Auroville LGJ pilot asks foundational questions
In preparation for a large scale program of embodied experiences prompting participants to ask foundational questions about Life on Earth a small group of friends in the intentional community of Auroville, South India, tested out the potential of LGJ. Learn more about the magic power of red bean humus and how stuckness is the new endgame! Here is the debrief:
We played for roughly 2 hours with 4 players. The aim is to get to a format that can be played by groups of 12 and feed into a longer workshop which includes reflections on worldviews / implicit assumptions, on complicity in the destructive systems entangling our lives, embodied re-connecting with nature and of course re-imagining our agency and re-membering the larger miraculous meta being often referred to as the Web of Life.
Introductions were shared to the game basics, including the + and – tokens (representing respectively goodie goodie points like wealth and happiness and sad side effects such as pollution and violence), the possible actions for a player during a round (a) business as usual, b) inventing a new potential and c) a proposal to change the rules of the game), role of the Game Master and the rules around chance cards. Collective chances or individual chances get triggered after every 10 – tokens and once the table reaches 40 – tokens it’s GAME OVER. So basically the team is playing against death.
We started with a landscape including a river, a mountain range and a road, and 4 predefined actors, each with a set of inherent capacities and an inherited place on the grid:
- farmers are able to grow crops and based on a happy dice roll were located close to the fertile river. Their costs were assumed to be stable and yields moderate at 1 dice of 6 (1D6);
- traders are able to buy and sell whatever they like, and after a lucky throw of dice heard about their inherited place close to the highway as well as the farms. Their costs were 1D6 and income 2D6;
- educators were less lucky in their initial dice and got a remote location. Their costs and income were designed to be unviable, making them dependent on public subsidies
- policy makers were designed to be in charge of taxes, with which they could invest in public purposes and their own success included some chance (costs were fixed at 4 and benefits 1D6)
Each player received a scorecard to track their token balance, a starting endowment of 7 + tokens and was instructed to pay 2 + tokens in tax at the start of their turn. Their operations had a fixed – token impact on the collective pool which was assumed to be as follows:
- 2 for the farm (assuming a relatively benign form of agriculture)
- 4 for the trader (assuming quite some transport and other energy related pollution as well as social inequality impact)
- 2 for the schools (assuming average ecological behaviour, as well as safety risks of working with children -for example it was unsure whether there was enough protection against sexual harassment and dangerous outdoor activities)
- 4 for the policy player (assuming bureaucratic mainstream consumer lifestyles and social tension)
The farmer was already unruly before the game started and protested against the limitations placed on her operations by the Game Master. She used her first turn to immediately call an assembly reducing her costs by collaborating with the schools and government officers, who would come work on the farm in return for fresh produce.
The trader made some good deals shipping goods across the board into foreign places and did not seem to mind about the substantial – tokens accumulating as a result of “business as usual”.
The educators went with a holistic curriculum, learning from nature and involving the whole community in a shared learning experience. Little did they know what the chance cards had in store ….
Once it was the policymaker’s turn things turned sour. The first threshold of 10 – tokens was reached and a collective chance card was drawn. General Strike! Apparently the teachers and the farm workers and the lorry drivers all were unhappy. And the policymakers called an assembly to listen to their grievances and crowd source solutions. There was a modest epiphany at the combined social and ecological crisis reminiscent of Covid-times, and a comprehensive package of interventions was launched:
- the school was relieved of its duty to fund its own food, thus lowering its operating expenses. in stead they received generous servings of red bean humus which turned out to be extremely popular amongst teachers and students alike
- the policymaking itself was radically decentralised and the taxes were transferred to a community treasury, freeing up most of the bureaucrats to volunteer in social benefit programs such as bio based energy development, zero waste food processing (with a focus on humus!) and environmental education. This drastically reduced both costs and – tokens impact
- farming became tax exempt in recognition of the public goods produced by agroecology
Collective chance cards
- General Strike
- Basic Income for All
- Extreme freak weather event: cyclone + flood
- Nanodrone attack
- Pollinators go extinct
- Sudden wave of Refugees
- All water is drained and captured by hostile forces
- the youth take over power
- Hyper-inflation hits: no currency can be stored longer than a single turn
- energy prices spike like never before, making transport extremely expensive
Individual chance cards
- you fall in love
- you fall sick
- you learn how to fly
- you are asked to become ruler of your region
- locust plague eats everything that grows in your region
- the government decides to build a highway through your place
- your partner is abducted by aliens
- Leonardo Dicaprio and Amitabh Bacchan decide to make a movie about you for Netflix and you become world famous
- you find a rare mineral that is extremely valuable to the modern tech industry
- you discover that you can talk with all non human life forms
- you are a spy for another region
This being a pilot, the aim was to get constructive feedback on how to improve the activity and tune it to meet the needs of the workshop around Foundational Questions. There will be more to unpack here, but for now these are the takeaways from your local South Indian Game Master:
Freedom can be overwhelming. The great thing about this game is that it allows a lot of imagination. The hard part is … that it asks a lot of imagination! One part of this concern speaks to the pace and scope of the imagination that players are asked to come up with. Perhaps a gradual round-by-round increase in complexity could help? Another aspect is more chronic: some people are raised to believe that they can change things, that their opinion matters. Many however, have been raised to obey orders, keep quiet and comply. Demanding everyone to show up as changemakers may be excluding those for whom this is uncomfortable and inappropriate in their non-game life. For now we intend to play mainly with people actively involved in change movements, but it’s a key consideration for creating more inclusive player cultures going forward.
More engagement with the board. In this game we started with 3 “properties” on the grid, and then each turn would include some counting of seeds (tokens), but not enough physical moving of pawns or such. This limited the game to mainly mental activity. Next time we’ll add more handy-work. Any suggestions on how to actually do that? Please let us know!
More guidance for the assembly. It was not immediately apparent what an assembly could aspire for. What options there would be for example on how to involve the voices of the more-than-human world. Next time we’ll add more prompts for those calling an assembly – perhaps a cheat-sheet with things to keep in mind?
Link game to real life system. It was felt that some resistance to imposed limitations resemble our discomfort with the real life restrictions pretty well. The Game Master can point this out and make it part of the learning exercise. Similarly, the feeling of stuckness that comes when watching a pile of – tokens accumulate and nothing you can do about it resembles our current day predicament and was a good prompt for some systemic reflection.
Game Master as historian. The sudden appearance of a world caused many critical questions: why is that road there? Why are the bureaucrats like this ? The Game Master can explain the inherited collective status of the system and help players accept the situation so that they are free to access their creativity.
The chance cards need diversity. When comparing negative, positive and neutral surprises it became clear that in preparing the gam the Game Master had given in to a strong bias towards negative crisis. Plague, war, collapse are not the only kinds of disruption and the players felt that more events like “universal basic income announced” would be appropriate. Again, if you have ideas, please let us know!