Dark Idea of Fun: Game Based on Salem Witch Trials Lets Players Hang “Witches”

Rynn Fox —  December 8, 2012 — 26 Comments

By Rynn Fox, Wild Hunt Staff Writer

A new strategy game based on the Salem Witch Trials is the focus of a recent successful Kickstarter campaign. Created by Joshua Balvin, owner of Rock Paper Scissors Games, Salem gives players the opportunity to experience the historical events surrounding the Salem Witch Trials through the lives of the actual people involved—42 to be exact—whose lives were directly impacted, and in some cases, cut short as a result of events.

Ann Putnam Jr.

Artist rendering of Ann Putnam, Jr., a real-life victim of the Salem Witch Trials, being used as a character in the new ‘Salem’ strategy game. (Image from ‘Salem.’)

The game plays over the course of 4 rounds representing the 4 months (June–September 1692) in which the hysteria was at its height. Each round has 3 parts: a Witch Hunt and a Witch Trial followed by hangings. During the Witch Hunt, players send residents to jail and provide alibis for their own jailed citizens. At the end of each round all jailed citizens stand trial. Players then collectively decide who is hanged and who is spared. The player who is most successful at discerning witches from villagers wins! (Taken from Kickstarter page.)

While satirizing the phenomena of witch trials has been the focus of both video and board games in the past, according to an interview Balvin did with the Boston Globe, the game has one aim:

“(…) recreating the paranoia that there are witches among us, the fear that you might be next, and the mob-mentality that led to the loss of 20 lives during the summer of 1692.”

While building a game centered around people who were executed as scapegoats to the Puritanical fears of the time may seem tacky, the game could be used as an interesting teaching tool to show how fear and paranoia affect people’s choices and lives—and drive home this point better than a game with fictional characters and scenes.

Still, crafting game play to center around outing and hanging “witches” is sobering. And not because it focuses on the Salem Witch Trials or on Witches; it’s what happens when the word Witch is switched out with other words: three that come to mind are homosexuals, Jews and transgendered. With Salem, Halpern seems to have created an intriguing mirror of humanity’s darker side; the side that targets as scapegoats anything that smacks of otherness and inspires fear out of ignorance.

Joshua Balvin declined our interview request.

Rynn Fox

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Rynn Fox brings over a decade of journalistic writing and marketing experience to The Wild Hunt. Under her professional name she has written pieces on law enforcement, technology and food for Law & Order, Public Safety Magazine and Mas Magazine. As a Pagan journalist she covers topics important to modern Pagans and Heathens, providing an in depth look at the issues to move discourse beyond preconceptions and rhetoric into a deeper level of understanding.