Algorithms of Late-Capitalism Board Game: Workshop #1

Karla Zavala
Jul 6 · 5 min read

Workshop #1: Creating a play world for preferable futures

Date: 27 May 2021

In this workshop series participants came together in online sessions and helped co-design a game that promotes perspectives on technology that can serve as alternatives to the mainstream Silicon Valley model. Each workshop corresponds to a specific phase of the board game design process and will build on the knowledge generated by previous participants.

In the first workshop of the series, participants created the game’s play world, generated a fictionalized setting, and came up with player roles. Participants also reflected on specific problematic technological trends, and transformed them into critical play game mechanics and content.

Workshop Report

The workshop was conducted using Zoom and Miro. During the workshop 3 groups –of 4–5 members per each– came up with 3 elements of the fictional play world of the game. The playworld would allow us to imagine new digital future scenarios that also reflect on or respond to our current reality of algorithms of late-capitalism.

The goal of the workshop activities were to create:

  1. The fictionalized setting
  2. The player roles
  3. And the player’s goals within the game

In other words: 1) where is the game set, 2) who ARE we as players, 3) and what we want to achieve within this play world as players. This is an important part of game development because it frames the play experience by creating a fictionalized playworld into which the players step when they start the game.

Group 1: Setting
Group 1 had to do ‘world building’ by creating a fictional setting in which the game takes place. The fictional setting had to be based on the content published on the algorithms of late-capitalism blog.

Points discussed:

Visual:

  • Alternative middle ages, where the first cult for sentient robots started.
  • Bright and developed scenery: half human, half robots makes a better world.

Context:

  • Alternative present, robots are part of our life.
  • Perfectly organized world.

Conflict:

  • Between religion, class, cultural groups amongst robots and cyborgs.
  • There is a perfectly organized world but people and other sentient machines want to be able to make their own decisions.

Values:

  • Creative thinking is valued since that’s the hardest task for robots.
  • Critical thinkers are a threat to the system so they are kept isolated.

Group 2: Player role
Group 2 had to come up with possible fictional player role(s). The player role is the character or persona through which a player can inhabit the imaginary world of the game.

Points discussed:

Back story:

  • Player is born as a Mediterranean human; from a small rock island at the Aegean Sea that neither Greece or Turkey claims; A UTOPIA.

Characteristics:

  • Then, through body enhancements; it becomes an infinite-life-cyborg. It wants to stay as a cyborg so it can be deathless. However, algorithms confuse the cyborg as an animal.
  • Because algorithms think it is an animal; the cyborg convinces itself that it is an animal too, and does become an animal.
  • After becoming an animal, the evolution starts and it slooooowly evolves back into a human.
  • The cyborg doesn’t want to become an animal, because then it will need to evolve into a human from scratch and go through the whole process again; to be deathless. Therefore, it wants to be invisible to algorithms; so it can live forever.

Group 3: Game goal
Group 3 had to come up with possible goals within the play world. What future are players trying to reach in the game?

Points discussed:

Visibility:

  • Only ‘pretty’ people (as seen by the algorithm) move up the corporate ladder. Be pretty for the algorithm and get a promotion.
  • Choose the rules of the game you want to play (CuteCoin or TransBox).
  • You can make the black box transparent and get information on how the algorithm works.
  • You can keep it opaque and continue gathering CuteCoin in the hopes that your face is cute enough to be promoted.

Algorithms are opaque:

  • Algorithms are blackboxed, so we want transparency.
  • By deleting the black boxes we create transparency.
  • By accumulating algorithmic black boxes you gather CuteCoin which give your prettiness score.
  • You may gather tumor code by accident that lowers your score.

Multiple options:

  • Received several options on the future.

Outcome: A Dystopian Play-world of Sentient Machines and Cyborgs

We summarized the outcome of the workshop as follows for the next group of participants to work with:

The game is set in an alternative present. The forming of the first cult of sentient robots has led to a world where intelligent machines rule. On the surface, it looks like a utopia: everything is perfectly organized, ordered, and controlled.

Yet people and other sentient beings want to be able to make their own decisions! While creative thinking is valued by the machines, because it is a skill they do not possess, critical thinkers are a threat and must be isolated and suppressed.

The player is a cyborg from a small unclaimed Mediterranean island. Half-human half-machine.

To the sentient machines the cyborg doesn’t fit into predefined categories. It creates confusion — the machines can’t classify it — and it is therefore a threat to the machines’ world of order.

Becoming invisible to the system might help you live your life in peace!

The player can choose how to play the game: collecting Cutecoins, or Transboxes.

Cutecoins are points given out by the machines for things that are ‘pleasing’ and ‘pretty’. A high ‘prettiness score’ helps you succeed in the system. But be warned: if you aren’t ‘pretty’ and pleasing you can receive a Tumor-codes that lowers your ‘prettiness score’!

Transboxes are attained by hacking the system. Transboxes lets you understand how the ‘prettiness score’ system works, and use that knowledge to your advantage!

Are you going to conform to the system, or escape the system? Or perhaps: reinvent the system?

Relay

In workshop #2 a new group of participants will be taking the game fiction created in workshop #1 and structuring it into activities for creating core game mechanics. How does the game fiction translate into player actions?

This project is made possible through the New New Fellowship supported by SuperrrLab, Bertelsmann Stiftung, and Allianz Kulturstiftung.

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