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Persuasive Games: Gestures as Meaning

June 30, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

Removing passengers at the end of the track requires similar physical investment. The tokens barely fit through the boxcar doors, and removing them is difficult. It's hard to avoid picking up the boxcar and shaking it against an open palm to remove tokens.

The moral and historical significance of these gestures, individually and collectively, is not lost on Train players or spectators. The game not only forces the player to manhandle people, it also forces him to figure out how to do so.

In so doing, the sense of complicity which at first seems tied only to the game's ending creeps anxiously into every action the player performs.

Simple, trivial acts like picking up game tokens or moving pieces along the board take on rich multiplicities of meaning in the minds of players and spectators alike thanks to the game's striking ambiguity. In this game, the action one performs is important as such, not just in relation to the outcome it produces.

The relevance of gameplay gestures can be found in aspects of Train that have little to do with the progress of gameplay. For example, sometimes players have the opportunity to remove tokens from opponents' boxcars.

The game never tells the player what to do with these tokens, so one could just as easily hide them in a pocket, "saving" the victims, as one could return them to play. One might even choose a different method of removal in an attempt to signal contempt to an opponent, a gentle touch that says, implicitly, "let's stop."

The game's setup engenders gestural significance as well. At its start, the yellow tokens are lined up in rows at the side of the table. As players reach for people to stuff into their boxcars, these neat rows become disturbed, uneven.

Even as a spectator, participants may find it difficult to resist "fixing" these disorderly lines of people, returning them to a more uniform and stable state. Here we find a gesture that bears meaning even if it is not consummated.

The sinking feeling that accompanies it is palpable -- one cannot help but admit that there is a measure of comfort in extreme order, and that such comfort is one tiny pebble in the foundation of fascism.

Even the game's rules impart gestural meaning. The rules are intentionally ambiguous, and players will find themselves referring back to them frequently. Brathwaite managed to acquire an authentic SS typewriter for the game (complete with SS sigrune above the 5 key), which she used to type up the rules.

These sheets are placed in the typewriter at the start of the game. In order to read or review them, players must get up and face the typewriter, turning its knobs to reveal the desired text or to remove the sheets.

As one leans in to read the page or to handle the typewriter, game rules instantly become military orders. One cannot help but allow sensations of loyalty and treachery, pride and disgust to well up with each click of the typewriter platen.

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