How People Played A Holocaust Game

Coverage last week of the concentration camp first-person shooter Sonderkommando Revolt may have raised curiosity about how people would play a game about the Holocaust.

A writer at the Daily Beast shares a story of one such session he observed in November involving the game Train. The Train is a board game of sorts that involved miniature trains and pawns. It was made by video and board game designer Brenda Brathwaite and was covered in the gaming press in 2009 as a breakthrough work in dealing with an historical event that's been turned into many a novel and film but rarely a game. Without explicitly being told the game's milieu is the Holocaust, players compete to load passengers into train cars and bring them to their destination. The tension, obviously, is between the zeal to win and the horror of the context which is revealed late in a play session.

In his piece, writer Ben Crair, shares what he observed when he watched people play Train in November:

Upon reaching the end of the line, Rob emptied his boxcar and placed 10 yellow pawns on the Dachau card. On his next turn, Rob moved a second boxcar to the end of the line, took a new card, and arranged four yellow pawns around the word "Chelmno."

Earlier, Brathwaite had said no players had ever moved all 60 pawns to the camps. But at one point in Cupertino, all but five pawns were on a card or in a boxcar. When Helen drew her first Terminus card, she showed it to Jon, who said, "Bergen-Belsen, nice! It's so fun to say."

The player's reactions are not exactly what Brathwaite intended. She was with Crair and was tempted to intervene. She'd not seen any player bring all of their pawns to the camps. I won't give away what happens, but if you're interested in the intent of a Holocaust game designer and the unpredictable reaction of its players - to say nothing of the value of this kind of thing - give the piece a read.

Brenda Brathwaite: Holocaust Game Designer [The Daily Beast]


    I thought this was older than 2009, but yeah I have read about this before. Its a great comparison between games, about what games are 'about' fictionally, and what the games are 'about' mechanically. You can have the same subject matter and completely different messages depending on what the rules are.

    “Bergen-Belsen, nice! It’s so fun to say.”

    This is really unfortunate, and as the article suggests the surprise some of the players felt that they were participating in a Holocaust game might have been a product of their unfamiliarity with the topic (not recognising Dachau, for example).

    Brenda Brathwaite sounds like a fascinating designer, I'd love to see some of her other work.

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