September 17, 2018


Brenda Romero’s Train
Brenda Romero’s Train (Romero, 2009)

Who said games had to be fun?

Brenda Romero is a game designer who developed a board game about the Holocaust. That's right,.. A game...about the Holocaust. This happened back in 2009, and the reactions she received were quite predictable. Typically, these were the kinds of reactions a game designer wouldn't want their players to have, but in the case of her game Train, convictions were all too raw to keep suppressed. Those kinds of visceral feelings have homes in other media, such as in film and books, where audiences expect to have their beliefs challenged or their knowledge expanded episodically and concisely. If society allows for these acceptable explorative ruminations of deeper feelings through books and film, what blemishes prevent games from entering that space as well?

I could imagine a kind of game designed in that way - A kind of ’docugame’ which would take players and pit them into scenarios where the objective isn't to 'win', but instead to understand.  The 'winner' might be the one who makes the biggest sacrifice, decides to stop playing, or makes the worst decisions so others could prosper. None of these conditions should sound like a game focused on the winning outcome.  A docugame is about understanding.  Documentaries are about documenting facts regarding peoples, places, things, and ideas. A docugame would be about the same stuff, but with an added ingredient of interactivity which I argue, tends to lead to a deeper level of understanding.  You might be more knowledgeable about Japanese Kamikaze pilots after watching a documentary on Pearl Harbor, but after playing a docugame on Pearl Harbor a different and deeper understanding sets in. You will have just emerged from under the flight cap of a Kamikaze pilot wrestling with the odds of surviving the ensuing dog fight or attempting to destroy the critical target as another martyr for the glory of the Japanese Empire. The docugame offers the more visceral and memorable experience of feeling and contending with a Kamikaze pilot’s struggle and would leave the player more informed on the justifications Kamikaze pilots faced to make sense of the war. Interactivity is the catalyst to capture an audience’s imagination and the game drives the player’s process to understanding.   

Admittedly, I’d lose the bet expecting people to buy my docugame for their next Saturday night get-together. The markets aren’t aligned with ‘unfun’ games selling in their storefront windows. But what about ”edutainment”? Edutainment or entertaining educational games, a term reaching back to the early 1950’s, get’s a seat at the table when pointing out the slippery differences between unfun games and educational media. When I think of edutainment, I’m immediately confronted with memories of Schoolhouse Rock glowing from the classroom carted TV or Sesame Street segments from my childhood, but edutainment has excelled at its best when served through a game.  These edutainment games or “lessons-in-a-box” don’t exactly illicit the same attention as the blockbuster first-person shooter games might, but they still command a degree of attention when educators and leaders alike are looking for the perfect tool to ensure a captive audience. But is this the best application these games can strive to achieve? There’s a part of me dejected to realize this might be the most any edutainment game aspires to be. Would it be too much to ask for these kinds of games to percolate society in more assorted forms than a classroom or conference room setting?  What is there to say when the power that lies in arguably the most intellectually involved medium, cannot be activated for it’s most useful purpose? This is what Romero’s Train truly represents; it is a missing link of missing links between education and entertainment. 

Brenda Romero’s Train
Brenda Romero’s Train (Romero, 2009)

It wouldn’t be quite fair to call Train an edutainment product.  After all, it doesn’t translate very well without a guide.  Romero herself admits: “I have met everybody who has ever played my game” (Takahashi, 2013). The settings for Train’s presentation extends mostly to conventions and conferences. Train and Romero’s other experimental games behind her “The mechanic is the message” (McManus, 2014) game series, walks a line that treads over both being a game in the competitive sense but also in an educational “lesson-in-a-box” sense.  The game requires a bit of inductive reasoning as you play, and accomplishes this with intensifying duplicitous rules demanding clear but contradictory objectives be met. Each rule card may contradict the last one, leaving the player with an ambiguous destination for their train cars. Deciding which way to go appears to be commanded strictly by the cards until players choose not to obey.  This revelation towards the middle of the game arouses an air of rebellion against the indeterminate rules, shifting player ambitions towards schemes of mutiny against the game itself.  The crux of Train is the unobtrusive appearance of the game. Without any overt signals giving away the premise, Train draws you in with curiosity at the unconventional board: A real smashed-in glass window sash (see top image). One would be forgiven for confusing the game’s setting with a less erudite topic. The middle-game revelation becomes deeply meaningful when the mistrust of the rules erupts into rebellious opposition. Historic precedent chronicles the prisoner player’s preconceptions as they mutate from placid curiosity into rebellious prejudice with each pointless move against the repressive rules.  “Train is over when it ends,” Romero says (Takahashi, 2013).  Players walk away in frustration, or strike thoughtful discussions about their playing, leaving the player of Train in a state of disillusionment and distrust of future game rules.  The unwritten role player’s take in Train is not as the prisoners , but as a different kind of prisoner, a soldier taking questionable orders. Do you do as you’re told or save the wooden people from entering the train cars?  Tension with the game is tension with the subject, and the ’game’ of Train is to challenge audience’s beliefs exactly where they didn’t expect it. 

