Algorithms of Late-Capitalism Board Game: Workshop #2

Adriaan Odendaal
Jul 15 · 6 min read

Workshop #2: Creating a play world for preferable futures

Date: 24 June 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 second workshop of the series we picked up where the previous group left off: finishing the game’s play world! We remixed the ideas created by participants of the previous workshop and create a concrete setting, player roles, and game goals with some basic rules. It was all about AI systems, hacking black boxes, and breaking rules.

Workshop Report

The workshop was conducted using Zoom and Miro. During the workshop 3 groups of 4–5 members per each used the playworld fiction created during workshop #1 to start creating core gameplay mechanics. In other words: How can we start turning the fictional play world into player activities?

Game core mechanics are the essential play activity that players perform again and again in the game. What does a player do, and what happens in the game when the player does it. To create a meaningful play experience, there needs to be a strong link between the core mechanic and the fiction.

The goal of the workshop activities were to create:

  1. Core mechanics related to playing against the system (resist)
  2. Core mechanics related to playing with the system (conform)
  3. Core mechanics that can either be collaborative or competitive

Group 1: Resist
Group 1 had to create possible core mechanics by figuring out how the player as a cyborg can take action against the cult of sentient machines within the game and create a better system as a game goal.

Points discussed:

Cyborg in the Sentient Machine System:

  • The cyborg is a queer hybridized entity

Game System as Algorithms:

  • The sentient machine system is represented by the rules of the game (the rules are ordering algorithms)
  • The game starts with x amount of rules made by the computer — these rules change over the play of the game (E.g. “Only one player can win” can change to “everyone wins when goal is met”)

Collecting Transboxes:

  • You can mine transboxes in specific locations
  • Variety of locations (control points) with different access criteria: Town square, drag club, places where robots hang out
  • With enough transboxes you can manipulate how the prettiness score works
  • You can change the rules of the system/game

Collecting Cutecoins:

  • Helps you navigate the system, make it easy to fit-in and go undetected

Defying the system:

  • Since data structures are pre-defined and can’t process variables of the real world, the player can defy oppressive categories by putting up complex scenarios and break/confused the system

Collaboration vs Competitive:

  • Nobody wins if somebody loses

Connection to other groups:

  • Create a map to explore different pockets of the world

Group 2: Conform
This group had to create core mechanics by figuring out how players (as a cyborg) can play the game by conforming to the cult of sentient machines’ system.

Points discussed:

Mining data:

  • You can sell ‘surplus data’

Cutecoins:

  • Cutecoins can be used for ‘upgrades’ to up your prettiness score (Eugenics, DNA hacks, behavioral makeup, AR filters,)

Increase prettiness score (Panopticon Economics):

  • Display consensual behaviour (as team)
  • Social engineering
  • Trend-surfing
  • Positive review trading
  • Imitate cuties
  • Mutual hyping
  • Report/reduce/destroy uglies

Winning condition:

  • By gathering cutecoins you win the game as presented by machines

Connection to other groups:

  • Prettiness gives you access to other parts of the playworld
  • Giving up autonomy means playing with the game rules — instead of your own

Group 2: Collaborative vs Competitive
This group had to think of the collaborative vs competitive core mechanics as it relates to collecting cutecoins or transboxes.

Points discussed:

Group fiction:

  • Cyborg community: it emphasizes that it is advantageous to work collaboratively (on fictional level)
  • Don’t forget: we are the system as well!
  • As part of the system — we need to change ourselves
  • No outcasts
  • Collectively the players have a super-power (by working together they can win)

Collaborating:

  • Working together people share cards to strategize. No communication otherwise (because in this society you must be invisible to survive) — e.g. silent poker.
  • How to become better stewards of the island (relationship with the island)
  • Someone needs to infiltrate the system to figure out dominant values, power structures so that the team can dismantle the system
  • As a team you must build trust
  • If there is a lot of social trust in the game, a player will win individually if they ultimately betray all other players
  • Working within the institution vs from outside
  • If we collaborate our points increase
  • If we collaborate we get more agency & say in the community decisions

Game system:

  • How do we disrupt the ruling order
  • Can the system ‘unlearn’
  • How do we balance chaos and order to beat the system

Game mechanics:

  • Add randomness: a dice

Winning condition:

  • Everyone has their own goal (you can help others in fulfilling their goal) because only when everyone has a goal achieved can you win
  • A game without an end (the end is the beginning)
  • The game stops when you decide as a group it stops (opt out)
  • An ever evolving game where players add to the roles

Connection to other groups:

  • Is there a map?
  • How does this game inspire decision making in our daily lives
  • Non-participation as protest

Outcome: Breaking the Rules to Subvert the Machine’ System

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

In Algorithms of Late-Capitalism the board game, players play as a community of cyborgs living in a dystopian world where a cult of sentient machines rules their lives. The cyborgs are outsiders that don’t fit into the neat categories of the machine system.

There are two ways that players can play the game:

In this game, the repressive machine system is represented by the rules of the game. Players have to abide by the rules that tell them what they can and cannot do. But players can work together to change the rules of the game — and thus change the repressive system.

How do players do this? They can collect cutecoins (the social-credit in-game currency) to pay for access to privileged spaces called ‘control points’. Cutecoins are valuable, so players need to work together and pool their cutecoins to send one of the group to ‘infiltrate the system’.

Once a player has access to a control point they can mine for a transbox that allows them to change/add rules of the game. These rule changes can introduce new dynamics, override existing rules, or open up new (team) winning conditions.

Players can also try and play by the rules of the system by increasing their ‘prettiness score’ through spending cutecoins in the ‘panopticon economy’ for upgrades that make you more pleasing to the system. Players can betray the other players by using collected cutecoins for themselves and winning when their prettiness score is full!

Relay

In workshop #3 a new group of participants will have to create content that challenges the game rules and allow players to beat the system and its algorithms.

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

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