG who very straightforwardly proposed the notion that Reiner Knizia ought to create an auction game that uses slavery as its theme. I cannot think of any way whatsoever to make such a game have any redeeming value to it. After all, unlikeFreedom: The Underground Railroad, the theme of a straightforward board/card game themed around auctioning African slaves in the American antebellum South only appeals to one's baser instincts.


jeffinberlin wrote:
The idea of "following rules," even when they seem ethically wrong, is a fascinating subject for a game, since a game really is its rules. I'm sure there have been many tense moments in role playing games, for example, that have simulated this situation better than "Train". Perhaps there could be a cooperative element to increase the peer pressure. Perhaps the rules would become more offensive as the game went on, even as the inoffensive goal of the game (the winning condition) remained the same. And there could even be moments when the game is turned on its head -- where players may be so committed in keeping the "bad" rules that they start to see incentives for breaking the good ones. This kind of game experiment could be applied to all sorts of real situations, from ultra-nationalism to corruption in politics and big business. These are just thoughts, but it's a complex design problem.

And it's a bit too ambitious because the game designer isn't putting on something like Buckminister Fuller's "World Game" and her intent is to shock you into disengaging from the game rather than playing it.


jeffinberlin wrote:
That's why I admire the simplicity of Train's design, but unfortunately, I think it only succeeds on a superficial level. That doesn't mean it can't be modified by the designer, and that's something I'd certainly like to see (or see the growth in her future work in analog boardgames). That is, after all, what criticism is for, right?

But you must understand: Brathwaite's intention is not that she wants ya to play the game; she actually wants ya to do the exact opposite: to drop out of the game altogether once you recognize the historical pattern and voice an objection to continuing with it.
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Jeffrey Allers
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Actually, something scarier than Train would be to have players play "Juden Raus," an actual game created in the Nazi time, without revealing the name of the game to the players until the end. You could even name the various collection points and reveal them after they were reached, as Train did. But the worst part about this game, is that it was actually played by German families at the time.

In this way, you are also revealing how the murdering of Jews and others--and the Nazi propaganda that justified it--permeated all of society at the time, including the realm of board games.
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Stew Woods
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ShreveportLAGamer wrote:


But you must understand: Brathwaite's intention is not that she wants ya to play the game; she actually wants ya to do the exact opposite: to drop out of the game altogether once you recognize the historical pattern and voice an objection to continuing with it.


Ah, the myth of authorial intent!

Since we're guessing, I'd say her intent was to garner attention (mission accomplished) and to detract attention from her role in pushing the boundaries of game design with Playboy: The Mansion.
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James King
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jeffinberlin wrote:
Actually, something scarier than Train would be to have players play "Juden Raus," an actual game created in the Nazi time, without revealing the name of the game to the players until the end. You could even name the various collection points and reveal them after they were reached, as Train did. But the worst part about this game, is that it was actually played by German families at the time.

In this way, you are also revealing how the murdering of Jews and others--and the Nazi propaganda that justified it--permeated all of society at the time, including the realm of board games.

Scarier yet, "Juden Raus" is just a rethemed version of Trap the Cap by Ravensburger Games. When I purchased at a Shreveport thrift store, it wasn't until I got home and began reading its rules and looking at its board more carefully that it dawned on me that I'd seen something that very much resembled its tokens, board and board layout.




Manufactured in 1936, the Nazi children’s board game, , the object of the "Juden Raus!" (Jews Out!) board game was to move your token around the board, round up ‘Jews’ represented by yellow conical hats, stack them upon your token's own pointed hat, and return them to your "Collection Point" (symbolic of a train depot/station). Please note that the wall surrounding the area that the yellow caps representing Jews are in depicts a walled-off Jewish ghetto.





The six-player side of the Trap the Cap board was the dead giveaway that "Juden Raus!" was a rethemed version of Trap the Cap. The object of the game remains the same, too: to capture the caps.






To complete the comparison, you can download the rules to Trap the Cap at: http://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/816/trap-the-cap-pdf


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I've come late to this, but (while I agree with the OP's position that most Germans had a pretty good idea that the folks being rounded up weren't being sent to a holiday camp) I think it's missing the point somewhat.