Cited Sources:

Romero, B. (2009). Train. Retrieved from

Takahashi, D. (2013). Brenda Romero’s Train board game will make you ponder. 
Retrieved from

McManus, E. (2014). To understand inequality, let’s play a game. 
Retrieved from

February 23, 2014


"Reservoir" image by E. Lancon
"Reservoir" - By Eric Lancon

It's been a long time coming since I've last posted to this blog.  This was initially started as a college assignment four years ago!  I figured one day I might actually want to blog, so I aptly named it something I hoped I would not lose interest in.  Fortunately, that interest is still alive and well, and I still do not see a whole lot by way of blogs, to say this topic has really been covered enough!

I was thinking the other day about what it would take for games to really grab people by the throat and say: "Hey! Play me!!!".  Nowadays, it all seems like the kind of games that get that far are only the so-called: "Triple-A" games with SuperBowl ads.  But of course, truth-be-told, we know that games are increasing in popularity, and slowly taking over the world one cell phone app at-a-time.  

What I'd like to know is why board games haven't quite taken off as well.  They certainly have been around WAY longer, but yet with only a marginal market-share that video games hold, we find board games at the bottom of the list.  And the most popular among them are those with the greatest amounts of advertising (READ: The best board games are NOT the most popular). So, if board games were never-more; say they were instantly banned, would there be a lobby on capital hill to get them back?  -Would enough people even care?  

I want to use this blog to investigate and ramble about what games could achieve socially, psychologically, and technologically.  My 'trained' background is in architecture which stands on it's own as a social 'good' and something with value beyond entertainment.  I wish games were viewed as important a 'good' as architecture is, and explore what it would take to get them off the ground to become that.  

The image above is something I made which depicts a kind of 'fungal' architecture.  In the same way a fungus relies upon a host to survive and mature, so too does 'fungal' architecture thrive upon a host.  In this case, the host is an existing structure, or shell of one, which has been reconstituted by the fungus as something anew.  When we look at architecture this way, we can imagine it reclaiming the old to support to new, and showing that functionality off as something to be appreciated.  As too can games!  Games can take the existing, slap on a new coat of paint and reclaim it as something new.  We can take a whole bag of social situations, wrap it up and build it into a game and all-of-a-sudden, get a new type of social interaction.  

To write about these kinds of topics in-depth, I will hold until future posts to really dig into this stuff individually.  

Hello again internet, I'm finally back!


February 23, 2010

Land vs. Landscape

I visited Mexico back when I was about 10, down to Cancun, where an old Mayan city lay in ruins. The city is known as "Chichen Itza" and it rose to prominence in about 600 C.E.

(One of the many ruins still standing today around the site.)

This site clearly has had over 2,000 years of human occupation and development and therefore resembles a mostly manicured dimple in the rain forest of Central America. The site grew over time like most ancient cities, and was most likely used because of its proximity to resources but also because of untethered land. It indeed seems to be a nice place to build monuments to the gods. Most buildings here are constructed on flat earth. There are no rising hills or slow inclines. Most of what is here is completely flat. But most of the buildings are built up as if to compensate for that.

