Algorithms of Late-Capitalism: The Board Game – PoM Recap #3

It has been more than a month since the KHK c:o/re hosted the PoM conference “Lifelikeness & beyond”. As this sizeable and, while still new, already renown conference produced many lively discussions in a creative interrogation of the dialog between life sciences and technology studies, we want to share our retrospective reflections on it through a series of focused posts. In two interviews, the artists shared with us insights into their work and creative process. Here, we reflect on the board game Algorithms of Late Capitalism together with Karla Zavala Barreda and Adriaan Odendaal.

What can we learn from the contingency of the community of the living and the non-living? What insights on contingency may transpire from embedding life and non-life within each other? How are factuality and fiction mediated by the imagination in the pursuit for new forms of collective action and of creating collectivities?

Entrance of the Super C during PoM

Algorithms of Late-Capitalism: The Board Game
by Karla Zavala Barreda and Adriaan Odendaal

During the PoM conference, Karla Zavala Barreda and Adriaan Odendaal from the research & design studio internet teapot hosted a series of guided play-sessions of their new board game “Algorithms of Late-Capitalism”.

In 2021, they conducted a series of experimental workshops as part of the New New Fellowship that brought diverse groups of international participants together to co-design a board game. The purpose of this project was to use board game co-design as a medium through which participants can collectively explore questions around more pluralistic and desirable technological futures. Over the course of several workshop sessions, participants contributed ideas and reflections to the creation of the game, framed by concepts drawn from pluriversal ontological design, intersectional feminism, and digital materialism.

The Algorithms of Late-Capitalism products at PoM

In Algorithms of Late-Capitalism, players become members of a community of cyborgs, reigned over by the first Sentient Machine Cult. This cult has given rise to a formative new algocracy in which society is governed by the organizational logic of rigid data structures and opaque algorithms. The players-as-cyborgs are confronted with a rule-system that places them in a position of systematic exclusion and increasing marginality.
The board game affords different ways of playing: players can integrate themselves into this society by following the formal rules and competing against each other to conform to the logic of the Sentient Machine Cult’s algocracy; or they can subversively coordinate their efforts and attempt to change the system by introducing new rules and winning conditions. By discovering ways to play collaboratively instead of competitively, players are encouraged to explore alternative, convivial, caring, and inherently pluralistic technological futures – as well as possible pathways towards these futures.

Game cards

By playing the game, conference attendees were able to explore reflections, questions, and ideas encoded into the game fiction and mechanics by the different cohorts of game co-designers.

Play session during the PoM conference

How did the idea of developing the game come up?

Karla: We have been exploring the medium of board game design for a couple of years, both designing prototypes and playing them. On the other hand, we have also been hosting and co-creating zines, so when the New New Fellowship opportunity came up, we thought of it as a chance to merge game design with co-creation methodologies. We also believe that design can foster critical reflection and social transformation. So we wanted participants to think about the absurdities of the technology in our present and through this lens imagine better futures. As technology users we all have an expertise to share. We want to open the barriers to technology design, so that everyone can share their experiences and perspectives to help improve things. Through the board game design, we wanted to ask: What can be reimagined to make more inclusive and desirable technological futures?

What is the goal of the game?

Adriaan: The goal is to create an open space for people to contribute to and enrich the process of thinking about technological futures. The game is an exploration of how we can benefit from collaborative processes, instead of following the imperatives of market-driven competition. We want people to explore  these critical and conceptual points through low-barrier and playful mediums. Board games are also very social objects, they create social spaces where people can connect and start discussions. By playing, people engage with more inclusive imaginaries of better technological futures. When we think of digital technologies, for example AI, what probably comes to mind is widespread services such as ChatGPT. Big tech companies’ imaginaries dominate the discussions of what technology is and can be. But, through co-creating the board game we explored alternative imaginaries.

Karla: It’s important to empower the broader public to imagine what technology can be and understand that they should have a say in what technologies get deployed in their cities and societies at large. As a society we negotiate culturally how technology works, as such public participation should be fostered. This was the goal of the co-creation workshops that brought this game to life, to give non-technical public the tools to think of important questions around our increasingly digitized and mediatized societies.

What would be the ideal technological future for you?

Adriaan: There should be more diversity in technology. Smaller, weirder, experimental things. I would wish for a future where technology is curious and diverse and not dominated by a few companies that copy each other.

Karla: A future where  communities understand how technology works and have a say in the technologies that impact their lives. To me, especially understanding that technology is socially constructed is important, what we think as a community of certain technologies matter. Technology carries values and worldviews, there should be more variety and creative imaginaries around it.

How should things continue with your game?

Karla: We will soon publish it as a print to play version. Our aim is that the game can be used as means to open conversations about technology and its role in our social and intimate lives in diverse settings: from schools to university students and even policy making.

The board game is currently available as a free print-to-play version online. You can also follow Karla’s and Adriaan’s work on Instagram.

Would you like to gain further impressions of the PoM conference in Aachen? Then take a look at our interview with Chris Dupuis as well as our recap of the conference days and the accompanying program of art and performances.

Photos by Jana Hambitzer

2 Comments on “Algorithms of Late-Capitalism: The Board Game – PoM Recap #3”

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