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Sorry for your Loss

Kurzfassung / Abstract des Projektes

Abstract English

A popular middle-eastern legend narrates the story of a Persian soldier who notices Death in the Baghdad crowd. The soldier realizes that Death is staring at him with a malicious look and assumes that it wants to kill him. He decides to travel to the neighboring city of Samarkand to escape his miserable fate. When he finally gets to Samarkand, however, he meets Death again and eventually realizes that despite his efforts, he has lost and can only surrender. Death reveals to him that its gaze was not one of malice but of astonishment: it knew that the soldier was to die that day in Samarkand and feared that he might never make it from Baghdad in time. Therefore, in trying to escape death, he actually ran against it. This beautiful fable is most likely derived from the 53rd Sukkah of the Babylonian Talmud, a parable in which King Solomon tries to save two of his faithful men from the angel of death with no success. The legend has since gained a lot of attention in Western literature and has been used in various versions in novels, essays and even pop music (Samarkand, Roberto vecchioni).

The bitter ending is a metaphor for the human condition: it is not possible to win against Death, and we can only accept our fate.

Human beings are able to grasp the inevitability of death, an awareness that more often than not results in a sense of painful impotency.

Thus, similar to the soldier in Baghdad, they try to escape death by developing psychological defense mechanisms such as denial. However, these mechanisms have been shown to be damaging, both to the development of society and to the psychological growth of the individual. A healthy attitude towards death involves confronting its fear and finally accepting it.

In this thesis, an investigation into the concept of denial will first be proposed. Then existing methods of accepting death such as meditation and philosophical conversation will be presented. Finally, I will introduce the dynamics of „Sorry for your loss“: the board game I have implemented in these months of work, as a possible group exercise of acceptance.





Abstract Deutsch

Eine populäre Legende aus dem Mittleren Osten erzählt die Geschichte eines persischen Soldaten, der den Tod in der Menge von Bagdad bemerkt. Der Soldat erkennt, dass der Tod ihn mit einem bösartigen Blick anstarrt und nimmt an, dass er ihn töten will. Er beschließt, in die benachbarte Stadt Samarkand zu reisen, um seinem erbärmlichen Schicksal zu entgehen. Als er endlich in Samarkand ankommt, trifft er jedoch erneut auf den Tod und erkennt schließlich, dass er trotz seiner Bemühungen verloren hat und sich nur noch ergeben kann. Der Tod offenbart ihm, dass sein Blick nicht aus Böswilligkeit, sondern aus Erstaunen erfolgte: Er wusste, dass der Soldat an diesem Tag in Samarkand sterben würde, und befürchtete, dass er es nicht rechtzeitig aus Bagdad schaffen würde. In seinem Versuch, dem Tod zu entkommen, rannte er daher gegen ihn an. Diese schöne Fabel stammt höchstwahrscheinlich aus der 53. Sukkah des babylonischen Talmuds, einer Parabel, in der König Salomo vergeblich versucht, zwei seiner treuen Männer vor dem Todesengel zu retten. Die Legende hat seither in der westlichen Literatur viel Aufmerksamkeit erregt und wurde in verschiedenen Versionen in Romanen, Essays und sogar in der Popmusik (Samarkand, Roberto Vecchioni) verwendet.

Das bittere Ende ist eine Metapher für den menschlichen Zustand: Es ist nicht möglich, gegen den Tod zu gewinnen, und wir können unser Schicksal nur akzeptieren.

Der Mensch ist in der Lage, die Unausweichlichkeit des Todes zu begreifen, ein Bewusstsein, das nicht selten zu einem Gefühl der schmerzhaften Ohnmacht führt.

Daher versuchen sie, ähnlich wie der Soldat in Bagdad, dem Tod zu entkommen, indem sie psychologische Abwehrmechanismen wie die Verleugnung entwickeln. Diese Mechanismen haben sich jedoch als schädlich erwiesen, sowohl für die Entwicklung der Gesellschaft als auch für das psychologische Wachstum des Einzelnen. Eine gesunde Einstellung zum Tod bedeutet, sich seiner Angst zu stellen und ihn schließlich zu akzeptieren.

In dieser Arbeit wird zunächst eine Untersuchung des Konzepts der Verleugnung vorgeschlagen. Anschließend werden bestehende Methoden zur Akzeptanz des Todes, wie Meditation und philosophische Gespräche, vorgestellt. Schließlich werde ich die Dynamik von „Sorry for your loss“ vorstellen: das Brettspiel, das ich in diesen Arbeitsmonaten als eine mögliche Gruppenübung zur Akzeptanz eingeführt habe.