Where does landscape end and building begin? -Most would agree at the edge of the stone plinth where the grass begins to grow, but I think the Maya would have disagreed. These are buildings of the earth. They (most of them) are actually built on large mounds of dirt. what you see there is pretty much a glorified mound of dirt with a solid retaining wall. There are no 1st, 2nd and 3rd floors indoors. What you see is pretty much all that is there: Solid mass with a room on top, or a colonnade of columns. Most of the big structures here were for religious purposes and therefore carried some sort of supernatural meaning behind their construction. The landscape around them and indeed across the whole complex is for the most part completely flat. Was it like this when they first started building? -I highly doubt it. Where it begins to get interesting is the entertainment "ball court" which I understand was also for religious purposes, where the loser would have his heart cut out of his breathing body as an offer to the gods, but the intention in the design is much more substantial and practical. Basically it's two large walls in parallel to one another with a flat stone-laden empty space between them. The stone hoops are still present where competitors were required to throw the ball through to score points. Who needs basketball?

(The "Ball Court" where they would play 'head games,' literally)

This area like the pathways snaking through the rest of the site, are covered with flat limestone and intended for heavy foot traffic. However, there are other parts of the site that were evidently intended for gathering spaces, and yet other than their stone perimeter, they have no limestone covering. The significance? Probably that of a sacred meeting space in which individuals might be sitting or settings fires. Either way, the landscape played an important role in the development of Chichen Iza, and covered or compensated for in the many different structures. I find these ruins to be very evident of the precedence modern man has now used or at least if not that, then the unanimity of landscape construction methods inherent in all the great civilizations that ever were. Mankind has been evolved out of nature so that it may cope with it. Let us embrace great works that have come before us!

February 3, 2010

Ethical Standards

A bit late in coming, but nevertheless still necessary....

A monologue about studio ethics:

A few ideas or concepts/categories I've thought of that will be quite important to reflect on in this subject matter.

Some major categories to break it down into:

-We are all striving to be better architects or become better students in architecture; respect of one's work and one's self image are important in order to respect others' work, and others' self image. (self image in this regard means specifically architecturally related self esteem). These should not be damaged in lesson.

-We are designers of spaces and experience, let us not intrude or disturb others space or work without the better judgment of our peers and faculty at our disposal. To incline with the aforementioned statement, let there not be any negative attitudes begotten because of this. All intentions should be dealt with integrity towards the work of others.

-We should strive to ever improve our studio environment and recognize its purpose and sustainable outreach for the students that come after us. Let there be no permeable marks or changes made to a studio in wanton disrespect. Attitudes should reflect more of a humble borrowing of the studio's time in order to present and house our work. Respect for others originates with a healthy respect for the studio space itself.

May there be peace throughout our studio land! -And may your work prosper in yours and in the minds of others.

January 14, 2010

A Note About Studio Culture

A strange occurrence in studio culture I've come to terms with is the loss of members. Best way I could show this is to make a comparison to national culture. or perhaps local culture. In all cultures we have traditions and ceremonies to celebrate or signify important events or times. The same is true in studio, when one can find the passing of years as new beginnings or "coming of age" type rituals that signify wisdom or experience. For the focus of studio and the context within which it lies, we find a disconnect with that of the overarching local culture. In our local culture, instances where an individual leaves, or must exit the group, or perhaps when individuals die, there is a period of loss and mourning. A celebration of the time that was shared with that individual in order to recognize their past presence and their new beginning elsewhere (or nowhere). The same is NOT true about the studio culture. When one leaves it's because it was intentional. There is no celebration or base ritual to signify closure. The member simply packs their things up and leaves.

I've had the opportunity to experience this seemingly harsh principle from the static perspective (i.e. I've had close friends leave studio). It's strange how this organism, this production machine moves along as a whole. There were no pauses, no constraints for the mourning, there simply was none of that. Once the decision is made, the user simply packs his belongings and leaves. I've 'lost' two friends who started with me in architecture, and we still converse on a regular basis, as we have stronger ties than the one subject the brought us together initially. Architecture as a sub-culture is a strange phenomena as an extension of the "college culture" that's been diagnosed throughout the years. It behaves differently simply because it's called to perform differently than that of other curricula.

