Monday, April 18, 2011

Emotionally Repressed?

If you've ever been witness to a Chess tournament, you know what I'm talking about. A pin dropping might cause one of the contestants to jump out of his or her seat. It's that quiet. I stumbled upon a tournament while I was in Macedonia several years ago. And from what I've seen in films about these kinds of events, I could have been anywhere. That stoic Chess-player is also the typical image the general public has of a modern boardgamer.

As I visited a recent gaming event in Berlin, I did, in fact, notice a similar atmosphere. Sure, there were intermittent discussions and laughter between games, but most of the players were intently engaged in the components on their respective tables.

Afterwards, I began to wonder if gamers repress their emotions more than the average person. And I began to think about games that actually encourage this: namely those with bluffing elements. There's nothing more somber, after all (and filled with latent tension) then watching a high-stakes Poker match. They don't call them "Poker faces" for nothing.

Well-known Italian designer Leo Colovini must like Poker, as many of his games include bluffing as a core element. Clans and Familienbaende, for example, both have players receiving secret identities which are only revealed at the end of the game, when the winner is finally revealed. A player can't make moves that obviously benefit one particular clan or family, otherwise the other players will be able to effectively hinder her the remainder of the game. And a player cannot react emotionally when her position is weakened, as it also reveals which clan or family she controls.

In popular games like Werewolf--or my favorite current variant of that game, The Resistance--players are secretly working together to eliminate or sabotage other players, without knowing anyone's identity or allegiance at the outset.

I'm terrible at bluffing games, and am not good at playing the part of the saboteur in The Resistance, although I really enjoy the game. Perhaps it's because I usually wear my emotions on my sleeve, so to speak. Sometimes, that's a good thing, while other times, it is probably better to be able hold back for a more appropriate time and place.

I do wonder if bluffing games encourage--or even train--players to repress their emotions. I would imagine that an occasional bluffing game mixed in with a variety of games in an evening is harmless. They could even be beneficial in this context, the way a steady diet includes a variety of foods that each serve different purposes.

Although I'm not a psychologist, I still can't help but wonder if there are ever any repercussions for serious Poker players, especially the kind who earn a living through gamely repressing their emotions, keeping a straight face while knowing full well that a single turn of a card could represent an enormous change in fortune.

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