I get the distinct feeling that the OP is used to games that set out to model systems so that players can explore the big-picture interactions. Train isn't about the systemic, it's about the personal.

Train is about creating a psychological moment when you realise that you're caught up in something pretty nasty - and you should have known all along. That's why the broken glass, the SS typewriter, the yellow of the tokens matching the yellow of the Nazis' Star-of-David badge, etc is all important - it doesn't just create a mood, it gives people a clue as to what the game is about.

The point of the game is to give players that moment of "oh crap, THAT's what's going on here, and I REALLY should have known". Personally, I'd like to think that I'd be with the rabbi who took one look and knew what it was about. (But lots of people clearly didn't, so likely that's just vanity.) Given that a lot of people didn't pick up on the clue enough to realise what the "punchline" was going to be, though, I'd say Romero pitched it just right.

The OP is 100% right to say that by the end of the war - even by mid-way through - most of the German population were well past that point. I wonder to what extent that was fully conscious complicity and to what extent it was wilful ignorance at a conscious level of something unconsciously understood - I suspect it varied from person to person and day to day. But I respect the OP's knowledge of the period more than mine and I'm happy (and inclined anyway) to accept the assertion that most of the adult populace basically knew to a degree that made them culpable of the things done in their name by the system they inhabited.

However. At some point along the way (in some cases, quite possibly, before WWII broke out), many individual Germans would have had at least a chance to have a moment of reflection and realisation something like this one. That most people turned away and failed to act on it, for whatever reason, was one of the many tragedies of the Holocaust. And the point of this game is to create that moment for players in play, so that if they ever have such a moment for real, they are more likely to recognise it for what it is, correctly understand the potential gravity of inaction and complicity, and NOT turn away. I.e., to make it harder to shove that understanding of one's own culpability for one's part in historic tragedies-in-the-making down to the unconscious level that makes it possible to get on with one's life and just let it happen.

I'm a historian by training, so I absolutely respect the OP's commitment to historical accuracy. I would have similar grave reservations about using this game to teach historical fact. But I would have none about using it to teach one of the key moral lessons to be learned from the Holocaust and to spark conversations about complicity and individual responsibility within larger systems.

In short, I think it's acceptable to treat a game like this - which is not being mass-produced, which has been the subject of respectful consultation with people representing the persecuted group, which (to the extent it's being considered for use in education at all) is being considered for inclusion in a curriculum rather than touted as a stand-alone lesson - as a parable, as a work which is attempting to recreate an individual moral experience rather than abstract a systemic analysis of causation and culpability from historical fact.

That some people might come away from the game with the idea that the train drivers didn't really know what was going on is an indictment of the level of historical education in the West - but not of this game, which makes its own incompleteness clear at numerous points (for instance, by gaps in the rules such as are raised by the card about "your passengers get off the train and refuse to get back on").

I don't think it would have the power that it does without reference to the Holocaust, either - I don't think you could substitute another historical (or fictional!) tragedy and have the same effect in a modern audience. Sadly, I suspect you can't even count on references to the Holocaust to create the right effect sometimes - but again, that's not this game's fault.

Anyway, just my 2c. Hope it's a constructive addition.
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Barry Figrim
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This has been an interesting, and long, thread to look at. I admit to skipping through the middle, because there's just so much here.

But, I think this proves that Train has succeeded on the level it intended: it's fostered conversation. A lot of it. With a lot of good research and discussion on the nature of history.

I don't know if these points were made in the middle, but I thought I'd try to offer a perspective on the question that started the thread, which is not to ask 'is Train historically accurate?' but 'could Train have been as effective if it were historically accurate?'

As has been noted, this game really does come down to the plot twist. It tricks players into being complicit in committing an atrocity, then asks them to respond to that realization. If the game were more accurate, inviting players to volunteer to play Nazis and willingly load up the train cars, it wouldn't be able to offer that internal perspective. Most everyone would walk by, read about the game's objectives, put their hand up and say 'ugh, I will never play that,' thus missing the entire point of making the observer an active participant in history.