There is no stringent point to be made here, only that of the conscious-raiser I'd like to point out about the crude necessity of moving on within the business world and on a more refined note, that of the studio culture world. How bizarre it is for a student to have such strong ties and passion integrated within something they 'think' they love and to have that passion get flushed down the toilet of lost dreams soon thereafter. May the lost find their way to relaxation and familiarity. And may those that continue on find comfort in what they do with those that do it with them.

January 7, 2010

Homing Inn

Hurray! -I get to present a narrative in full bloom for the masses. I'll allow my mind to explode and see If I get a nice Jackson Pollock painting when I'm done... Onward!

The following is mostly fictional (except for a few minor real details)

'Homing Inn'

Traveling down the sidewalk in the old neighborhood of my childhood heading on my way to work, I noticed an ever peculiar house which I had never seen before. "hmm, weird" I thought, "this wasn't here yesterday." The new house was planted right in the place of my old one and it looked completely nothing like it. I looked around, knowing full well that if I took any more time, I'd miss my bus. Something bizarre I thought; there were no people around; the neighborhood was empty! there were no 'For Sale' signs littering the yards, and all the vehicles were parked in front of the houses. "Well where is everyone?" I murmured. The front door of this french-colonial wooden pier house was wide open. I strafed across the porch to avoid making any noise if perhaps I might have been intruding on someone's property. Clearly, I had an innate urge to investigate this house.

Peeping through the doorway, I saw the newness of all the recently placed furniture. "Did they build this house over night?" I live just three blocks away, I didn't see any lights. How had they pulled this off? I continued through the threshold into the foyer. The place was empty; no lights, no sounds, just the creaking of the settling wooden stud-frame. I turned the corner to the hall, and noticed the familiarity of the layout and mantles of the doors. "hmm," I wondered, "this reminds me of my old room at the end of the hall" I walked down the hall, opened the door to the end-room and saw something of usual stock within my head of activities. It was indeed a connected computer, brightly burning away its monitors and fan-cooled case. "Funny, they must be coming back soon to show the clients the rest of the house" I thought. I turned around and noticed the fairly tall, fairly wide bed quietly spying on me from behind my back. "Hey, wait-a-minute, this is MY bed!" "What gives? Did somebody steal all my stuff?" I ran back to the foyer to look around a bit more and make my compelling stance against my own misunderstanding of this place. I looked high and low for any kind of identification about the owner and found none. I ran to the study and began to find more evidence of privacy invasion. They had pictures! Pictures of my cousins and I on Christmas Eve over 20 years ago, when they were still 10, playing with LEGOs on the study floor. This place looked nothing like my own home, but yet for some reason was cluttered with all my old stuff. I came to realize that computer in the first room was sure enough my very own old computer I threw out years ago. Did they recover it?

I walked out of the study and past the foyer to reach the great living room, which looked almost nothing like my old living room that used to stand in the very same space. But what it did have was the very same entertainment center screwed right into the wall. None of the same appliances, but without mistake, I knew that was the very same entertainment center. I figured there must be some kind of hoax going on, so I decided I would take a sick day, and wait until maybe the owners returned this afternoon to their house. For as far as I knew, this house was clearly made up of things straight from my old home.

Ten hours into waiting, I began to get restless; "they should have been here by now," I thought. Looking around from my sitting spot, I thought about how I could probably get used to this place. After no one showed up for the next 6 hours, I decided to go ahead and sleep in, "it's a Friday, I'm sure they'll be here tomorrow." -And with that I fell into a deep sleep.

Eight hours later I woke-up quite refreshed to a bright sun-beam shining into my face. Well, to my surprise, it wasn't a sun-beam at all, but a policeman's flashlight shining into my retina. "Umm sir, are you alright?" Knowing full well that I'd probably get arrested for trespassing, I began to make plea bargains with the officers before they could say another word. "Sir," he interrupted me, "We were called out here on a citizen's watch. Said you hadn't left your home in over three weeks." "What? I was heading to work yesterday! -What are you talking about?" Well, sir, we found you unconscious this morning, and have been trying to get you to wake up all day. You've got a nasty bruise on your forehead. You're in Mercy hospital now." scratching my head and feeling the bump I responded: "You mean to tell me I've been in my home this whole time?" "The property is in your name sir."
"But I can assure you that home is NOT mine!"
"Well sir, the deed clearly says you've been living there for four years now."
"Wait, wait" I said, "I think we have a misunderstanding here."
"I'm all ears sir" The policeman quipped.
"Well, you say, I fell unconscious in my home?"
-"Yes, that's where we found you."
"Well, I am certain that that place is NOT my home; it may be my house, but certainly not my home. My home was demolished yesterday when I forgot what happened there."

