Playboy: The Mansion Features

FeatureBrenda Romero versus the systems of pain

On making games about oppression and genocide.

Tucked between shelves at the headquarters of Romero Games, Ltd in Galway, Ireland is a two-by-two-foot cube of black Plexiglass, mounted on a platform and lit from below. I picture it as a miniature of the alien monolith that appears during the prologue to 2001: Space Odyssey, looming over the bustle of a designer's office. This is Black Box, a game conceived by Brenda Romero as part of her board game series, "The Mechanic is the Message", following what she will describe only as an "unbelievably difficult" period in 2006. On top of the cube is a vintage hand-cranked adding machine, from which, when the device is in use, paper spills to the floor. The machine dates back to 1909, but has been extensively cleaned and remade; when Romero first opened it, she was startled to discover her own initials carved on the mechanism within, a moment of eerie closeness with the (presumably, long-dead) manufacturer.