Has anyone brought up Spec Ops: The Line yet? It (spoiler warning) provides a similar bait-and-switch, as the player is forced to commit atrocities, then chastised for making those 'choices.' I've seen reviewers react negatively to this, saying that the game doesn't work for them because it doesn't give them a choice. But without forcing the player's hand, the game doesn't have a narrative. If you let the player willingly and freely choose whether to kill a bunch of people or not do that, they're going to choose the moral high ground and feel good about themselves. Then they're going to go back and do an 'evil' playthrough, but the second playthrough doesn't count - they've already made their decisions, and now they're just seeing what the game has to offer.

So, that would be the design challenge I'd put to you: to design a game in which players will be actively and enthusiastically playing the role of the Nazis, while being fully informed about it from the start.
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Jeffrey Allers
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beri wrote:

So, that would be the design challenge I'd put to you: to design a game in which players will be actively and enthusiastically playing the role of the Nazis, while being fully informed about it from the start.


They wouldn't, of course. And neither would anyone who can see the clues in the "game" as it stands.

The truth of history, however, is that people DID "play the game" knowing at least partially what it was about. That's the real-life horror of history, and one we would certainly experience if players would continue to play Train "by the rules"--even enjoying the experience--after realising what they were doing.

I do think it's interesting to see how some players might feel they need to follow the rules and continue to deliver their trains, even after finding out what the game pieces represent. That is where the game succeeds in challenging the perception of "rules" and asks the important question, "When is it right to break them?" And yes, you need to trick the players in order to get them to that point.

And one could use any number of historical themes to do it in this way. Example: the players are captains of ships carrying "cargo"--wooden cubes--that sometimes need to be thrown overboard, and then you all arrive at your destination to sell your goods, and it is suddenly revealed as the Charles Town slave market. What do you do now? In the same manner as in Train, you have been unknowingly transported into the shoes of historical figures who made immoral choices, and you now have the choice to "continue to follow their rules" or to "change history" with the benefit of your current cultural context.

So the real question this whole discussion poses: "Is it worth it?"

Is it worth distorting history--and the real lessons to be learned about willingly "following the rules" even when it hurts others--in order to get players to this point in the game? The OP says no, and I would agree.

However, using a game to pose the question, "When is it allowed--or even morally necessary--to break the rules?" is a fascinating experiment. Perhaps it would be better posed in a game with no historical theme, in which the moral choices are not so black and white?
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jeffinberlin wrote:
However, using a game to pose the question, "When is it allowed--or even morally necessary--to break the rules?" is a fascinating experiment. Perhaps it would be better posed in a game with no historical theme, in which the moral choices are not so black and white?

Removing the game from its historical theme would in effect betray its intent to test the players' perception of one of the most regrettable patterns of history.

For although there had already existed recognizably deplorable patterns in their own and in Europe's history that should not be repeated, Germany nonetheless failed to learn from the lessons of the past much less to avoid repeating those regrettable historical patterns, and for those reasons, that put them on course for rack and ruin.


 
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Here is a brief list of things I don't know:

- I don't know if this game is an accurate representation of the choices faced (or not faced) by various people in the Third Reich.

- I don't know that much about the final solution in general. I mean I probably know about as much as the average college-educated person but no more.

- I do not know the designers intentions when they created the game (only one person really does and even they may be subject to post-hoc rationalisation).

- I don't know precisely how the game works as I haven't played it.

- I don't know if it succeeds in its objectives (whatever they are).

However, from what I have read about this game, I don't think it should be listed on BGG for two reasons.

1. It's not really a board game. Board games, as we use the phrase on BGG, have rules and objectives and end-points. From what I have read this one just sort of abandons you in the middle of the game after making its smug point and doesn't really tell you how to finish. I guess everyone is supposed to recoil in horror and not want to play any more. But that's not a game, that's an experience. Or at best an activity.

