Board games have a history in social justice movements. Even Monopoly was originally created to teach players about inequality and the problems capitalism can create. A new game, inspired by those roots, is designed to let players practice building a social movement.
“There are a lot of games about conquest and exploitation that people play all the time,” says Brian Van Slyke, game designer for TESA Collective, a worker cooperative that creates resources for social change. “We wanted to almost pose a counterpoint to games like Risk.” (In an earlier project, the coop designed a cooperative version of Monopoly where everyone wins.)
In the new game, called Rise Up, one side of the board is designed for game night, with detailed rules. On the flip side, a simplified version can be played by community organizers to help train new activists or to help more experienced activists talk through a campaign.
At the start of each game, players come up with a movement they want to create. “It can be totally serious or really silly, like a living wage or free pizza for everyone,” says Van Slyke. “But as you play, the game teases out the story of your movement.”
Even with a nonsensical goal, like universal pizza, players quickly learn the basics of movement-building. “They laugh about it but they’re engaging with the concepts and strategies and tactics,” he says. For more experienced organizers, it’s a way to take a new perspective.
“What the game does–and games in general–is it gives you the opportunity to sit back and imagine things and look at things on a bigger picture without being stuck in the day-to-day,” he says. “It’s a game, not a simulation. But it does allow people to engage with concepts and to discuss real tactical questions in a format that they’re not generally accustomed to.”
As players flip over cards like “grassroots media campaign,” they can talk through how that campaign might work. The goal isn’t for any one player to win, but to help the movement build power across the board, fighting off obstacles like a “rising wave of conservatism.”
“The mechanics of the game really mirrors what happens in organizing,” says Van Slyke. “Because it’s a collaborative game, everyone wins or loses together. When you do things, you’re helping your teammate.”
The biggest challenge in designing the game was finding an ethical manufacturer. “There’s a lot of companies that make it super-easy to get a board game produced,” he says But a lot of them are made in sweatshops. This is a game about movement-building and social justice, so we didn’t feel comfortable with that.” Eventually, the team found a coop in California that could print the game; for ethically-made dice, they turned to a company in Denmark.
The game is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter.
Photos: Molly McLeod
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