Think about it :P
-Thanks for reading.

December 17, 2009

Another # of Degrees of Separation

Today I'll be working with the following four topics:

1) [movie]: Gattaca (1997)
2) [book]: "A Theory of Fun" (Koster, 2004)
3) [science technology]: LISA project
4) [food item]: Escargot

Let us start off with the 1997 film Gattaca; it's about what society might be like in the near future when technology has advanced enough to the point where couples may 'choose' preferred genes or have designer babies. -Offspring without any natural diseases. It follows the story of one man, or as he's known in his society as a "faith baby;" one who was born without the removal of his counteractive genes. The movie makes a point in that genes may predict with chances the likelyhood of our limitations in life, but they do not predict the determination one might have on surviving against all odds. The will for the survival of the fittest does not rely on genes alone, but to those who most well adapt to change (IMDB, Gattaca). This idea of learning to behave in a society and following the norms (as was intended for the main character in Gattaca), is brought to our attention through psychology. Many societal norms are learned from one another, and passed along or down your lineage. In the book "A Theory of Fun," Raph Koster makes it known that our brains operate on an 'easiest degree of attainability.' He states "our brains are built to basically sleep-walk through life" (Koster, 37). This notion suggests that our brains and indeed the qualities of our personalities lie on the basis that we are always attempting to get through the day with the least amount of effort to make our lives easier. This self intuition has branched up along every facet of human progression. Our curiosity takes the brunt end of this animalistic endeavor where when we attempt to explain our surroundings, we do it in such a way that makes it understandable to everyone. In the field of science, our efforts go toward attempting to break down the observable universe into essential rules or equations from which everything else may be based upon. In other words, we're trying to find the common denominator on everything. Doing this will allow for us to understand things that allude us today; we can make new theories about the unknown based on something that is known using a common theory that links the two.

One of the latest and upcoming scientific projects to date (which is still in development at the time of me writing this) is the large international space project: LISA. "Laser Interferometer Space Antenna." This project is stemmed from our curiosity about our origins and is designed to help find data 9among other things) about the existence of the "Big Bang." This project aims to help define how and why our universe began, and where it is going. Some of these quintessential questions have far long reaching applications in just about every field of interest, including that of essential philosophy and religion. The prospects this particular project aims to explore are that of gravity waves left behind from the big bang. Data collected from this experiment will help to add even more validity to this theory.

From the origins come many more questions about how we came to be as a species and culture, including that of gestures, to habits, and to even food. The origins of our food (especially some of the bizarre ones) reach far back into history where science, yet again, brings us more answers. Strange foods such as escargot, which is a french delight served commonly in upscale restaurants happens to have been around for centuries (including prehistoric times). Archeology has uncovered many cracked snail shells from different periods in history supporting this fact. Such practices may not seem so foreign or bizarre when realized how long they've actually been around and exactly how far wide they've been used across the world. Which leads me to my final connection, and that is with architecture. Just like the history of food has been dug out of the ground, so too has great archeological digs uncovered entire cities, which as we well know help tell us a lot about the origins and history of architecture. We well know science has an outlasting implementation amongst all studies of the world and even in our daily lives, and it behooves us not to place the foundation of our trust in it and in mathematics. Even the arts like movie making and game design place their premise on science's shoulders as they rely heavily on better and better technological advances to bring more to the 'table' for the audience. -This, we may rely on for future endeavors to bring us ever more improvements in our daily lives.