2. It's not, and never has been, commercially available. If this has a BGG listing, then why not the myriad of other 'one copy only' prototype games that sit on amateur designers' shelves in all corners of the world? You can't buy the game, you can't play it without the designers permission or (presumably) without the designer being present. How are we supposed to properly judge a 'game' like that?

This may be a good educational tool, or piece of art or whatever. I'm not best placed to judge either of those things. But I don't think it has a place here.
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Without addressing your various other points,
piemasteruk wrote:
2. It's not, and never has been, commercially available. If this has a BGG listing, then why not the myriad of other 'one copy only' prototype games that sit on amateur designers' shelves in all corners of the world? You can't buy the game, you can't play it without the designers permission or (presumably) without the designer being present. How are we supposed to properly judge a 'game' like that?

There are plenty of other non-commercially-available games in the BGG database. AFAIK commercial availability is not a requirement for a game to be in the database.
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As art as a board-game, this seems to have worked. Art exists to make people feel something, to generate discussion and thought, and to be evocative.

8 pages of some pretty serious conversations going on here about the Holocaust, the seriousness of the material, it's legacy, what that means for Board Games.

As a piece of art, it seems to have done it's job. Like it or not, it's generated a response and a discussion.
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James King
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piemasteruk wrote:
Here is a brief list of things I don't know:

- I don't know if this game is an accurate representation of the choices faced (or not faced) by various people in the Third Reich.

- I don't know that much about the final solution in general. I mean I probably know about as much as the average college-educated person but no more.

- I do not know the designers intentions when they created the game (only one person really does and even they may be subject to post-hoc rationalisation).

- I don't know precisely how the game works as I haven't played it.

- I don't know if it succeeds in its objectives (whatever they are).

However, from what I have read about this game, I don't think it should be listed on BGG for two reasons.

1. It's not really a board game. Board games, as we use the phrase on BGG, have rules and objectives and end-points. From what I have read this one just sort of abandons you in the middle of the game after making its smug point and doesn't really tell you how to finish. I guess everyone is supposed to recoil in horror and not want to play any more. But that's not a game, that's an experience. Or at best an activity.

2. It's not, and never has been, commercially available. If this has a BGG listing, then why not the myriad of other 'one copy only' prototype games that sit on amateur designers' shelves in all corners of the world? You can't buy the game, you can't play it without the designers permission or (presumably) without the designer being present. How are we supposed to properly judge a 'game' like that?

This may be a good educational tool, or piece of art or whatever. I'm not best placed to judge either of those things. But I don't think it has a place here.

"Train" has just as much a place here as the Ravensburger game "Trap the Cap which, during the Third Reich was rethemed with minor game-mechanics changes into "Jews, Get Out!" ("Juden Raus")

As to your lack of knowledge about The Final Solution and especially matters concerning the use of trains in the Third Reich and occupied countries to transport prisoners of wars, criminals, political prisoners, and Jews to concentration and death camps, I recommend you consider viewing at your convenience the acclaimed documentary "Shoah" and the movie "The Last Train" below.





"Shoah" is a 1985 Franco-British documentary film, directed by Claude Lanzmann, about the Holocaust (called the "Shoah" in Hebrew and French). The film primarily consists of his interviews and visits to German Holocaust sites across Poland, including three extermination camps. It presents testimonies by selected survivors, witnesses, and German perpetrators, often secretly recorded using hidden cameras. The film was unusual in that it did not include any historical footage, relying instead on interviewing witnesses and visiting the crime scenes.

Since some German interviewees were reluctant to talk and refused to be filmed, Lanzmann resorted to using a hidden camera. Some of the most controversial interviews were obtained in this way, conspicuous by their grainy, black-and-white appearance. Walter Stier, a former Nazi bureaucrat, describes the workings of the railways. Stier insists he was too busy managing railroad traffic to notice his trains were transporting Jews to their deaths.

During his trip to Poland in July 1978, Lanzmann's crew filmed his conversations with an elderly Polish man named Henryk Gawkowski, who, 35 years earlier, had worked on the locomotives pulling Holocaust trains to Treblinka during World War II. The photograph used for the film poster shows Gawkoski on a locomotive to Treblinka, but there was no reconstruction of events from his youth.