Übersetzt mit (kostenlose Version)

Loosing Games by design

The first big question I asked myself when developing the dynamics of the game was what the end point, or victory, could be. Often in board games, whoever stays alive last, and thus avoids death, wins. For obvious reasons, this approach fails in a game whose educational purpose is the acceptance of death. Developing a game with the reverse dynamic (i.e. in which death becomes the goal), however interesting it may be, does not really reflect the message I want to get across: it is not in fact my intention to make people re-evaluate death as positive, but simply to propose a path of acceptance of it.

I therefore gave some thought to the possibility of developing a points-based game. Indeed, in the previously analysed death games, a value was attributed to the acceptance tasks and the winner was determined by the number of points collected during the game.

However, I did not find this solution really satisfactory either.

This is because I think it is impossible to numerically evaluate tasks such as meditation or reflection, and even if you want to delegate this role to the other players, you have to take into account that each person may have different evaluation parameters and this would make the collection of points so random that it would quickly become obsolete.

At this point, through research I became aware of the concept of loosing games by design.

Loosing games by design are games that do not allow their players to win, and are so deliberately designed. They often have a profound message, and the unresolved ending is used as an educational teaching tool. For example in the game Ayiti: The Cost of Life players have to manage a poor Haitian family of five for four years, and the game is designed in such a way that it is impossible not to fail. This game is effective because the ending reinforces the message that poverty is complex and there is no solvable solution for those who experience it first-hand.  in his paper states that the messages conveyed through this type of game are more powerful than those of games where one can win: The unhappy ending being abnormal, becomes the focal point around which the reflection on the game is developed.

I found this mechanic perfect for a game about death, not only because of the aforementioned effectiveness in conveying emotional messages, but also because I think that a game structured in this way could turn out to be a beautiful metaphor for mortality. The constructs of immortality mentioned by Becker, the compulsive obsessive disorders studied by Yalom and existentialist psychology: these are all methods in which humanity deludes itself, collectively or personally, to win against death.

But neither trying to make one's ideology immortal, nor obsessively visiting one's doctor, will ever change the fact that we are destined to lose.

Winning death is impossible, we might as well enjoy the journey of life: on this principle I decided to develop the game 'Sorry for your loss'.

The name is a pun referring to the fact that this will be a loosing game by design, and to the phrase commonly used to wish for your loss.

Sorry for your Loss

„Sorry for your loss“ is a collaborative card game with an educational background. The story of the game is based on the Persian legend of Samarkand: the characters see death in the crowd, and to avoid it they decide to escape to Samarkand. To do so, the players must take turns placing one of the path cards, drawn randomly from the deck, on the table.

On these will be either the symbol of an open eye, or the symbol of a closed eye (and in some cases 'a fork' with both symbols, in which the player can arbitrarily choose which one to put).

The two symbols correspond to the two decks of day and night cards. Players must draw a card from the deck indicated by the path card symbol, and perform the described task. The game ends when the samarkand card is drawn from the route cards.

Upon reaching samarkand, players find death and must accept that it was waiting for them.

Within the day and night decks there are adventure cards and acceptance cards. In the adventure cards there are purely playful tasks, which have the main purposes of lengthening/shortening the game or creating entertaining gimmicks to make it more enjoyable. The cards illustrate different encounters and events that can occur on the way to Samarkand: the breaking of one's hourglass, encounters with strange figures, lilias, crows, and black cats. Each of these symbolises death in different cultures and beliefs, and expresses an Omen for what will be the end of the game. Such events have consequences, which can be fought or altered with the roll of the dice.

A classic task of the adventure cards is to be able to draw and play more path cards in the next turn, this task on a structural level speeds up the game. However, there are also tasks that simply make the game more fun, such as the task to stop using opposable thumbs for the next three turns.

Acceptance cards, on the other hand, present the aforementioned acceptance exercises: the meditation on death and the philosophical discussion. These cards are exclusively typographical and vary depending on the deck from which they are drawn.

The 'night' deck features death meditation cards and night adventure cards that must be performed with the eyes closed (hence the closed eye symbol on the back of the card). Players will have to keep their eyes closed for the duration of the night round, i.e. from the moment after the night card is drawn and read until the next path card is drawn. This means that players will have to encode the number on the dice by touch, and will have to draw the next path card by groping for the deck.The closed eyes are essential in meditation exercises to maintain concentration for longer, and in adventure cards they add an extra difficulty to the task.

