On Being A "Woke" Gamer

I don’t think that’s really a problem in this day and age of an enormous amount of games getting made. There are a lot of people who get weirded out by things about the real world, an obvious surface reaction, but historically and modern-setting games get made all the time.

I don’t mean the market for the games, I refer more to this article ad the chiming in of those who don’t play them. And philosophically I’m generally opposed to any impulse to head off any creative or Academic endeavor before they’re completed. Let them get beat up after they’ve been created.

Anyone remember the backlash when you couldn’t kill the children in Fallout?

In general, yeah, I’m in favor of designers doing whatever they want and letting us decide if we like it. I’d rather have games made that ultimately I find make poor choices and which perhaps I would not want to play, than to close off the possibilities of creating productive discussions.

Except you could…unless of course you totally meant Fallout 3. I think the bigger problem was children featured predominately in one portion of the game…so as a psychopath you couldn’t murder your way through, although the last time Bethesda didn’t use invincibly flags was Morrowind so this also occurs in other areas of the game.

Eklund is a great game designer and also a libertarian crank. Like the games, dislike the dude’s politics, c’est la vie.

His batting average on good games, IMO, is pretty mediocre.

Reminds me of this:

Train is one in a series of six board games that Romero calls The Mechanic is the Message. The challenge she created for herself was to capture and express difficult emotions with game mechanics.

In the game, the players read typewritten instructions. The game board is a set of train tracks with box cars, sitting on top of a window pane with broken glass. There are little yellow pegs that represent people, and the player’s job is to efficiently load those people onto the trains. A typewriter sits on one side of the board.

The game takes anywhere from a minute to two hours to play, depending on when the players make a very important discovery. At some point, they turn over a card that has a destination for the train. It says Auschwitz. At that point, for anyone who knows their history, it dawns on the player that they have been loading Jews onto box cars so they can be shipped to a World War II concentration camp and be killed in the gas showers or burned in the ovens.

The key emotion that Romero said she wanted the player to feel was “complicity.”

Romero is about halfway through her series. The first was The New World, a game about slavery, created in 2008.

That bottom one especially.

I somehow missed this thread when it first came up. I was probably put off by the use of “woke” in the title.

I remember playing some wargame with some Army buddies a long time ago, one of those chits on a map type deal, about some battle in the Zulu Wars and becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the theme. Eventually, I just kind of dropped out of playing and nursed a beer while the others continued.

I had to laugh at

suddenly games like ‘Puerto Rico’ are played by people who themselves come from that country

Well, yes, Americans have played it since it launched.

I was aware of that Train game, but I never realized Brenda Romero was the designer. Wow.

So she failed to “The Mechanic is the Message”. That the train where people getting in the train to get genocided was not the mechanic, was part of lore.

At this point of my life I doubt videogames can really get political… much. Mechanics build a bed very limited so is really hard for the game dev to really say something with the game with the mechanics. Is easy to add a text and try to put things in a context, add lore, but the hard part is to do it with the mechanics.


it seems to me that game mechanics have a “Life of their own” and when are translated to politics, or you try to read the subtext, it become anwful.
most games are really darwinism, conflct, war… because these things are fun. most economic games are about winers or losers, because in a game … you want winners or losers.

I don’t mean is imposible, I mean it seems really hard to really convey ideas trough mechanics

Train is very much a cheap shot- it uses a very basic set of mechanics that people will want to optimize and then says “heh heh trying to get good at the game means you would’ve been a good nazi or whatever” While there were plenty of people who helped optimize the methods the Nazis used for warfare and extermination, there wasn’t some weird trick or bait and switch involved.

Game mechanics do impart a message, I think, and they’re a really good way to send one- but I think Train is low effort and cheap. I think more interesting commentary comes from the ACOUP blog’s series on something like Europa Universalis 4.

To me, that’s where the mechanics definitely represent a message, and many people’s interest in some fields really are sparked by slickly represented games like this, that make full-blown historiographic arguments, sometimes unintentionally(For example, ‘good gameplay’ demands a certain level of required fiscal responsibility that exactly none of the large-scale European state-builders of the 1500s actually needed).

Among games I’ve played recently, I think The Cost does an excellent job of integrating mechanics and social critique. Although “critique” is probably the wrong word; it presents a largely amoral system, explains the financial and human consequences of your choices, and leaves you to it.

Dan Thurot’s review does a good job of capturing this.

Oh, I totally agree. I’d also point out that someone who sees a “board game” set on a broken windowpane, in which you load train cars with people figures, is probably not paying much attention if they don’t think there’s an underlying trick. Brenda’s art game is broad and obvious because it’s meant to generate media publicity as well as whatever emotion she’s going for.

Still, it’s interesting to me to see the difference in reaction a couple years after this thread was started. In 2019, the reaction to the NYT story and the news that Scramble for Africa was being cancelled was pretty widespread rejection of the premise itself - that a game that celebrates or whitewashes colonialism could be problematic. People seem to be a bit more thoughtful now.

Wouldn’t the most woke thing a gamer can do is realize that board games add to the total carbon footprint of a person and only buy 2nd hand games, or maybe digital board games?

Isn’t consumerism a problem?

I thought wokeness mostly refers to social justice causes, not environmental?

I don’t think it’s really limited to any topic now, though of course it’s always hard to nail down when so many people use it so many different ways. It might mean something related to racism to one group, and might mean something different related to racism to another group, and then over here people are using it when discussion sexuality and gender, and over here it’s about income equality which elsewhere is being discussed hand-in-hand with racial issues, etc. To your specific point there’s an argument to be made that environmental and social justice causes are entwined anyway.

Off the top of my head the only sufficiently broad way I’d define it is espousing a perspective that rejects traditionally held views.

I don’t think, in 2021, you can untangle how social justice and environmental justice is. People that are usually treated poorly by society will probably suffice much worse as the environment gets worse.

Also, there is the whole deal that most of these games seem to be manufactured in China, which might be counter to the idea of being woke, considering the crack downs, the lack of freedom, and of course the likely genocide going on.

I am fuzzy on this, but would it be ironic if the board game about the Holocaust was made by Chinese Prison labor or by Uighurs?

Hopefully that isn’t the case.

Funny, I think the things you name here are all inevitably very political when they’re happening in real life.