The type of locomotives used in 1943 were different as was the landscape. The female translator insists on calling him the train's "operator" (or "conductor" in Polish); nevertheless, Gawkowski stated that he only shoveled coal into the engine's firebox, and that two German officers were always on every train. What happened to the victims, Gawkowski said, was not his fault, adding emphatically that if he had the opportunity, he would have been the first to slash Hitler's throat.

Hailed as a masterpiece by many critics, "Shoah" was described in the New York Times as "an epic film about the greatest evil of modern times." In 1985, the year the documentary was released, film critic Roger Ebert described it as "an extraordinary film" and "one of the noblest films ever made. It is not a documentary, not journalism, not propaganda, not political. It is an act of witness." Ebert declined to rank "Shoah", saying that it belonged in a class to itself and no film should be ranked against it. Gene Siskel named it as his choice for the best movie of the year, later naming it the second best film of the 1980s.

Shoah was ranked #2 on the "50 Greatest Documentaries of All Time" in a December 2015 poll by the British Film Institute.


























































































































[IMG]Z75q_HzoMSg[/IMG]











"The Last Train" (German: "Der letzte Zug") is a 2006 German film directed by Joseph Vilsmaier and Dana Vávrová, and starring Gedeon Burkhard, Lale Yavas, and Lena Beyerling. The film depicts the fate of some of the last remaining Jews in Berlin who in April 1943 were rounded up at the Berlin-Grunewald station and sent to the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. The film stands out due to its proximity as well as the unsparing realism with which the brutality of a transport to the Auschwitz concentration camp appears.





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James King
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tzinc wrote:
you really missed the point of the game.

Says *you* anyway.


tzinc wrote:
first experts don't need to be consulted on games.

With respect to games with technical and/or historical themes, the option to consult an expert(s) could be the difference between a successful game and a mediocre one (if not a flop).


tzinc wrote:
If I want to make a game about farming, I don't need to consult experts to make my game.

If you know all about farming and don't require any special knowledge about animal husbandry or other special farming issues, then more power to ya.


tzinc wrote:
you mention the Stanford experiment that is what Train is because the game really starts WHEN you find out ... what do you do then?

The Stanford Experiment is different in one important aspect: The participants already knew what they were going to be doing from the very outset.


tzinc wrote:
some people during WW2 did not know. how did they act when they found out?...

As the "Shoah" documentary above demonstrates, there's no one universal answer to that question. Unfortunately, more people knew or suspected what was going on than they cared to admit.


tzinc wrote:
this had nothing to do with some hidden agenda with regard to violent video games; this is your unproven theory.

The Video Games Controversies entry on Wikipedia has some of the latest findings. Check it out at: https://wiki2.org/en/Video_game_controversies


tzinc wrote:
the game [Train] is a study of how people act WHEN they find out take it as that and you don't have to hate it so much.

It's not a matter of "hating" the game as it is hating the cringe-inducing realization that as a player, one has been going through the motions of re-enacting the mechanics of how an individual in his/her role or job could have been an integral cog in making the Nazis' genocidal killing machine run on schedule just like their trains.


 
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What about the people whose jobs it was to keep the trains running? They weren't part of the SS. Isn't it a stretch to assume the game is about actually pulling the trigger rather than enabling it because you're just focused on doing your job in the society?
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Nomadic Gamer
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It has no ending..therefore it's a social experiment.
Players knowing what it is would not 'play'. It's a cruel prank on ignorant people. Nothing more and I'm surprised some participant hasn't reacted very adversely at her.
 
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davedanger wrote:
It has no ending..therefore it's a social experiment.
Players knowing what it is would not 'play'. It's a cruel prank on ignorant people. Nothing more and I'm surprised some participant hasn't reacted very adversely at her.

Seeing it as a "cruel prank on ignorant people" seems an uncharitable assumption of malice on her part. FWIW I don't perceive it as a malicious game(/experiment/performance art/whatever), but rather intended (whether successfully or not) as giving some kind of thought-provoking enlightening aha-effect about history/sociology/psychology.
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