Designing for Difficult Subjects


An excellent post by Chris Bennett of the Game Design Thinking Research Group at Stanford University.

Main subject is depictions of slavery in tabletop games but moves on to the broader subject of the player’s offhand engagement with experience of violence, trauma and immersion in subject.

Go have a read!

Games cited:

  • Freedom: the Underground Railroad
  • Puerto Rico
  • This Guilty Land
  • Labyrinth
  • Washington’s War
  • The Grizzled

About brtrain
This blog is mostly devoted to posts, work and resources on "serious" conflict simulation games.

2 Responses to Designing for Difficult Subjects

  1. Pete S/ SP says:

    An interesting read, particulary the point about ‘Misery Tourism’…
    .. it made me wonder about the perceptions within (war)gaming about what is and is not suitable topics for a game. I know it is a question of approach and tone but where people draw their own lines in the sand is something I find very interesting.



    • brtrain says:

      Thanks Pete.
      For me, your comment kind of veers off into the territory where we think about how ghoulish and scab-pickingly weird this hobby is, and how it invites overall criticism of the whole practice.
      Of course it is a form of misery tourism for your usual wargame player, normally a soft over-educated white male civilian, to try and mimic in his mind the experiences of the unfortunate people caught up in actually having to fight in wars, when he’s probably never even been punched in the face.
      One could ascribe similar motivations to people who read murder mysteries obsessively, or binge-watch Breaking Bad or Cops.
      Human misery makes grand entertainment and an instructive pastime, in many media; what’s different about wargames is the amount of extra mental effort to invest before getting an appreciation of the difficult subject…
      that is, if one even plays these things to “enjoy” that aspect of it at all; you and I have run into many, many people who refuse to see these things as more than competitive abstract puzzles to break, with a thin history-flavoured gloss on top.

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