More Transantiago

2007 Oct 23

In a game of Transantiago, players take on the roles of characters who are interpretations of themselves — who have their own names and personal histories, aside from any events that “happen to them in Santiago” over the course of the game. The players should simply pretend that they are touristas visiting the Chilean capitol. If a given player has actually been to Santiago, they can choose to play themselves as an expatriado, an expatriate living in the city, someone with much more local experience than the average tourista.

The narrative portions of play take place entirely on the Santiago Metro. Anything that happens in another location must take place off camera. In this sense, the Santiago Metro is like the bar in Cheers; people exist outside of it, but you don’t see any of that portion of their lives. Characters can even meet, hang out, do things, sleep together, etc. but, if they don’t do it in the Santiago Metro, it’s not a part of the game, though discussions of outside events and the repercussions of them can be brought into play.

Separation Anxiety vs. the Madness of Crowds

Subways and public transportation in general is often used as a symbol of loneliness and solitude in movies and other media (frex: Evangelion). On public transport, crowds of people congregate in closed in spaces but everyone generally minds their own business, doesn’t talk to strangers, avoids eye-contact, engrosses themselves in a book or music, and generally pretends like no one else is there. Subways represent the social barriers of modernity that prevent people from connecting to each other.

Transantiago is about those same themes but in a very different way. The Santiago Metro is an overcrowded madhouse, not the kind of place where you spend your time shoegazing and pretending you’re not looking at the cute person sitting across the empty car from you. People are pushed up against each other until they can barely breathe. It it loud, smelly, and, most likely, people will know immediately that you are a foreigner and / or an outsider. There is a separation between you and those around you, but it is not a physical or socially imposed one (in fact, you may wish for more physical distance or a bubble of personal space), but one based on identity and culture.

Station to Station

Each station represents an opportunity for the characters to make a difference in the lives of other people, to have some interaction that goes beyond the usual pushing, shoving, and other rude treatment that occurs on the Santiago Metro. Each station is defined, then, by a particular Issue that, for some reason (practical or serendipitous), will not be properly addressed until one or more of the characters figures out how to deal with it. Each Issue can generally only be dealt with in the station in which it is originally located, but characters may be required to travel around the Metro in order to accomplish things or gather the resources necessary to address a given Issue. It is often necessary for a character to enlist the help of one or more other characters in order to deal with a particularly difficult Issue.

In the beginning, most Issues are normal, everyday problems that people have, but exaggerated to the point of being a little weird. For example, perhaps it’s raining outside and one older gentleman doesn’t have an umbrella, so he is stuck in the subway station, terrified of leaving it and going out in the rain. Or perhaps there is a baby that is crying inconsolably and its young mother seems unable to stop it. A hint of “modern fairy tale” style or X-Files supernatural weirdness is great, but make sure to keep it subtle, at least at first.

Interestingly, Issues evolve as characters try to address them. What seems at first to be a simple problem, a momentary issue that a foreigner can easily step in and help with (someone’s choking!), will undoubtedly end up drawing you into the grander mysteries of Transantiago. Issues evolve in the manner of traits in the Avatar game, where you keep track of the things characters did to attempt to address an Issue and, whenever the GM or Station Master (a player assigned control of a specific Station and its Issue) decides, alter the Issue a bit to reflect new developments. So, if a character finds an umbrella for the older gentleman, he will thank them profusely and then realize that he has a message that he needs delivered to a friend, a friend who lives… in a subway station that the characters have not even heard of (i.e. one that’s not even on the map yet).

In this way, Issues evolve similar to “fetch-quests” in Zelda or other adventure-oriented video games, always with something else to do, but they also get progressively weirder and more involved. Additionally, sometimes an Issue can seem to be wrapped up, but then return later. If a character manages to quiet the baby, perhaps the next incarnation of that Issue doesn’t appear until the next character happens through the station, at which point they see signs that indicate the baby was kidnapped by the “young mother” who was trying to quiet it.

There is no right or wrong way to address an Issue. This doesn’t, however, mean that any attempt at addressing an Issue will make it evolve in a new and interesting way. Sometimes Issues evolve in really mundane ways or ways that don’t necessarily indicate success. Perhaps you fail to quiet the baby, leading the young mother to decide that she doesn’t like you. That is certainly a development of the original Issue, if a pretty mundane one. Perhaps you steal an umbrella to give to the old man and end up being detained, lectured, and warned by the Transantiago Police. All of a sudden, the Issue may evolve to focus on your status as a known trouble-maker.

Right now, there are no resolution mechanics to decide how attempts to address an Issue are born out. I could leave it up to the whims of the GM or individual Station Masters, but that’s not all that interesting. This is, I suspect, the last core element of the game that needs to emerge before I’m ready to pull all this together and submit it.


Transantiago, as its name suggests, is a transitory place, a place that is developing, thanks to the Nasza Lines that run under all its tracks, into another realm, another plane of existence. It sits in-between this world and another world, a undeniably liminal space. As the Issues of its stations develop and are refined, they become larger and larger, weirder and weirder, closer and closer to this other space.

Eventually, when an issue is determined to encompass an entire station and all of the people in it, the GM or Station Master of that station says, “This Road Is Opened.” After that point, characters do not travel to that station any longer. It’s not that they CAN’T precisely, they just tend not to. Perhaps they might stop in that station in the process of addressing an Issue in another station, but that’s all. If this was a video game, everyone in the station, if you tried to talk to them, would say: “Thanks for all your help here! Good luck with the other parts of your quest!”

When all roads are opened… Transantiago transcends. What does that mean for you? Well, that depends on what’s happened to you in your game.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: