Hard gaming

December 16, 2010

US News on Brenda Brathwaite’s designs:

Train has proven the most controversial, particularly because of Brathwaite’s decision to formally conceal the subject until late in the game. Critics say it’s a bait and switch. “If, following a game of chess, I declare all the white pieces were homosexuals, should the black player experience any guilt for their participation in systematic homophobia?” asks Stewart Woods, a board-game scholar at Australia’s Curtin University of Technology.

But the surprise some players experience at discovering the game’s subject may result more from their own ignorance than an intentional trick in Brathwaite’s design. “There’s nothing about this game that doesn’t scream, ‘I’m about the Holocaust,’” Brathwaite says, and she has a point: The game’s symbolism—from the broken window to the boxcars to the yellow pawns—isn’t exactly concealed.

While I get the mainstream news reaction “ZOMG WHAT IS THIS GAME ABOUT?!?” reaction, I kinda have to look at fellow gamers who’ve played Puerto Rico and similar colonization games and what they thought those games were about this whole time.

And, of course, there’s always the stupid folks who imagine that the answer is some sort of sanitized world free of problematic material, when really, and always, the question is why so MUCH of it is prevalent and unremarked.

Which is also why I pulled that specific quote. It’s a funny bit of denialism in that- to claim it’s a left field switcheroo…when, as she says, the game is drenched in the symbolism.

I don’t think Brathwaite’s work is exceptional art, or even a good way to necessarily educate about history and problematic elements, but I do think it’s notable especially in contrast to all the other problematic stuff that draws no attention at all.

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