Can a board games make you cry? A thread from the BoardGameGeek forums

This thread actually has the slightly less emotionally impactful title “can board games be emotionally impactful?” Obviously the denizens of this forum are board game aficionados. Some of the posts describe anger and frustration at badly designed games. Some described the emotional associations of a specific game.

Personally I am a bit sceptical of claims that games – either digital or traditional – are “art.” This is not to doubt the tremendous thought and craft that goes into them, or the possibility of an emotionally engaging and moving experience. My scepticism is more my own issue with the rather pretensious baggage of being “an art form.”

Here are some interesting extracts from the thread:

I think the closest example I can think of to what you are aiming at here is going to be “Train,” by Brenda Romero. Players have a number of train cars onto which they are trying to place yellow pegs, representing people. It’s a space-optimization game that is basically about maximizing the efficiency of public transit. Opposite the player is a typewriter and a number of type-written cards which are flipped one at a time, giving specific instructions to the player. At a certain point, one of the cards reveals that the destination of the train is Auschwitz. If you closely inspect the typewriter, you will see a Nazi “SS” symbol above the typewriter. The game ends when you choose for it to end—when you cease taking orders that are coming from an actual Nazi typewriter. Lots of people, based upon their own backgrounds, are going to have a serious emotional reaction to a game like this. Train (which has never been mass-produced and almost certainly never will be) is part of a series of games called The Message is the Mechanic—in which the idea is that the actual game mechanics convey a complex emotional message.

Some posters reflect on the question itself, and move the focus from the game creator to the player(s):

Instead of asking “can boardgames create an emotional impact?”
Why not ask:
– Can players create emotional situations within boardgames?
– Can players co-create (with one another or in partnership with the boardgame) emotional situations within boardgames?

Another example given:

The Grizzled comes to mind. It’s about WW1 of course, but has none of the trappings one would expect from a game about a war. Instead, the game’s underlying structure provides a quiet commentary on the human toll and impact of industrialized warfare. The players never see, let alone shoot at, the “enemy.” Instead, players are tasked with managing a mounting wave of psychological tolls, all the while surviving against the grind of artillery shells, gas attacks, and advancement. Like the war itself, from the perspective of an individual combatant, it is a painful slog with little sense of powers beyond the horizon that are orchestrating the whole endeavour.

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