Its taken me a long time to sit down and digest all that I’ve read about Train and Siochan Leat (aka “The Irish Game”) as well as my own experiences playing the games and watching them get played. I know, a good academic like me ought to be able to come up with something worthwhile in under a day or so and a blogger within hours, right? I suppose, but occasionally something gets me thinking enough and my inner game developer moving in a way that becomes very difficult to put into words, though in my conversations with Brenda, and her recent blog post on the topic, I agree: the pleasure of pacing or more slow design. Sometimes speed encourages me to miss a better articulation of what I am thinking of. I have also been thinking about it in a more Foucauldian kind of way, as an ethic of discomfort, for I will never be quite comfortable thinking about these particular games and certainly writing about them, but the respect for that discomfort is part of what hopefully makes this more digested post productive:
…never to consent to being completely comfortable with one’s won presuppositions. Never to let them fall peacefully asleep, but also never to believe that a new fact will suffice to overturn them; never to imagine that one can change them like arbitrary axioms…
What Train and Siochan Leat left me thinking about was more of a focus on “The Mechanic is the Message,” embodiment, and social play. What is so striking I’ve come to think about these two games in particular is that you are taking part in events that if you knew precisely what was happening in advance you might not want to play. Siochan in particular is quite the compelling game. Each game is very tight in terms of game mechanics and rich in presentation. Siochan I can almost play in spite of knowing what I do. The experience of figures falling over one another and each player attempting to re-stand them up on the board despite the futility of the act almost demonstrates the kind of explosive behavior that emerged in Ireland. Yet, despite those thoughts and crushing guilt over what was done to so many, including my ancestors, I would play again. Train is a game I think you can only really play once unless you play to watch others come to understand the game. Even Train’s presentation has a level of sacrosanctity that daunts or haunts me. The glass, the typewriter, its nearly colorless aesthetics, with the exception of the people, each pushes at you. Siochan is more compact, it doesn’t demand that you feel the grass in ways that broken glass demands your attention. It is just as rich in symbolism, but it feels more approachable.
What I have been thinking about however is the performative nature of the board games. Each of these games must be experienced in person and with at least one other player, who in some respect is recording in their lives that you have played a game. You have taken people to death camps or displaced families. There is no singular experience like one might have in a videogame. You cannot avoid having another person witness your participation in tragic events. Thus, there is a definite power to the embodied play experience. I think these games also implicitly demand that we recognize the non-existence of a “magic circle.” Each of these games draws the “external” and the “social” into the gamespace whether we like it or not. Each violates it because we all continually play in context(s).
Of course in the time that has passed, a significant number of excellent reflections have been posted online also muddling through that post-process of game digestion that Brenda has thrust on us, and for which we all seem to thank her for. I index a few here at the end:
- Game Culture [BETA]: Train: The Mechanic is the Message
- Play This Thing! Train – Tabletop Tuesdays: Game[s] as Gallery Art
- The Escapist – TGC 2009: How a Board Game Can Make You Cry
- MIT GAMBIT – Train of Thought
- Shades of Silver – All Aboard
- The Wall Street Journal – Speakeasy: The Board Game No One Wants to Play More Than Once
- Gamasutra – Persuasive Games: Gestures as Meaning
- Gamasutra – Blogs: Reflections on Train