[Gattaca]: <
["A Theory of Fun"]: Koster, "A Theory of Fun," Paraglyph Press. Nov. 6, 2004 <>
[LISA]: <>
[Escargot]: Lubell, "Prehistoric edible land snails..." (PDF) <>

December 10, 2009

Six Degrees of Separation, Assignment #1

I will attempt to connect the following:

(film): The Sound of Music (1965)
(news item): Current Health care Debate
(science): Electromagnetic Fields as Cutting Tools
(place): Germany
(required): Archigram's Work

One of the most popular musicals ever written was and probably always will be Roger & Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music" as per adapted in the same-titled 1965 film. What exactly draws it into the public's eye to make it wonderful? Well, the music of course! The music although originally written in the 50's, speaks to millions even today, and stands truly as 'classic' in most critic's eyes too. While although the movie has a memorable story with an outlook on one of the most horrific events in world history (WWII), what really keeps it in its own records is its wonderfully written music. The music is what drives so much of the fascination, not just with the film, but with its contents. And indeed music today is what drives a lot of pop culture and even political opinions.

With a lot of middle-aged folks tied up today over the rising cost of health-care in this country (USA) and the future outlook on where it might lead, many people are turning to alternative 'medicines' or pleasantry anecdotes for stress relieving mechanisms. People across all of history have always used music to help get them into moods they'd like to feel, certainly now with such long-term stress factors as the health-care reform debate are giving rise to many unwanted stress-related symptoms. It only makes sense that many people the country-over will be using such simple psycho-related calming medicines such as music (to top the list) on a regular basis. If music were to have a pill box label with an over-the-counter availability license, it would probably be the most widely used drug on the planet; It's cures would be numerous and its side-effects little (only upon intention). So as a useful tool to better our world, society treats as almost like a utility, much like running water from your faucet. But instead of having to pipe a line of music to your home, we're allowed to broadcast it wirelessly to anywhere the signal reaches. With this in mind, greater collective minds than our own have already set up huge networks of radio and digital means for relaying this awesome utility to our vehicles while we're on the go.

Of course those machines we drive come with plenty of other mechanisms to make the sometime hours of sitting in one place bearable. We look to the car manufactures to think about this when designing our vehicles and understanding the wants and needs of the different market's these vehicles cater towards. When constructing these machines though, our manufacturers need even more complicated tools to bring them to life on such mass scales. and often time within these manufacturing plants, they deal a lot of part fabrication before assembling those parts into a working vehicle. During these part fabrication processes, there will be a lot of cutting of raw materials, and during that cutting process, we see an emergence of a new technology being developed to make that step 7x easier -exactly. The emergence of a new electromagnetic process of cutting has enabled a much cleaner and faster and more energy efficient way to cut harder steels. -And this process is currently being developed for the vehicle industry. The technology will help to alleviate the mess caused by this process traditionally. And it's being developed in Germany where we also see a lot of advances in not just car design but design in general, especially in architecture. Archigram, a popular British experimental architecture firm with a self-titled magazine circulating in the 60's pressed more for an architectural revolution than was occurring at the time.

Nice quaint, and hurriedly wrapped-up. -Now wasn't that fun?

"Electromagnetic Fields as Cutting Tools" Science Daily (Dec. 10, 2009) >

December 7, 2009

Arriving on the Scene

I'll skip with the formalities if there are any applied solely for blogging. "Playing Architecture" is a blog inspired by nothing and created for a particular architecture class however, this does not doom it for failure (or in that case, demise). My subject of this blog for the next 10 weeks will be outlined for me. Therefore, the topics may not be of my particular interest, but they will receive my particularly interesting opinion (I'm being graded). So goes the school train of mediocrity.

Now then, the formalities (I'd said I'd skip them, not NOT do them!): My name is Eric Lancon, I'm currently in my 3rd year studying architecture at Louisiana Tech University. This blog is going to be about whatever my professors assign me for the next 10 weeks (architectural theory); nothing I can do about that. However, it's free reign after and in-between that. I'd like to talk and ponder about the relevance video game design (specifically level design) has on architecture, and vice versa. Playing Architecture is a take on what architecture has to offer the game design world; are computer game spaces just as relevant as physical architectural spaces? My passion lies in space creation, and therein lies the connection. I like drawing 'spaces,' building and designing 'spaces,' playing 'spaces' and any sort of connection with spaces my mind may call upon.
So there you have it, not too complicated, and hopefully somewhat original. How passionate about this blog will I be? -probably not regularly (outside the assigned material), but each post I believe I can guarantee to be something insightful, assigned or not.

Thanks for reading & I hope you make a return trip one day!
-Eric (Riven) Lancon