How People Played A Holocaust Game

Illustration for article titled 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 involves 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] [Pic via Wikipedia]



Extremely interesting read. I really would like to see a video of different peoples reactions at the point they realized what they were playing. However, I would think most adults would at least have an inkling on what it's about, and if so, might still agree to participate to see where it goes....

If say they win, or pull out the Auschwitz card, it's not really a surprise to them cause they already got the theme of the game. Are they just suppose to feel bad about participating now? Is there something wrong if they continue? I guess that's the art part of it.


Games are games because they have a specific set of rules that need to be followed to achieve your goal. Is it a game if at any moment you can end it by saying "America invades sooner than expected". Does that really count as following the rules since there wasn't a rule that says you can't say America saves the day?

On the topic of can games be art I think this is an excellent example of a YES.......but with a few caveats....

It's an art installation in terms of when people choose to stop participating/ conversation that no doubt seriously takes place afterwards/ breaking the glass if you choose.

It's ONLY a game if people play it until all the pawns are played. I.e. actually finishing the game.

The difference between this still being a game vs. any other board game someone quits out of IS actually the subject matter and ultimately, what is making it a true form of art. You can't quit this game specifically because if you do THAT is ultimately why this game is doubling as an art installation.

If you just play it straight through, you only played a game about the Holocaust. Regardless of if you found it fun or depressing or wrong.

At least, I find that interesting....