The 'night adventures' deck is related to the acceptance of emotional and spiritual death, and tries to work on the unconscious. In the death meditation cards, both marasnati and bulbasaur meditation are presented, and the meditation exercise must be completed in the three minutes of the hourglass. The adventures of the night cards consist of illustrations that have to do with the nocturnal sphere, such as meeting nocturnal animals or dreaming about particular characters. The proposed tasks are all tasks that work particularly well with the eyes closed, for example that of rolling the dice and trying to guess whether the number that will come out will be odd or even, or that of stealing a card from the deck without being heard by the other players.

The 'daily' deck features philosophical conversation cards, and adventure cards that are played with the eyes open (hence the symbol on the open eye card). The daily cards are those most related to the acceptance of rational death. The discussion cards often feature a quotation from a philosopher, and the group is asked to express an opinion on the matter. At other times, a direct question is asked, which each player must answer in turn.

What makes this game very different from traditional games is that the game cannot be won: none of the tasks in the two decks of day and night cards really influence the final outcome. The Samarkand card is drawn randomly from the route cards, and can be drawn at any time during the game. Once it appears, the player who drew the card must read aloud to the other players a small illustrated leporello. In the leporello it is explained, that once arrived in Samarkand, the players encounter the death that was waiting for them there (see Samarkand myth), and that the real purpose of the game is not to escape death but to improve one's acceptance of it. The leporello urges one to play again, and to do so without focusing on an impossible victory but on the pleasure of playing. As in life, in the game it is important to enjoy the journey to Samarkand, even if we already know that the inevitable arrival will be death.

Putting the card in the path card deck randomly implies that the game can potentially end immediately: this was criticised during testing and could potentially have been solved by splitting the game into two phases and only putting the samarcanda card in the second phase. However, I personally find it fascinating that the game could potentially have completely different durations, and again makes the metaphor with life and death even more fitting, so I decided not to change this aspect of the game. In addition, the Samarkand card is only one in 50, so in terms of probability it is rarely drawn immediately.

The game consists of two 9.5x7cm packs of cards, a 7x7cm deck of street cards, two black dice, a black three-minute hourglass, a 7x7cm illustrated leporello and the instruction booklet.

As for the graphic style, I decided to use a refined and elegant design, my main aim was not to trivialise such a profound topic as the acceptance of death. I tried to get as far away as possible from the typical spiritual illustrations that are used in the context of astronomy, for example, or tarot cards. Instead, I allowed myself to be inspired by the orderly static nature of ancient symbolism, the frescoes of the Sumerians and Persians.

To create a more evocative effect, I decided to work with the texture of linoleum.

I also chose to work mainly with black and white, because they are two colours that are often associated with death and because they describe very well the contrast between open and closed eyes (one of the most important elements of the game).

Within the illustrations, however, I also included some coloured elements, mainly so as not to create too monotonous an effect.

For the text, I chose to use the font Museo Sans, because I think it is a readable and refined font that works particularly well with illustrations. The line motif appears often in the cards, both as a layout element in the text and in the illustrations and the corporate of the game. Another graphic element that appears several times are the wave shapes, which imitate the course of the road.

The game box is currently still under development, but I have already decided that I will use the A6 format and the distribution of the objects inside it.






In conclusion, I can consider myself satisfied with my project with respect to the goals I originally set out to achieve. My final project reflects the results of my research on denial, and the acceptance of death. Through testing, I received positive feedback regarding the effects of the game: I was told by early players that it opened up interesting debates, and awakened very strong emotions. The game has often been compared to the experience of tarot cards, indeed through the task of meditation it has become almost more of a spiritual experience than a classic board game. Moreover, I think the playful device of playing some rounds with eyes closed made it fun and playful. One cannot yet define what the results of the game might be if played regularly, but my theory is that it might increase poignancy to life and acceptance of death.

Since the rules of the game are different from many of the games on the market, more work and testing would probably be needed to improve it further. In particular, the concept of loosing game by design, is still very new for board games, and I think with more time, competitive gimmicks could be created to create a stronger motivation to play.

All in all, however, I think I managed to create a new game concept, very different from traditional games, which worked well with such a sensitive topic as the acceptance of death.

I realise that my practical product alone cannot bring about the acceptance of death, but I think it can really contribute to its achievement.


Ein Projekt von



Art des Projekts



foto: Prof. Matthias Beyrow foto: Vertr. Prof. Lisa Rienermann


Sommersemester 2022


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